I first of Kaga Sushi what seems like a lifetime ago....probably around 2002. One day, while purchasing some wagashi at Hogetsu, I noticed the very non-descript sign on one of the buildings. Well....here was the Kaga Sushi that I'd heard so much about. Granted, a good part of that discussion included words like racist, sushi nazi, etc...... Also, I understand that one of the graduates of Kaga's mentorship is a pretty, well how should I say it, rather temperamental fellow himself. After seeing him treat customers badly on my two visits there, I don't think I'd return. In fact, the last time there, I was with a friend from Japan who made it a point after leaving to tell me, "I want to let you know....REAL Japanese are not like that!" 'nuff said. Another word that has been used in various discussions is exclusivity, which kind of rubs me the wrong way.....I'm just not like that. What really changed my mind about Kaga Sushi was a discussion with Mrs Takeda of Hogetsu-do. She basically told me that the couple who run the place want to only serve traditional sushi and don't speak very much English. They basically feel uncomfortable with people they don't know and can't communicate with...there would be an additional addition to this a bit later on. I did try to get past this door with the neon open sign twice back in 2005......
And just to make the story short; I looked the part, but couldn't recite the lines. And that was just the way it was going to be. Folks I knew who were Nihon didn't want to go there....folks who thought their Japanese wasn't good enough were afraid. Still, this past winter, I was having a nice Friday drink when "Xiang Jiao" came along. For some reason, I happened to mention Kaga Sushi, and my own "xiang jiao" (which means banana in Mandarin) difficulties. Now being young and all, XJ saw a challenge....she was fascinated. As a plus, her beau (MrT) is from Tokyo and works for one of the major Japanese companies in San Diego. She asked me if I'd be up for Kaga Sushi. Thinking that nothing would come of it I said sure. And during our porcine party, XJ came up to me and blurted out a date....huh? She then reminded me of our discussion....we had a date set for Kaga, which was postponed once, but there I was standing outside that door on a rather cold late December evening. We also had XJ's friend "Trang" and her boyfriend, Masa, who is also from Tokyo for back-up. We walked through that door.....
Now I'd like to say it was all dramatic and such, but the interior is quite humble and warm....much like what you think a neighborhood sushi place would be like in Japan.
The menu, written on very old-school style wooden slats were in Japanese. The couple who ran the place seemed to have aged quite a bit in the last 7 years and now looked like they were in their 70's. The woman who simply showed me a reserved sign and nodded "no" in 2005, now seemed like a doting grandmother....plus, she seemed a bit hard of hearing, which would make dealing with English speakers more difficult.
There was a Hispanic Couple in the place when we arrived, also with a Japanese couple....so this was not an "exclusive club" even though it seemed to cater to the Japanese Ex-Pat community. MrT, ordered, in what he later told me was in the "most respectful way" that it would be Omakase for us.
And let me just say, this was very, very good. Unadorned and traditionally straight forward, but very good.....
No fruit or vegetable carvings......no sauce "swooshed" on the plate, no neat little trinkets, no huge lump of yuzu kosho killing the hirame (my one really bad dish at Kaito).....this was just plain no hiding, no holds, delici-yoso. MrT told me that in terms of just prep and quality, this was much better than Ota, Kaito, Shirahama, or anything else in San Diego. The o-toro did melt in your mouth, the Saba was perfectly cured, milky, but without venturing into "cheesiness", the texture was just perfect. The shoyu ikura was like the kiss of the ocean with ika that had an excellent chew. The akami was interesting, the cut included a bit of chu-toro, which made for a textural exchange.
I've never been a fan of the typical awabi (abalone) served in sushi bars, and am still not, though it does make a nice visual impact.
Next up was a short respite with a very well done broiled saba. Nice oil, balanced salt and sweet.....
Then came the nigiri.
The first thing that struck me was the amount of komezu (rice vinegar) in the sushi-meshi.....it reallycaught me off guard. MrT and Masa thought it was just lovely. For me, the nigiri was not as thrilling as the sashimi. The highlites....well the blue crab was just plain delicious, the kohada was cured well, nice and lightly milky...the mirugai was good. The Ebi, in this case wild Mexican Shrimp was delicious as well.
Based on what I'd already eaten, I had high hope for tamago. Though I've never really bought into the "you judge an Itamae by how they prepare the humble egg" school of thought, I do like a light, mildly sweet, melt in your mouth tamago just like everyone else.
There's some irony to this whole meal. We'd had all this sashimi and sushi, but the one real talking point for us after the meal was the miso shiro....yep, the miso soup.
As we took the first sip of this rich, yet balanced simple miso shiro with daikon, the three guys looked up...... I'm not sure what it was, but there was that simple comforting feeling this soup gave the three Japanese "boys" in the group. Like a warm blanket wrapping around you on a cold day.... Nice ratio of miso to dashi, not too salty, the daikon cooked to very tender, but not melted away. This was so nice.
After our meal, the Itamae came and spoke to MrT....when he found our XJ wasn't Japanese, he was amazed that she wanted to eat sashimi and nigiri and not just rolls. Hopefully, that contributed to a stereotype being torn down. The folks here just seem to want to do their thing. Even though I still don't agree with the way they do it; having grandparents who never spoke English, I understand it. MrT told me that he had heard this building had been sold and was going to be torn down and the owners look like they are close to retirement. I'm hoping that Kaga Sushi will give a little in who they serve. Though I don't think I can get into the place without someone fluent in Japanese even after eating there......
1216 3rd Ave
Chula Vista, CA 91911