I've been staring at the dark corner of the Nijiya Market complex longingly for the last couple of months, always wanting to go in but never finding the time. Every time I pick up some jelly globe grapes from the market I think about the dark corner. Every time I pick up wine from my wine storage I think about the dark corner. Why am I longing after this little plot of land like a young school boy?
Ever since I saw Kirk's post on Wa Dining Okan half a year ago, I've been wanting to try it out. I love the idea of a different style of regional cuisine. We're so used to mexican food that's burritos and tacos that we ignore gems like Super Cocina, we eat sushi all day and we don't get exposed to a different type of Japanese cuisine. This is what I hoped for when I called to book my reservation at Wa Dining Okan, something different... something more native to the home country. (I surely do not know what is "native" other than the fact that it's different and I've never seen it before). Unfortunately, I was not the only person who wanted to dine at this restaurant cause they said they were booked up for the day.
Fast - Forward one month. After watching Star Trek my boy Frank and I decided we were hungry so we stopped by Wa Dining Okan. After waiting roughly 1 hour we were seated.
This blog, is not about that time =P
Fast forward another week. My friend Danny generously offered to treat me to a meal so I picked this restaurant. The restaurant has a base menu as well as a "specials" menu that changes daily. On the day Frank and I went the Specials Menu was about 5-6 pages, on the day Danny and I went it was at least 1.5 pages shorter. Most of the seafood and more peculiar dishes are on the Specials page.
When you walk in you are graced by a large light brown U-shaped bar directly in the center of the restaurant. Like a star in the spotlight, soft light shines down on the bar dining area.
Situated along the bars are large ceramic bowls of their "Japanese Tapas". The Tapas are changed daily and priced at $3.50. You get a small bowl of mostly a vegetarian style dish that's pre-made. They'll occasionally take your portion back and stew/cook it a little longer if the dish requires it.
The first dish we ordered was a simple napa cabage and tofu stew.
The tofu and the napa cabbage are stewed for awhile and kept in a sweet savory broth. It's one of those dishes that isn't "unique" in anyway but you can't stop eating it. This reminds me of something my grandmother would make as I scarf down bowls and bowls of rice with it. It's warm, filling, and savory.
The dishes here come one by one, hopefully you have a hour plus to kill because they aren't shy about taking their time with the food.
Continuing with our line of appetizers, we ordered their "famous" Gobo Salad
A generous layer of mustard greens (Mizuna) is piled high with a large stack of "shoe string" like Burdock Root (Gobo) and topped with a tart sesame dressing. If you haven't had Burdock Root before it's a really crunchy root with a hint of bitterness. Fortunately when fried, the bitterness of the root disappears and it almost tastes like deep fried thin sliced onion rings. The dish was pretty filling for a $5-6 dish but it's a pretty basic salad, I found the dressing to acidic and tart and the greens too mustardy when eaten without sauce. What a dilemma!
There's very little rhyme or reason behind the order of the dishes, cause the next dish that arrived was the Bacon Wrapped Asparagus.
As you well know, I can't eat bacon so I don't have much to say about this dish. Danny didn't know about my dietary restrictions so you'll see a few meat dishes which he dutifully cleaned up himself.
Lucky for me, the next dish they sent was within my eating restrictions! Tempura White Fish
The exact fish escapes my mind, but each tempura piece is one small whole fish (sans head) butterflied and lightly fried. I REALLY REALLY REALLY enjoy their battered fish dishes here. The fish is so moist and delicate while the batter is light and airy. They serve it with a side of green tea salt which I enjoy dropping one speck on the fish to liven up the palate.
This is probably my second favorite dish here.
(a whole Sole I had there was in a previous post.)
Danny was looking to try something new so he moved onto a big ol bowl of Boiled Chicken skin in Miso
A heaping boil of 3-5 chicken's worth of skin topped with scallions, sesame, and thinly sliced daikon. The dish was served cold. I didn't have any, but it seemed like a pretty heavy dish (as Danny later agreed with).
Danny had to keep his meat fix on so he had an order of Grilled Beef Tongue
Not much to say from him other than it was alright. Nothing great nothing poor.
On to my favorite dish here, Omelette with eel
I adore this dish. It's a fluffy rolled egg stuffed with a piece of eel down the center and sliced into small rolls. The egg is light with just a touch of sweetness. Like Tamago, it's cooked in layers so as you bite into it you can feel the layers fall apart in your mouth. Then you get to the center where you have some of the most tender and sweet eel with a warm baked goodness oozing out of the egg.
This dish is full of concentrated flavor in a small package. Absolute delight to eat.
We also had Blue Fin Tuna Sashimi which was quite good but I devoured it so quickly no pictures were taken =P.
After finishing up our king sized meal we opted for a bit of dessert.
First up "home made" pudding with black honey
This dish is a delight of dense sweet rich honey with soft velvety pudding. *DROOL*. It's lightly sprinkled with cocoa powder that gives the vanilla like pudding a nutty taste. The consistenty is like flan but softer and smoother. The honey is an out of this world sensation. It's almost like eating melted chocolate and honey together but in a thick syrupy form.
Man that was good. If you've never had Black Honey, supposedly it gives you high sex performance . (don't worry it's just an ad for Royal Black Honey!)
To go along with the decadent pudding, we ordered a Green Tea Tiramisu.
I don't know where they get all their green tea sources from but man is it good. The salt was great, this tiramisu was light but with a really focused sweet green tea flavor. Didn't really seem like a Tiramisu, but whatever it was it was off the hook.
I really enjoy the restaurant and I think it's a great addition to the San Diego Japanese restaurant community. The only negative is that it's not cheap. The portions are not large so you're ordering quite a few dishes. The normal menu is mostly sub $8 dishes but the menu filled with specials range from $9 to $20 depending on what you order. Our meal was roughly $75 after tax and tip.
But if you feel as though you can control you urges better than I can (which I'll be the first too admit is not hard) I feel as though you can get out of there for under $25 a person.
Wa Dining Okan
3860 Convoy St #110
(between Aero Dr & Kearny Mesa Rd)
San Diego, CA 92111