Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sushi Ota

I've heard multiple people tell me that Sushi Ota was a place for good, cheap sushi suitable as an inexpensive alternative to Sammy Sushi. So, M and I, along with M's sister T, and her boyfriend went to check it out earlier tonight.

It was pretty busy, even for a Thursday night, with about a half dozen guys working behind the bar and maybe 10 waitresses. Mmm, gender stereotypes. Somehow, we were able to get a table immediately.

For a first-visit, I opted to get a variety of favorites spanning the culinary range. (nothing from the kitchen, though)

Here's what I ordered:
- ankimo (monk fish liver)
- live amaebi (sweet shrimp, sushi-style)
- toro special (tuna belly tataki style)
- salmon belly
- soft shell crab roll

The ankimo was priced at $7.50, about midway between Sammy Sushi and Izakaya Sakura prices. The texture was a little too smooth, and the subtle exotic flavors I'm used to just weren't here. Sammy's version is pretty top-notch in my book, although expensive, and Sakura's version is a very inexpensive alternative. For the price, I thought it wasn't worth it.

At the same time, I got my toro special. When I ordered it, I thought it would still be sushi-toro, with some special garnish or something. Instead, it was just toro served tataki style. I don't know why they didn't just call it toro tataki. Anyway, it still had that creamy richness of toro, but after searing, it had more of a steak-like quality. I feel that this kinda defeats the purpose of having toro in the first place. Moreover, the slices were all fairly thin, so there was only a bit of uncooked meat on the inside. So, it was actually more like rare or medium-rare toro than tataki-style toro than anything else. Next time, I think I'll just have the plain toro sushi.

Our big platter of sushi came next, including various rolls, sushi, and my amaebi. For the price ($10.50), two amaebi is a pretty solid deal. I'm more used to the $10 or $12 apiece that Sammy and Sakura charge. Then again, those are much larger amaebi, and the heads are deep-fried after being dipped in batter, something that makes the head much more easily eaten. Anyway, a general complaint we had about the sushi was that the rice wasn't soft enough. Actually, it was pretty standard rice, I think we just are used to sushi rice that is a little bit softer and maybe a slightly higher fat content to make it a little creamier, as well. It could be that the rice we got was just dry, but that's a poor excuse, at least at these prices. The amaebi was good, but there is a reason why the larger ones at Sammy and Sakura are more expensive, just having the large cut of meat makes those a much more satisfying order.

And the deep-fried heads were all right, they came with a ponzu-soaked shredded daikon rather than a dipping sauce, which is perfectly acceptable. Actually, the best would probably be a ponzu dipping bowl with shredded daikon and green onions, but no place that I know of does that, though Sammy probably would if I asked...

The rolls as a whole were disappointing. I think the variety of textures just wasn't there, and neither were the flavors. The Diego (spicy tuna, cilantro, sesame oil, with serrano peppers on top) roll we had just wasn't spicy. There was a mild kick at the end, but I was pretty much scooping the minced peppers into my mouth to no real effect. The soft shell crab roll was also a little funky, being wrapped in tofu skin. It was also very different texturally, than soft shell crab ("spider") rolls I've had at other places. I expected it to be crunchy and loaded with flavors, not really needing any dipping, but this one was more on the soggy, falling-apart end of things. Disappointing, given the potential for combining the ingredients successfully.

Finally, the salmon belly, a sushi that I am in love with at Sammy's, was the worst. The cut resulted in more fish than expected, but in the lengthy direction, so you had this long piece of fish trailing behind the rice. The second piece I had was also chewy, which of course is a far cry from the firm, creamy goodness I expect. It's a little cheaper than Sammy's at $4.50, but I'd much rather spend the extra dollar to have a delicious version.

I will probably go back and give some other things a whirl, along with the kitchen, but I'm not terribly impressed so far.

Sushi Ota (reservations recommended, restaurant not so much)
4529 Mission Bay Drive
San Diego CA 92109
(858) 270-5047
(858) 270-5670

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