Jan. 23 2014 07:38 PM

Kearny Mesa newbie needs to turn up the creativity

Sea-urchin pasta with salmon roe and spinach
Photo by Mina Riazi

Even as a child, I ate most foods—with gusto. Much to my mother's dismay, however, Brussels sprouts did not make the list. Neither did turnips or the plump, butter-drenched snails my dad ordered every time we dined at a French restaurant. Still, the list of foods I refused to eat was relatively short, and it shrunk over time.  

Of course, my preteen picture of what was even "edible" left out many things. Among them: frog legs, fish eyes, chicken feet, cow tongue and sea urchin. The latter spiky, funny-looking animals inhabited the tide pools near my house, and I loved watching them move languidly from one rock to another.

Unsurprisingly, my 12-year-old self never once wondered how the globular creatures might taste. So, when the server at the newly opened Ristorante Kaz mentioned sea-urchin pasta among the eatery's most popular dishes, I couldn't help but recall tiptoeing through tide pools.

Unless you're looking for it, you probably won't notice the one-room joint (3904 Convoy St. in Kearny Mesa). A sister restaurant to Izakaya Sakura, Ristorante Kaz offers Japanese-Italian fusion. This translates to a menu dominated by pasta dishes and flatbreads—in other words, a menu rooted in Italian cuisine and loosely influenced by Japanese fare.

Italian classics like carbonara pasta and penne Genovese join pasta dishes prepared with less-familiar ingredients: shishito peppers, baby anchovies, green bell peppers and shiso leaves. As marked on the menu, these are Ristorante Kaz's "Japanese-style" offerings. The sea urchin pasta—topped with salmon roe and strips of seaweed—also falls under this category. 

With its seafood flavor, the pasta's cream sauce is a polarizing player. The salty sea-urchin gonads—similar to bone marrow with their soft, jiggly texture—appear in silken orange clumps. Meanwhile, salmon roe and sautéed spinach tack on extra layers of color and texture. I enjoyed the Kaz favorite and, unlike my grub buddy, didn't mind its briny, metallic flavor. 

A bite of another friend's pasta Bolognese confirmed what I already knew: Don't dine at a fusion place and then order something that's strictly from one cuisine. Where's the fun in that? Plus, much like Kaz's lackluster meat sauce, it will be mediocre compared with what you'd find at an all-Italian joint. 

For a restaurant that exists between two distinct cuisines, Ristorante Kaz can stand to boost the creativity and variety of its menu. This might mean glancing outside of the pasta-and-pizza box and incorporating twists on calzones, katsudon and tempura. 

A handful of cake and gelato selections define the dessert menu. The green-tea cheesecake evokes green tea in color alone, balancing barely there flavor with a rich density. Go for the tiramisu instead—light and luscious, it'll offset the heaviness of your meal.

Although Iím skeptical of seafood-and-cheese combos, my next visit to Ristorante Kaz might involve the uni pizza. I apologize in advance to my younger self, who never once thought of yanking a sea urchin from its rocky perch or squeezing one out of morbid curiosity. Sheíd feel a swirl of disappointment and repulsion knowing that I so willingly devoured the creature's creamy, delicious exquisite gonads.

Write to minar@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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