There is a difference between eating and dining, but I can't say exactly what it is. It's a difference not unlike the difference between graffiti and public art-a difference that can't be defined precisely, but one knows it when one sees it. Maybe we shouldn't care about the difference in the first place. Ebisu Sushi is a great place to eat, for sure. It might also be a great place to dine. I won't get into that bit of semantic quibbling because I don't care whether sushi bars are places for eating or dining any more than I care whether a frozen hunk of deep-space methane with a highly elliptical orbit is a planet or a cartoon dog (think about it).
What I do care about when it comes to a sushi bar is that it's comfortable, that the service is prompt and courteous and, most of all, that it has good sushi. By all these standards, Ebisu Sushi excels. Eating or dining, it's great either way.
Ebisu offers cozy booth and table seating that can accommodate a large party or a romantic couple. There are also six seats at the sushi bar with ample space to spread out and relax. So much for the comfortable part.
As to the service, I can't say enough; for one thing, it's attentive. The management is careful to keep the staff-to-customer ratio just right. You won't have to wait for a refill and neither will you have to tolerate a nagging server asking you every 30 seconds if you would like more water. Beyond that, the wait staff actually knows the menu. You can trust their recommendations, and that's awfully uncommon. So much for the service part.
Before moving on to the sushi, it's worth mentioning that the kitchen prepares a wide assortment of non-sushi fare that is sure to please the more finicky sorts. The miso soup is heartier than any I have ever had and makes a perfect starter for anything else on the menu. The garlic edamame appetizer blends complex flavors in an otherwise basic dish that is ample enough to split four ways. You should also try the chicken katsu, a plate of lightly breaded chicken breasts with a bold dipping sauce, and the soft-shell crab flash fried in a perfect tempura batter. Both are sufficient to satisfy a ravenous appetite and both rank highly on my personal list of meals not to be missed.
Still, the primary reason to go to a sushi bar is the sushi, and the principal ingredient in good sushi is good fish. Assuming one has good fish, when it comes to making sushi, less is more. The chefs at Ebisu have mastered this basic rule. They get the freshest, most flavorful fish available and, for the most part, they let it speak for itself. That's a good start.
But what brings home Andy's Sushi Trophy for Ebisu is not just the fish, or the fact that the chefs don't abuse it; it's the fact that what is done with perfect fish is done perfectly. Ebisu's two sushi chefs can make a masterpiece out of a sea creature like Grant took Richmond, which, for those of y'all who don't know or care, was swiftly and decisively. Damned Yankee.
For the sushi eater (or diner) who is so in name only, Ebisu offers the standard fare of California and Philadelphia rolls, shrimp tempura rolls and all the other assorted bastardizations of real sushi and all of them are far better than average. But going to a good sushi bar and ordering a pre-made roll is, to me, rather like going to Las Vegas and playing the nickel slots. It's better than not going at all, but it sucks by comparison to what you should do.
What you should do at Ebisu is what I do. I tell the chef what sort of mood I'm in and I let him do what only a sushi chef can do to either ameliorate or accentuate what I'm feeling through a magic mixture of fish and goodies. I recently told the chef I was feeling kind of "salmony." His responsive creation combined the deep, rich flavor of firm, oily salmon with a smoky accent and bold citrus zest that could not have been more precise. I don't know what it was and I don't care. It was perfect.
And on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, after one is through eating and/or dining upon the best sushi in San Diego, hands down, one can up and amble on back to a hidden bar in the rear of Ebisu to indulge in one of life's greatest pleasures-the post-sushi Scotch and beer. Yes sir, right here in our fair city we've got us a speak-easy behind a sushi bar. The bartenders are, as one says in the trade, excellent mechanics who tend to the basics as capably as they cater to more high-end tastes. If, unlike me, you don't go for Scotch and beer, which you should, trust yourself to the drink menu. From among a half-dozen specialty drinks, I recommend the Mojito Saketini. It'll run you nine bucks, and it's worth it.
In fact, everything about Ebisu Sushi is worth it. As a reviewer I try to reserve superlatives, but in this case I can't. Go to Ebisu Sushi. I don't know about the dining, but it's the best eating in town.
Ebisu is open 5 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Sunday and closed on Monday. Prices range from $5 to $10 for sushi and rolls.
Ebisu Sushi3765 Sixth Ave.Hillcrest619-297-3119