Robata-ya Oton

>> Monday, August 15, 2011

Date of Dining: 7/29/2011
Price: $5-10 for each tapas dish
Location: 5447 Kearny Villa Rd #D, San Diego, CA 92123

The Quick Bit:
+ Good traditional Japanese ambiance with authentic seating
+ Wide variety of authentic Japanese dishes
+ Great friendly service even though you are isolated in a booth
+ Good selection on seasonal menu of specials
Δ Amount of reservations taken seems high
Δ Could be expensive to get full

In contrast to last week, this week I look at one of the ethnic cuisines that San Diego does well - Japanese. From fresh sushi to ramen to bento boxes, San Diego has some good to decent selections for all of these choices.

Robata-ya Oton is an Izakaya that specializes in some grilled dishes. The Robataya in the name is derived from the japanese word robatayaki which means that fresh food is grilled and served in front of you. However, I would say the experience at Robataya Oton is more just an Izakaya. There is a bar where you can see the fresh ingredients on display, but the main focus of the restaurant seems to be the 4-6 booths situated along the wall where once removes their shoes and goes to sit inside the booths. There is even a curtain to eat booth to provide privacy. We showed up right as the restaurant opened for dinner service at 5:30, and I was surprised that they had already had reservations for all the booths booked out. Luckily after speaking with the manager, I assured him that we would finish before the 7:00 reservation on one of the booths and we were quickly ushered into a booth.

Digression: I purposefully bought a tiny point and shoot camera for for casual dining where I want to try to hide that I am taking photos of the food, but at 5:30 the service was almost too attentive at the restaurant. There was no way I would have been able to take photos of the seating and bar without being noticed, so I unfortunately don't have any photos. However, if you do a quick google search on one of the San Diego blogs I have linked, the photos cover the inside of the restaurant rather well.

Additionally, Robata-ya Oton is owned by the same group that owns Wa Dining Okan. If I had to differentiate between the two, I would say that Robata-ya Oton is slightly higher end and has a large focus on grilled dishes while Wa Dining Okan focuses a little more on home-style cooking. I would still say each is more of an Izakaya, but each is just focused slightly differently.
Tamago with Umeboshi and Shiso
This dish was actually listed as "Japanese Style Egg Omelet" and I would probably never order this myself, but the person I was with absolutely loves tamago. The tamago here was good, but not spectacular; it was cooked well but the flavor of it was boring (I guess they used a cheap mirin?). The less than wow factor of the tamago was mitigated by the umeboshi dipping sauce and the shiso, which added some extra flavors. I felt that there could have been more umeboshi because it paired really well with the tamago. However, as a starter, this dish worked well as it left me hungry for more.
Karage - deep fried chicken
This was supposed to be fried chicken skin crackers, but the order was messed up and we received karage. Even though we said it was the wrong order, the restaurant gave us the dish for free since they had already cooked it. The chicken was fried and seasoned well the Japanese style karage. The fact that the chicken was free range chicken didn't really come through in the flavor though.
Shio Ankimo - Steamed Monkfish Liver (salt style)
This dish was offered as a shio or ponzu style and I chose the shio as I figured it wouldn't allow anything to be hidden. This monkfish liver was a little on the fishy side, but it was still enjoyable for the rich flavor that makes it known as the foie gras of the sea. However, had I known that it would be so fishy, I would have gone with the ponzu preparation. I wouldn't say that the ankimo was bad, but it definitely needed to be steamed to serve and it was probably close to being over.
Amaebi Sashimi
As spot prawns are in season, when I saw the Amaebi on the menu I knew I had to order it. This amaebi was at the peak of freshness and the flesh of the prawn was sweet, succulent, and had a nice texture. To top it off, my dining companion allowed me to have the head of the prawn. Thank you!
Chilled Tofu with Uni
This dish was another hit. The uni was extremely fresh and flavorful, and the tofu provided a medium to extend the flavor of the uni longer. I'm not sure what the sauce was, but it also assisted in keeping the flavor of the uni extended.
Braised Kurobuta Pork
This was another great dish. The kurobuta pork belly was cooked so that it was soft and tender, and the braising liquid was extremely flavorful. When eaten all together in one bite, the broth complimented the flavor of the pork. The mustard was a nice touch to add some variety, but it was not strictly necessary to enjoy the dish. I really enjoyed the mustard because it still retained some of the texture of the seeds of the mustard. It was also more concentrated in flavor to be more similar to wasabi.
Grilled Beef Tongue
Beef tongue is one of those well kept secret cuts of beef that is awesome when prepared well. The Japanese have nailed down that preparation of beef tongue when it is cooked over a yakitori grill, which it appeared that these were. I really enjoyed these skewers and almost felt the need to order more.
Deep Fried Chicken Skin Crackers
Since the order was messed up, this dish came out last. Unfortunately if I had known this was what the dish would be ahead of time, I never would have ordered it (I can see why the waitress brought out karage instead). The make matters worse, it appeared that this was a rush job in preparation of the dish, so not all of the chicken skin was fried properly and some of the middle pieces were still un-fried. This was easily the worst dish of the night.
Rum Raisin Ice Cream
This was just your standard ice cream (even though it was an unfamiliar flavor), but it was still a great way to finish off the meal.

Overall, the experience at Oton was very good (aside from the chicken skin). Looking at the menu now, I still see a wide variety of different dishes that I would order next time. Furthermore, even though we ordered a lot of food, the bill came out lower than I expected. The food at Oton was an authentic Japanese experience, a great variety, and a healthy dose of umami to satiate my umami craving.

Despite the miss of the chicken skin, my experience at Oton was enough to award it the bit award! The great service and the string of four great dishes made up for the one bad dish. If you visit, I would suggest ordering more dishes from the seasonal specials and the grilled dishes since those seemed to be the best.


Post a Comment

About This Blog

gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
If any special treatment is provided to the blogger, full disclosure is presented at the beginning of the post.

  © Blogger template Webnolia by 2009

Back to TOP