Published on November 23rd, 2012 | by Fia Raboy0
Wasabi Mayo Ahi & Braised Beef Tongue @ Wa Dining Okan
Wa Dining Okan: Not Your Typical Japanese Feast
Dinner at this Convoy spot may be a pedestrian day to other customers. On one Thursday night my best friend and I celebrated her belated birthday to cuisine familiar to a common person’s ear when only mentioned, “Japanese.” No denying: please tell me that the automatic response to “Japanese food” is not something like (traditional) sushi, ramen, teriyaki, gyoza, or tempura.
Wa Dining Okan, as far as this particular experience, reminded me more closely to countless Asian cuisines that welcome sharing on the plates, also known as going family-style. The key differences, though, are that portions may not be as benevolent like how Mongolian beef, Pad Thai, Asian curries, or lechon kawali are served. However, their executions are honed with more finesse—and with love–rather than being haphazardly unloaded with tongs.
The inside of Wa Dining Okan was created intentionally to be homey–a mellow, woodsy atmosphere with appropriate dim lighting to hinder any external chaos as a result of difficult parking and, instead, emphasize on family ties, friendship, food, and a flow of sake in some parties. In fact, “Okan” casually means “Mom,” so naming this restaurant certainly was not coincidence. With that in mind the birthday girl and I sat upon their square-shaped bar, with the kitchen right behind it, and besides picking only one item off their everyday dinner menu, we took the unconventional route of ordering 3 items from their separate, seasonal menu.
So, Let’s Get Started with…
Gobo Salad ($6.50): Under their regular list, thinking that one order might be scanty for us, I told the waitress we’d like two. Dead wrong. As soon as we saw our waitress handling piled-high fried onion strings conically shaped atop of our salad, I quickly responded to her that one is enough. Thank goodness they did not build another batch; otherwise we would have either forego one of the tapas or possibly suffered that extra $6.50 to realistically take home. Whether with chopsticks or a fork, eating these fresh, crisp, and lightly tangy veggies was almost like an edible Jenga; we would have carefully picked the right onion fritter to maintain its fragile position. Since this place has a somewhat classy yet energetic vibe, but with an utmost respectful environment, we sensibly took the golden brown strings from the top and then neatly place it on our own saucers before digging in.
Meanwhile, On the Names of Dishes Stifled With…
Monk Fish Liver and Eggplant with Sweet Miso and Balsamic Vinegar ($7): With the California ban of foie gras still enforced, this was a splendid alternative—if not replacement—for being uniquely creamy and savory. The deepness and dimension from that burgundy-colored sauce ameliorated further for both of that lightly flavored delicacy and the soft slices of eggplant.
Grilled Braised Beef Tongue and Red Wine with Cheese ($8.50): Trust me; there is nothing eccentric about tongue, taste-wise. It had the clear taste of beefiness, and it’s like any other cow skeletal muscle, i.e. bovine meat. Tweaking my sentence, tongue is a muscle, only with taste buds. Plus, it’s practically a Japanese pot roast casserole which generously allowed glob of melted, gooey, and comfortably delicious white cheese. Altogether with that wine this entrée delivered a rich and down-to-earth feeling, prancing around our own tongues.
Raw Tuna Cubes and Avocado Mixed with Wasabi Mayo ($6): These automatically reminded me of ahi poke, but with obvious creaminess. They’re bite-sized, tender, and delicately bold with the wasabi accent, but I thought this goodness could have been more agreeable with the price if we got about 1/3 more than the actual portion.
And Something Else Caught My Attention, Besides the Food
Right before we left, I went to their unisex bathroom and, being American-cultured and a virgin of Japan travelling, I was fascinated that their latrine featured these unusual yet interesting “perks” that had buttons that led to, in PG-rated words, special bottom-cleansing. If you have seen the movie Cars 2, I think you would know my drift about the porcelain setup, without the subsequent, unprecedented drama. That said, with the all-around contemporary milieu and inviting service, step outside the maki and ramen box and make Wa Dining Okan and your own dining experience proud.
Wa Dining Okan
3860 Convoy St. #110
San Diego, CA 92111