From then end of summer last year through winter, I heard a lot of good things about the newly opened Akinori Sushi in Hillcrest. So near the end of the year, I called and made reservations for an "Omakase" meal to share with my good buddy Candice. Having eaten at Surfside Sushi a couple of times, in front of Akinori twice, I already knew of his friendly, accommodating, and laid back demeanor, so I was sure that this would, at the least, be a nice meal.
We had seats front and center....and Candice, ever the beer-maven, quickly noticed that Aki-san had brought in some local brews from Monkey Paw. I quickly noticed that the "heritage" of al the fish being served was listed on the chalkboard on the wall.
We happily chatted and munched on our amuse.....
And our first course of kazunoko and gobo.....
Of course, all attention went to Aki-san as he prepared our next course.......
You can't really make it out, but a lobster was being dispatched......
Not quite as fast as say.....Hiro-san, but quick enough.
It was interesting watching the head of lobster still bobbing around as our plates were being prepared.....
Which looked wonderful.
The hirame (halibut) was cut paper thin, something I really enjoy as cutting it in that manner really changes and heightens the texture. Of course the uni, being local, and "gold" grade was outstanding, that was to be expected. But what really surprised me the most was the Ise Ebi (lobster) sashimi. Personally, I'm not a big fan of lobster sashimi, for me it's sort of bland and rubbery.....even when having been prepared by Urasawa. This however was sweet and quite tender.....very nice local lobster.
Next up was the nouvelle course....the new style presentations.
This was an interesting mixed-bag. So much of the Itamae-customer relationship is based on multiple visits. It's tough trying to figure out a new customer who walks in the door saying "feed me". So some of what I got, like the by-the-books saikyo miso Chilean Sea Bass.
Was good, but really didn't wow me. I make this every couple of months for the Missus.
And I'm just not a big fan of the burnt pseudo-mayo-cream cheese "roll" thing called the roll with Tokyo Bam Bam aioli.
On the other hand.......uni and hotategai (scallop) is a classic pairing, so the Hotate with Uni paste was a fantastic take on a classic combination.
Sweet, sweet, ocean....would probably be a wonderful name for this!
And yet, it wasn't my favorite item on the plate.......which was the "uni tofu".
Think of this as a sort of whipped uni cake, almost like a decent tamago. Light, spongy, permeated with the ocean-custard flavor of uni. I could have easily have eaten a whole tray....then die with a smile on my face.
Next up was a wonderfully refreshing Kumamoto Oyster with ponzu paired with one of my favorite things; ankimo (steamed monkfish liver "pate").
It funny, both Candice and I took bites of our ankimo simultaneously....we both stopped and looked at each other. The texture of the ankimo was perfect, but there was a certain, almost cheesy pungency to it. Whoa.... it was pretty heady stuff!
All during the meal, Aki-san is conversing with us....and being the sharp Itamae, I think he picked up on my preferences with regards to fish along the way as the next item up was a wonderful, lightly sweet, chewy, piece of engawa (halibut dorsal fin muscle), the most treasured part of the fish.
Right up next was something I would never have thought of......
Yes, it was a really nice piece of hirame....but sprinkled on top was a really fragrant truffle salt! For some reason, I really took to the fragrance and flavor of this. I'm almost thinking of sneaking that jar of truffle salt I have in the cabinet and ordering hirame sashimi from Wal Mi Do. Now that would be pretty funny, huh?
And while the mebachi (Big Eye tuna) looked good, but was nothing special, I had time to appreciate how Aki-san put together his rice.......not too tight, which allows the rice to disperse easily upon eating.
The kohada (gizzard shad) was lightly brushed with a mild nikiri, which really helped since the flavor didn't have quite a pronounced milky flavor.
As good as the engawa and hirame was, nothing could compare with the Aji.
We watched as a huge layer of fat was trimmed from the fish....we already knew this was going to be good....... The texture was just plain decadent, something I never thought I'd say about aji. The fish almost melted away in my mouth and yet kept that wonderful lightly milky flavor of Spanish Mackerel. Best aji I've had, maybe forever......
Next item needs no description......
It was very good....but because of the timing, was only the second best miso shiro I had that week. (more on that later). Still lobster miso shiro....c'mon.
I wasn't a big fan of the anago, which felt kind greasy to me.
At this point, I was waving the white flag....so Aki-san told us, "just one more item". And it was some item.
Uni lovers of the world unite......uni risotto, topped with shoyu ikura, tororo (grated yamaimo), and uni. Nice uni flavor with hints of sesame oil. A excellent rice dish, perhaps not up to Raku's Kamameshi, but what is?
In the end, it was a very good meal. Because Akinori is not familiar with me, by no means did I expect a perfect meal. We'll save that for maybe two meals down the road....which based on the price; this was $70 without booze, is doable. Like I said, the relationship between the customer and Itamae is a sacred one....something folks forget. A while back I had a conversation with one of those "sushi snobs" who really had nothing good to say about any other sushi bars except his favorite...he's loyal, which is nice, but is also something that colors his judgement. There's no place that makes everything perfect, every time......now folks who know me realize that I'm a very boring, pragmatic, person...so I ask the guy a simple question- "how many time did you give these places a try?" His answer? "Just once, they never lived up to how good xxxx is." "So how many times have you been to xxxx?" "Well, we go sometimes two times a week, xxxx-san knows me there and know what I like!""So you give these places one try and say they don't know you like xxxx-san, then hold it against them....what do you do?" "I'm a barber...." "So what if I came into your shop and had you cut my hair and told you....it's not as good as my regular barber I go to every month? What would you say...." Well.....he just cursed at me and moved a few seats down at the counter of one of those one-and-done sushi bars that-would-never- be-as-good-as-his-favorite.
Give Akinori a try....or two....or three..... oh, and if you plan of having the Omakase, call ahead.
1417 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92103
Oh and if you ever wonder why I don't read that four lettered review site; when I mentioned visiting Akinori to a friend of mine, he pointed me to this. Good grief!