I'll be the first to say that "Japano-Italian" cuisine has never been a favorite of mine. which I readily admitted when I first mentioned that Sakura was opening up a second restaurant, this one specializing in the Japanese-Italian hybrid. I've had this fusion several times, at a couple of places back home in Hawaii and at Spoon House and Akane Chaya in Gardena. Don't quite know what it is; but I've never really enjoyed Uni Spaghetti and such. So I really thought I'd just leave the posts on the place up to Dennis, who has affinity for this type of dishes. Sure enough, the ever dependable Dennis had a post soon after the very, very, soft opening. Which didn't make me get up and grab some napolitan..... Until.... a FOY (Friend of Yoso), "MichaelC" emailed me, telling me how he enjoyed his meal at "Restaurant Kazu". I call it that because....much like Sakura, the place has no sign.
The small dining area is somewhat intimate, mildly stylish, without being stuffy.
The menu reflects what's on the chalkboard outside with other dishes that I would come to know as the "standards" here....like the creamy uni spaghetti. Appetizers run $4-$12 with entrees going for $10 and up. The menu has been slightly different on every visit.
One thing that stays the same is the slice of bread and a little dish of balsamic vinegar with olive oil.
It's been basically the two same young ladies working here on all my visits. They are both friendly, have a great sense of humor, and are overall a joy.
I started with something a bit different I saw on the appetizer menu; the Squid Ceviche. This was a major surprise for me in flavor.
First off, the texture of the squid was up to Sakura standards. Light chew, but quite tender. The flavors took me by surprise, there was a bit of heat going on, along with a good deal of lime juice. It was a bit on the sweet side; almost palm sugar sweet, which I enjoyed. On another visit, I found it a bit too sweet, but this time it really woke me up. With the cilantro, it almost seemed like a Thai style dish, bold flavors, which I enjoyed.
I went with the carbonara, which was kind of runny.
I liked the portion size, not too massive. It was beyond any doubt, a carb bomb. The pasta was just cooked to perfection....something, along with all the dishes using the same pasta, I'd find on subsequent visits.
Overall, I thought this better than expected. It was a nice, unhurried, relaxed meal. The two servers were very friendly and answered, or tried to answer my questions....many of which, like "when is the grand opening" had no answer.
So, on another evening, I had to dine solo, what better place to go than back here, right? This meal was just the opposite of my previous, with the appetizer, the "Italian Chicken Wings" (you know me and wings, right?) being pretty much a fail.
This was too salty...even for me, it was also kind of greasy. One of the wings wasn't fully cooked.
On the other hand, I really enjoyed the Shishito Pepper with Mushrooms and Yuzu Pepper, Japanese style ($13). The secret to this dish....yuzukosho, a strong fermented paste of yuzu peel and chili pepper, which added a nice citrus zip to the dish.
The pasta again cooked perfectly, the shishito adding a nice crunch to the meaty mushrooms. Again, pretty high on the carb ratio and it did seem like something I could make at home, but I did enjoy it. Plus, that little seed, of using yuzukosho in a different way had been planted.
I again joked with my servers about the mysterious grand opening and when I was told that the place was going to actually have a sign, I couldn't help but laugh....I told them "I'll believe it when I see it."
A couple of days later, the Missus was tied up during a weekend day. On my previous visit, I was told that lunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 3. So why not? Same servers, same smiles, same laughs when I asked "where's the sign?" Lunch is prix fixe, in the typical Japanese "lunch set" way. You have a base lunch, which starts at $12, you can substitute items, or change items.
It comes with coffee or orange juice....I rarely drink coffee, but on this day......
It smelled familiar....and it did turn out to be Starbucks.
The standard issue salad was a simple mix of arugula and romaine, which I enjoy.
Except that the vinaigrette was a bit too sour and this would have been much better with a sliver or two of some milky cheese to help cut the acid.
The standard issue soup was a surprisingly tart minestrone.
The vegetables were really on the crunchy side, which I don't mind at all.
For my main, I went with what MichaelC recommended, the Squid Ink Pasta which was a $2 up charge.
This is sauce made with squid ink, not the pasta. The better squid ink I've had has a mild briney flavor to it, but not much else to it. This one had a slight bitterness and bit more garlic than I expected. It also felt a bit on the rich side, so I was glad to have the tomatoes in the dish. Loved the way the squid was cooked and the pasta was again cooked perfectly.
I also noticed that the portion sizes seemed to have gotten larger during this visit. Overall, it was nice lunch......so when Candice, Ange, Peter, and I had to meet up to plan a little project we have, I thought why not?
We ended up having more food than I could document....mainly because we had such a fun time chatting. The Shishito Pepper with Mushrooms and Yuzu Pepper was again a winner, along with the Cod Roe, Salmon, Roe, Shiso Leaves, and Seaweed Cold Pasta ($14).
Though I really would have appreciated a bit more ikura.
We also enjoyed the Baby Anchovies and Japanese Bell Pepper Peperoncino ($13).
Sort of like a really mild aglio e olio.
As you can imagine, having the same pasta got a bit tedious. Several of the other dishes really didn't make a great impression; the Bagna Cauda was bland, the ribs not very good, and the seafood in the vongole biagno was overcooked, the mussels rubbery. Service was very nice and accommodating. Candice mentioned that the wine list looked way over-priced (a bottle of Kendall Jackson $42!), and the beer options were either the Budweiser of Italy; Peroni, or Asahi, which is what we had.
Oh, and still no grand opening or sign in sight! I realize that for someone who is not really into Japano-Italian food, I've sure eaten here quite a bit in the last couple of months. You can't say I didn't do my due diligence on this one. I do enjoy the lightness of some of the dishes, have enjoyed the servers, oh, and you can tell I really like my carbs, right? Don't go here expecting a meat-fest, you'll be disappointed. The portion sizes seem to have gotten bigger, though I think they can cut back on the pasta and make the dishes more well rounded.
3904 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
Dinner - Tues-Sun 5pm - 10pm
Lunch - Sat-Sun 11am - 3pm
Closed on Mondays
Thanks again for the email Michael!