130-A N. El Camino Real
Encinitas, CA 92024
I love reading food blogs. They make me hungry, they make me drool, they keep me entertained, and best of all: they introduce me to fabulous places I would have never found on my own. Such is the case with Kaito Sushi.
While reading mmm-yoso about a week ago, Ed posted about his sushi experience at Kaito, which can be found here. Reading the post and seeing the gorgeous photos made me so excited. I wanted to go. Right then!
The post on Kaito Sushi made me very excited. More excited than usual when I read a review of a place I want to check out. For those of you who follow my blog regularly, you might have noticed that I’m not particularly fond of sashimi, whereas Boyfriend loves sashimi. I hate the fact that I’m not a fan of sashimi. There’s something about the taste, especially for the fishier tasting fishes, that does not agree with my palate. It’s very frustrating for me for many reasons. For one thing, I love fish. Love. So it’s weird that I don’t like it in its raw form. Another thing is that I pride myself in having a very open palate. I love almost all types of foods and am very adventurous in trying food with strong tastes, etc, that a lot of people would shy away from. There are other reasons for my frustration, but I’ll stop blabbering out them. Basically, I hate not being able to stomach most sashimi. My sashimi palate is very limited. Because it is so limited, I also don’t spend a lot of time blogging or eating it. It’s not exactly cheap, and I think it’s wasted on me since I can’t tell the subtle differences of tastes and textures. For me, the raw fish is broken down into two categories: being able to eat it and not being able to eat it. I can eat the basic ones like tuna and salmon. I don’t love it, but I can stomach it. But most of the others I can’t stomach.
The one exception though, is clams, abalone and octopus. I love them both in their cooked forms and in their raw forms. So imagine my delight when I read Ed’s post, which covered a wide range of sashimi dishes including clams, abalone and octopus!! The omakase experience (leaving it up to the chef) he had sounded so wonderful. I’ve never had such an experience here in the US. So I was very excited about this place because it seemed like a place with really fresh fish, a fun experience, and one that had offerings that both Boyfriend and I would enjoy.
So Boyfriend and I went this past weekend to try it out. As you may already be able to guess, this is going to be a long post. But I had such a wonderful, long, dining experience, that I want to share my memorable night in its full glory.
It was a bit hard to find at first. The lovely lady on my GPS told us we had arrived, but we didn’t see it anywhere, as it has no big sign in front of it. Finally we found it tucked in between some other places.
When we went in, we were greeted by the sushi chefs. But then there was no one else to greet us to take us to our spot or anything. So we sort of stood around for a while until someone finally came over and asked if we had been helped (I think it was the owner). I told him no, and that I had a reservation. He said okay and then disappeared for a while.
Finally one of the ladies that was cleaning up gestured for us to sit down at the bar. And we did. I recognized the Chef Morita from his picture on the website. However, we were seated in a section of the sushi bar with another sushi chef. I asked him what his name was, and he started to say it and then changed his mind and said we could just call him Joe. Chef Joe was quite busy when we sat down. He was busy most of the night, making a lot of sushi rolls for I’m not sure who. I think some large party to go orders? Because he was making large trays full of different sushi whenever he wasn’t making sushi for the customers in his section at the bar.
We sat around for a little bit. Boyfriend whispered to me, “Isn’t there supposed to be a menu?” I told him I thought there was. And I saw that people sitting at tables had a menu. Shortly after that Chef Joe finished some massive sushi roll making and asked us “So what do you want to start off with?” Boyfriend and I looked at each other in bewilderment. We had no idea. We hadn’t even seen a menu! So we told him we didn’t know and asked for recommendations.
Skipjack we were told. Flown in from Japan. It sounded good to us. So we started with that.
Chef Joe presented us with the
fish and also a sauce made with vinegar and some other stuff that he said would go well with the fish. Boyfriend took one bite and said it was very yummy. I ate a piece, and while at first it tasted good, after the last swallow, the skipjack left the same fishy aftertaste that makes me not fond of the fish. It’s just okay, I told him. A bit fishy. We talked to Chef Joe for a bit. Boyfriend told him that he liked tuna, salmon, but that I found most sashimi to be too fishy. I told Chef Joe I liked things like tako, abalone.
Chef Joe said tako makes a great sushi, so for the next course, he made us tako.
The color of the tako was absolutely gorgeous. I was surprised about how crispy it was. The tako I’ve eaten has always been super chewy. Chef Joe explained that is because the tako is frozen. He said it is better when it is crispy because you can really taste the flavors. Normally Boyfriend won’t touch tako, but he loved the dipping sauce it came with and gobbled up half this plate.
For our next dish, Chef Joe didn’t ask us what he wanted. Instead, he reassured us that he would make a white fish that we would like. He said he knew our tastes. We trusted him. He sliced up very thin pieces of two kinds of fish: snapper and halibut. When he presented it to us, he purposedly put the halibut on the right side and the snapper on the left. He explained that he thought I would enjoy the halibut and that Boyfriend would enjoy the snapper.
After tasting the halibut, I was amazed. He was right. I loved the halibut. No fishy aftertaste for me. And it was more than just an okay fish. I really enjoyed it. Boyfriend said the snapper was great, so I tried a piece. It had the fishiness I didn’t like, so I stopped after just one. Boyfriend enjoyed the halibut as well. Chef Joe asked how we liked it. We told him that Boyfriend liked both, but that I only liked the halibut.
Chef Joe nodded his head and then told me,”You have a delicate tongue.” It was the first time in all these years that I have ever heard a positive spin put on my inability to eat most sashimi. The way he said it was like it was a good thing, a great compliment. I was so surprised and happy.
He then asked us what we wanted next. I had been looking forward to abalone all night, so I told him I wanted the abalone. I also spotted what I thought was clam in the display case, and Chef Joe confirmed it was clam. He then got really excited. “You like clam? I’ll make you a great clam dish. 3 parts!” He then got busy. Then he started stirring and heating some substance which he said was clam guts. He explained it tastes better cooked. Then he gave us this beautiful presentation:
He explained what everything was, but I can’t remember them all. So there are basically three clams on the top. One is a giant clam. One is a clam from Boston. One is a clam from Seattle I think. In the bottom right corner is abalone. And in the left bottom corner are the clam guts.
The abalone was very crunchy. The edges were actually a bit hard and very fishy tasting. The inner portions were a bit better, but I actually wasn’t too fond of the abalone in its raw form. I really loved the clam though. All of the clams tasted good, though my favorite was the giant clam. I also really liked the clam guts. Normally Boyfriend is not a fan of clams, abalone, or any of these types of shellfish, but he ate as much as I did. He said it tasted fantastic with the sauce the chef gave us. He even liked the clam guts to my surprise. When we were eating, Chef Joe asked us if we liked the clam guts. We both nodded. Really? he asked again. We again nodded. Then he clapped his hands in delight and gave us a thumbs up. He declared that we were true clam lovers if we enjoyed the guts.
After this, we asked him for another recommendation and one that Boyfriend would enjoy because I was already full by this point and ready for my uni dessert. (We had this meal right after going to the San Diego Fair.) Chef Joe recommended the barracuda. It was interesting to watch him cut the barracuda because it was in its whole form, and he had to take out all the bones and cut it up. He left the skin on and also told us he would sear the fish a little. He prepared the fish topped with two different sauces. I don’t remember what they are anymore. What was interesting about this when he presented it to us, was that he presented it to us separately. All the other dishes we had been given one plate to share. But this time, he put two pieces of fish on each plate and gave it to us separately. We soon learned why.
Before we ate it, he told me he thought I probably wouldn’t like it very much. When I ate it, I was surprised by the lack of any flavor, really. I didn’t love it, but it wasn’t fishy either. Boyfriend found that surprising because he said his had the fishy taste. Then he sampled mine. We discovered that my fish was seared a lot more than Boyfriend’s. So that is why the Chef had given us our plates separately.
The chef was gone for a while during this point. When he came back, he asked what we wanted next. Uni! I had been waiting for uni all night. The uni was placed on a roll of rice with seaweed. To my surprise, the chef prepared only two pieces and put it directly onto my plate. How did he know that Boyfriend hates uni?!?!
I was pleasantly surprised at the crispiness of the seaweed. A lot of times as soon as the moisture hits, it becomes very soft and hard to break apart when you bite into it. But I was able to bite into this one just fine. The uni is as good as I remember. Soft, creamy and a little bit sweet. The perfect ending for me.
Boyfriend was debating whether or not he wanted something else. I told him he should since we were already here. We were slightly worried about our bill at this point because we had not seen a menu and had no idea what the prices were of the things we were trying. He told the chef that he really wanted to end the meal with the skipjack.
Our total came to be about $95, including a beer. Not bad at all considering all the fresh seafood we had and the wonderful attention paid to us by the chef. We will definitely be back. Boyfriend and I left very happy.