Published on December 3rd, 2012 | by Lindsay N. Lauters1
Entrust Your Tastebuds to Authentic Tokyo-Style Omakase
Kaito Sushi of Encinitas – Entrust Your Tastebuds to Authentic Tokyo-Style Omakase
Do you dream of sushi? When you close your eyes, do you see glistening slivers of toro luxuriating on delicate beds of rice? Do you crave an authentic, Tokyo sushi bar experience?
Yes? Then you’re in luck, my friends, because I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Some of the best sushi in California is right in your back yard – at Kaito Sushi of Encinitas.
What Makes Kaito So Special?
Kaito Sushi is a slice of Tokyo-style (or Edomae, for you sushi snobs) heaven. Right when you walk in, you’ll notice the sushi bar takes up 75% of the restaurant – that’s because the two Chefs, Morita and Joe, are focused on building relationships with their customers as well as fantastic foods. They do not take shortcuts and do not compromise. These two are the only chefs at work, every single day.
Their dedication shows. Not only do they craft some of the finest sushi available, but their restaurant is ridiculously busy. In fact, for the best experience, I recommend that you visit at 5 PM and make reservations at least a day or two in advance. Kaito is a Slow Food experience at its best, so make sure to budget around 2 hours for a meal.
So once you’ve made your reservation, what can you expect from dinner at Kaito Sushi?
You can order rolls here, but I highly recommend surrendering yourself to the Chef’s whims and ordering omakase (a tasting menu consisting of whatever is best, freshest, and in season). Don’t worry, the Chefs will ask if there’s anything you don’t like before whisking you away on a journey of the best their sushi bar has to offer that day.
My Custom-Tailored Sushi Journey
I’ve been going to Kaito for several years and have never had the same dining experience; the Chefs create a menu on the fly based on your personal preferences and what fish was best from the daily delivery.
As an example, though, I’ll detail a recent sushi dinner I enjoyed at Kaito. I had a bottle of Sapporo to drink, although sake and tea are also available.
Chu-Toro (Medium Fatty Tuna) Sashimi – I practically clapped my hands when Chef Morita suggested this as our first course – it’s a decadent opener for a late fall meal. He warned us in advance this was a particularly lean cut of chu-toro, but the flavor was excellent. Delicate and served at the perfect temperature, the fish melted on my tongue.
Kaki (Oyster) Fry — Next up, a fresh oyster fried in panko breading and served with Japanese katsu sauce, lemon, and a dab of Chinese mustard. We mixed and matched the three condiments for different flavor profiles. The oyster was juicy, savory, and hot – but not to the point of burning your tongue – and the breading was crispy.
Amberjack Lemon Rosettes – A creative sashimi dish showcasing the texture of the fish. Sashimi pieces were places on thinly slice lemons with a topping of spicy tomato relish. As I bit into the lemon, the acid cooked the fish in my mouth and changed the texture. A rosette of unadulterated amberjack was in the middle of the dish for comparison; without the acid and spice of the tomato relish, the fish was sweet and a bit creamy.
Ika (Squid) Sashimi – One of the things I enjoy most about Kaito is that the Chefs are constantly teaching me what a huge part season and location has in shaping the flavor and texture of seafood. This Ika was sweet, a bit briny and incredibly creamy, with a chewy backbone texture. Small rolls of Ika with pickled vegetables and Shisho leaves completed the arrangement. This was my second favorite dish of the night.
Red Snapper Nigiri – Lightly cooked, draped over rice, and dressed with freshly grated salt, real wasabi root, and yuzu, this was my favorite dish. The fish was soft with a slight char flavor, and sweet. In fact, sweet was rapidly becoming the flavor theme of the night.
Soy-Sake Marinated Maguro (Lean Red Tuna) Nigiri – Lean tuna flash-marinated in a house made sweet soy-sake mixture, with thinly sliced nagaimo (mountain yam) and radish sprouts. If you haven’t had it before, nagaimo has an almost slimy texture which is a great counterpoint to the dryness of the lean red tuna. The sharp bitterness of the radish sprouts cut through the sweetness of the marinade perfectly.
Anago (Saltwater Eel) Nigiri – Lightly baked but still moist, the anago is laid on rice and brushed with a sweet sauce. The texture is fluffy, and almost akin to a moist cake.
Negitoro Handroll – The simplest pleasure there is, the handroll at Kaito is about 1/3 rice, 2/3 chopped toro with thin green onions, and wrapped in crisp nori (seaweed paper). I had to eat it fast to preserve the texture of the nori, which snapped as I bit into it. The rich oil of the fish flooded my mouth for a decadent ending to the meal.
The final bill hovered at around $70 per person with alcohol, so make sure to bring your biggest, fattest wallet. For me, it’s well worth it.
Keeping The Right “Attitude”
Kaito Sushi will wow and amaze you… if you’re in the right mindset for the meal. Chef Morita is a casual guy who likes forming friendships with his diners, so don’t be surprised if he heads outside for a few minutes to enjoy a smoke or check out another patron’s new car. Chill out and buy the kitchen staff a beer or two while you wait. Personally, I’m glad that he takes the time to enjoy his work.
Because Kaito is so good, it’s also extremely popular. You may have to wait to be seated even with a reservation, and it’s not great for large groups. You’ll have difficulty fitting more than 5 or 6 people in your party unless you reserve well in advance and are willing to wait.
But these small snags pale in comparison to the overall experience of eating at Kaito Sushi. After nearly three years of eating here, the Chefs still manage to surprise me at every meal. You will never find another restaurant quite like it.
130-A N El Camino Real
Ecinitas, CA 92024
Mon to Sat: (5 pm – close)