It’s been a hot minute since I’ve done a restaurant review on this blog, as it’s actually a topic I don’t particularly care to write about. In this case, however, I’ll make an exception. After another wonderful meal at the still-under-the-radar homestyle Japanese restaurant, Wa Dining OKAN, I feel compelled to share it with you… even as I hope you never go and make it harder for me to get a reservation!
This place is a real jewel box– tucked away in a strip mall, like all places on Convoy Street, I guess– OKAN seats a max of 25 people, most of whom are seated around a rectangular bar area where the day’s specials are presented in beautiful earthenware bowls and serving platters. For my birthday this past year, the mister and I were lucky enough to grab seats around the bar– it’s really the way to go to see all the fresh foods of the day, and ogle what the other patrons (mostly Japanese folks, not tourists or puti people) are ordering off the Japanese-language menu (which is way better and more extensive than the English menu, of course!). This time, with our party of four, we were seated at one of the three larger tables in the place, which was still lovely but definitely missing some of the ambience.
The decor inside is warm and inviting, almost like being in someone’s home. The hostesses last weekend, when I went, were in kimonos even– they don’t typically wear them, but it was the 3rd Anniversary celebration weekend for the restaurant, so the outfits were part of the festivities. Enough about the decor though– look at the food!
Wa Dining Okan specializes in small plates, but they offer much more than standard izakaya bar fare. They offer large rice pots, soups, and the like, but I enjoy ordering from the small plates and daily specials, which are always fresh and seasonal. They say they offer “homestyle Japanese cooking,” and I’ll believe them, even if I’ve never eaten in a Japanese person’s home before (anyone wanna invite me over for dinner?). Some of the highlights from this past weekend’s meal (though I’ve never had a dish I didn’t enjoy here) are pictured below.
The scallop sashimi in sea urchin sauce was so delicate and boldly flavored at the same time– it was my first time eating scallops in the raw, and these had such a briney taste, as if they came directly from the sea to the plate. I didn’t try it, but our friend also raved about the leaf beneath the scallops– turned out it was shiso, which I’ve never had before. Good thing they sell it at the Nijiya market, next door to OKAN, in case I ever get the urge to try some at home.
A dish so good we ordered it twice– fried mochi in broth. I’ve never had mochi prepared this way, and it was wonderful. A great contrast in textures, and the broth was beautiful (as are all the broths made here). Pictured behind are skewers of fried beef tongue, which I’ve had before here and always really enjoy. It’s one of the menu items on the Japanese menu– I’m assuming the restaurant doesn’t think average Americans have the palate for it, and sadly they’re probably right.
A menu staple, and done right here– rice balls with salmon. Though seeing the special being brought to the next table– plain rice balls rolled in sea salt and served with broth– did give me some rice ball envy, that’s for sure.
Dinner at Wa Dining OKAN isn’t cheap, but neither is it outrageous, especially for the quality of food you get. For their third anniversary weekend, all small plates were 30% off, and Sapporo drafts were only $2. They seem to have special events quite often– following them on Facebook or Twitter will keep you abreast of what’s happening.
While I bitch about living in San Diego most days, I will say that there are a growing number of restaurants here that are really good– not just good for San Diego, but good for anywhere else. I’d add Wa Dining OKAN to that list, any time.
Wa Dining OKAN
3860 Convoy Street, Suite 110
San Diego, CA 92111
I’m on a roll lately (excuse the pun), so I thought I’d share some pictures of the last fantastic sushi I had at San Diego’s own Sushi Ota. It’s generally accepted knowledge that this is the sushi joint to go to in San Diego, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The Mister and I went here on my birthday last month, and I gorged myself accordingly.
Typical starters: miso and seaweed salad. I knew I’d be getting a lot of fish, but damn if I can’t resist a good seaweed salad.
Silly me, I didn’t think to sit at the bar and order the day’s specials from Chef Ota himself. Next time, next time.
What we did have: chirashi for the Mister, a nigiri sampler for me. The toro and blue tail tuna were magnificent, melt-in-your-mouth out of this world good. The salmon roe was literally bursting with flavor, and from the presentation to the preparation these dishes were perfection.
(Pardon the lighting in these pictures, it was quite dim inside!)
And the uni… where do I start with the uni? Another picture– ignore the rest of the washed-out photo, and take a look at that bright yellow gorgeousness:
I don’t think I’ve ever really enjoyed sea urchin before; there are just too many bad examples of it in most Japanese sushi joints, and most of the time I would never bother. But here, it was exactly right: full of that ocean taste without the briny-ness, with this pillowy texture and mouthfeel I can’t even begin to describe properly. Oh, I will dream of that uni for many days to come.
Best of all, the bill at Sushi Ota was incredibly reasonable for the quality– under $120 for the sushi, starters, and a bottle of Mukku sake (delicious and well balanced, by the way) including tax, before tip. It was hardly more than any other sushi restaurant here in San Diego though it is leagues ahead. And you know we would easily have spent twice or three times as much for far inferior product if we were still living in New York. Some days it really is good to live in Southern California.
4529 Mission Bay Drive
San Diego, CA 92109