Akinori Sushi (Omakase) - August 2012

>> Thursday, August 23, 2012

Date of Dining: 8/18/2012
Price: $60-90 per person for omakase
Location: 1417 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103

The Quick Bit

+ high quality fresh sushi
+ product from japanese fish markets
+ creative flair to modify sushi
Δ service could be more attentive

Walking into a new sushi bar can be like a first date - you may or may not know something about the chef/restaurant before and you're trying to figure out if it will work out, and the chef is also trying to figure out what might appeal to you for your dining experience. Sitting down for the first time in front of Chef Akinori Sato and saying "omakase," there was definitely one of those awkward silences where he tried to figure out if I wanted the good stuff or just a variety. He went with the polite question of, "Sushi or sashimi?" to which we responded, "A little of everything" before the entire journey kicked off.
Akinori Sato is the owner and head chef of Akinori Sushi, which opened one month ago. Prior to opening his own place, Aki (as he is known by his regulars and staff) was the head chef at Surfside Sushi. When I asked him about his style, he said that it was grounded in edo style, but my take was that he has embraced more of a modernist take on sushi with a liberal use of sauces and blowtorches. However, everything is based in the fundamentals of edo style from the loosely packed small amount of rice to the fresh wasabi.
I had Aki at somewhat of a disadvantage going in as the restaurant came highly recommended by fellow food writer Rodzilla and gastrobit regular Michelle. I had a good feeling that the journey through this chef's menu would be exciting, but I really didn't know how events might play out.


sashimi platter
Aki started us with a sashimi platter - as he was making the sashimi, I inquired to if he had anything from Tsukiji. He informed me that while normally he does have product from there, this week it was closed. Fortunately, it was prawn season in San Diego and he had some amazing product locally.
amaebi (sweet shrimp) - San Diego
The amaebi was from local San Diego waters and still alive when Aki killed it. You could tell because the legs were still moving on the head piece. You can see this in Rodzilla's video if you're interested.
The quality of the amaebi was incredible due to the freshness and both the texture and sweetness of the shrimp was the perfect way for me to start the meal.
hamachi (yellowtail) belly
Next, I sampled the toro of the hamachi. This was an incredibly nice flavor and mouth feel from all of the fat in the hamachi. 
jack mackerel
While Aki called this Jack Mackerel (I'm guessing this is the proper name), usually others call it Spanish Mackerel. This was a great fully flavored cut of the mackerel and had a great depth of flavor as well as freshness.
blue fin kama toro (tuna)
Aki explained this dish as just "blue fin toro" but when I asked if it was chutoro (guessing on the color), he informed me that it was in fact not from the belly. When I offered "kama toro?" I think that is when he knew that I was serious about my sushi.
The toro melted in my mouth and was probably the best sashimi on the plate. However, it was only the best by the smallest of margins as everything on the plate was amazing.
aoyagi (orange clam)
The aoyagi was probably the best in terms of flavor and texture I've ever been served. Usually this was more of a delicate sweetness, but I found that this particular serving had a fuller sweetness in flavor.
uni (sea urchin) - San Diego
We finished with a nice piece of local San Diego uni. Aki was explaining that he had imported from Santa Barbara at the old place, but found that the local San Diego variety was even better.

Prepared Dishes

fried amaebi head
The first cooked dish to come was the fried heads of the amaebi - the perfect way to finish off enjoying the shrimp. The head was fully flavored with the meat and guts still in the shells. I did have a small debate as to if I should suck the head raw, but ultimately decided to wait for it to get cooked.
prepared dishes plate
Since not all the items were cooked, I'll just go with these dishes as requiring some additional preparation beyond the sashimi. Where the sashimi plate was more about enjoying the natural flavors of the product, this is where we learned a little more of Aki's own style and how he likes to present his food.
hirame - white truffle oil, ghost pepper salt
Aki explained this dish as being a "boring" fish so he had to make it more exciting. I was a little afraid when I heard the ghost pepper, but this dish ended up really working well. The ghost pepper gave the spicy kick and was just enough to open the palate to accept the white truffle even more. The halibut was the perfect conduit for the heat of the pepper and flavor of the truffle.
ika (squid) - tapiko (cod roe), shiso
The squid was an excellent quality in the texture, and it was accompanied by the tapiko to add salt as well as an additional element to the dish. The shiso served as a lettuce wrap type vessel for the entire dish.
uni tofu
Aki described this dish as his take on uni as tofu. In addition to the uni itself, he actually did incorporate some tofu cubes as well to give a nice color to the dish. This preparation was just more great uni flavor. 
rock shrimp - green onion, gochujang, miso, mirin
The rock shrimp was a big surprise. The shrimps were fried to perfection and tossed in Aki's special gochujang miso mix. There was a great balance between the heat of the gochujang to the crunch of the batter to the sweet flavor of the shrimp. 
waygu - portabello
This was the best dish on the plate and of the evening. I didn't clearly hear what the top bit was but Aki made a point to say that it was "free". The waygu started out chilled, but Aki brought out the torch to give the dish a quick sear.
The waygu literally melted in my mouth; in combination with the top portion that might have been Fowl, Osprey, Ibis, or Egret liver was an intense flavor explosion in my mouth. There was a duality of succulent rich flavors from the beef itself and the topping on top that combined into a deep complexity of flavor. The most welcome surprise was that in addition to these flavors the torch gave a nice smoky finish to the meat, which served to cut into the fatty flavors.
miso marinated chilean sea bass - shishito
The Chilean Sea Bass was good, but for me the perfectly fried shishito pepper almost stole the show. The cod was cooked nicely and full of flavor, but the flavor of the pepper really complemented the sea bass.

Palate Cleanser

seafood cocktail
okinawa seaweed, hirame (halibut), hotategai (scallop) cucumber, caviar , chive
Aki named this dish a seafood cocktail, and it served as the perfect palate cleanser between the previous dishes and the sushi. I loved the visual impact of the dish as it almost seemed like there was a plant growing out of the cocktail.
The combination of the seaweed and cucumber was extremely refreshing. As it was a hot day, as I enjoyed the cocktail, I was actually feeling any lingering heat escape my body. My only tiny complaint of the dish was that I felt the hotategai was a bit lost in the dish. Really there could have been any protein and the dish would have been just as good.


sushi plate
As with any proper japanese meal, we finished with the sushi as the main event. 
saba (japanese mackerel) - konbu, ginger, chive
This was the best sushi for me of the night. The saba was wonderfully full bodied in flavor and the ginger and chive really served as a great topping for highlighting the flavor. The konbu was a nice glue element to tie all the smaller elements of the dish together. I probably could have eaten 10 of these as they were so good.
seared blue fin toro (tuna) 
Aki brought the torch to this dish as well, and topped it with another "free" topping. This time I heard that the topping was a terrine that Aki made himself - it may have contained a combination of Fowl, Osprey, Ibis, and Egret livers. The fattiness of the toro and the terrine was a perfect flavor complement. The flavors of the terrine really integrated well with the toro to introduce a new flavor that had great qualities of each.
This dish drew a great contrast in relation to the waygu dish - both relied on the duality of fat flavors combining into something more rich and complex. I'm somewhat curious how this dish would have worked with ankimo as the topping to get a true surf vs turf comparison.
uni (sea urchin)
There was some slight disagreement to which piece of uni was better looking so I just decided to include both. Uni is always a great way to finish off a sushi meal. The only thing that is better is when it is followed by anago.
This is why I was really surprised when the next dish was introduced
salmon belly - katsuobushi (bonito shavings), olive oil pesto, balsamic reduction
This dish was a great dish for showing off Aki's creative flair. The salmon was topped with bonito shavings to add some extra umami while the balsamic added some sweetness. The real surprise came from the olive oil pesto (hidden under the salmon). The pesto was actually made with shiso instead of basil, so it was more concentrated in flavor. The amount of the pesto included was the perfect balance to give a surprise in flavor, but not enough to overwhelm the flavor of the salmon.


soba (buckwheat noodles) - sesame shiso pesto, tomato, asparagus, onions, shitake
I was even more surprised when Aki liked that we enjoyed his pesto and wanted to show yet another use of it. In this pesto sauce, he used sesame seeds to thicken the sauce. The result was a great umami-filled sauce to go with the Jap-Italian pasta.


As part of the omakase, guests are offered ice cream, but we declined as we were completely satiated.


My experience at Akinori was a wonderful journey. In addition to the traditional sushi and sashimi, I really enjoyed the additional prepared dishes sent my Aki. By the end of the meal he offered me the fist-bump signifying that my initiation to regular was complete. The entire meal was an extreme high with almost no low points. I enjoyed Akinori so much that I'm already trying to plan an return trip. Aki said that he does expect a few matsutake mushrooms to come in during that season, so I'm excited to see what he does with them.
Inevitably, I think the question will be if Akinori or Kaito is better. If I compare comparable preparations of dishes side by side, I feel that Akinori would win more often. However, Kaito's omakase offers more of a progression where the flavors of the fish build on top of each other in a crescendo, so Kaito is still the top for me by the slimmest of margins. However, the experience at Akinori is enough for me to award Akinori Sushi the terrabyte award.


Rodzilla August 23, 2012 at 11:03 PM  

Glad you had such a great experience, we will have to make a visit together one of these days.

I really like Aki's style, there's so much skill involved in just quality traditional preparations but his additions and composed dishes bring it to a whole other level.

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