Katzra Sushi Bar
4229 Convoy St
Wednesday, 5:30 a.m. I woke up in last night's clothes, on top of the covers, door wide open, lights burning a hole in the roof of my mouth.
Tuesday, sometime around 10 p.m. Flashbulbs popped around me as I lay flat on my back, below the sushi bar. Someone had decided to post permanent records of this humiliating moment on Katzra's wall of Polaroids.
Tuesday, sometime around 9:59 p.m. I squinted to read our NASA-sized sushi bill.
"We can split it," Jeff offered.
"Nononononono," I barked. "It's on me." I lunged forward and knocked the receipt to the floor. "I've got it!"
9:30 p.m. My head lolled to one side. I slapped the bar, rattling the enormous collection of dishes and glasses-jesus, the glasses-stacked in front of us.
"Sake bombs for the house!" I screeched. "Again! Again! Kampai! Again!"
9 p.m. Someone suggested leaving, but how could we abandon our new friends so soon? We were delving into every corner on and off the menu, with mixed results. The giant clam was a tad ripe, and the sweet shrimp (amaebi) turned out to be better fried whole (Jeff's preference) than served nigiri-style with the fried heads (my preference).
8:30 p.m. Jeff's face was flush with sake and wasabi. Between his (literally) off-the-wall orders-monkfish liver, whole fried shrimp, fresh tuna poke, some kind of unidentified fried bait fish-he chatted up a demure pair of sushi lasses. Our ubiquitous waitress reappeared with carafe after carafe of unfiltered sake, filtered sake, hot sake and $10 pitchers of Kirin. I toyed with the idea of buying a round of sake bombs for the house.
As the whole bar watched and whispered, Sam threw an oyster, several hot sauces, some garnish and a quail egg into a shot glass. "I think that's coming to you," someone said. It did, and I gladly gulped it down.
8 p.m. Unlike some sushi bars, the chalkboard at Katzra changes constantly. If you want to try uni (sea urchin), try it when it is on special at Katzra. (Arrive early, because it sells out almost immediately.) We tried the aji (Spanish mackerel) sashimi-style, accompanied with the fried skeleton.
7:30 p.m. We barreled through the basics, impressively fresh and well-prepared. Many dishes were accompanied with whole pickled garlic cloves. The seared albacore came covered in minced garlic, too. The unusual garnish made up for the ginger, which was not the highest quality.
The friendly atmosphere was not used as a pretext for rushing the preparation. Sam, our sushi chef, carefully washed and massaged each oyster before returning it to a rinsed shell. Be patient (and pace yourself on the sake).
7 p.m. According to Jeff, Katzra sushi bar has lurked in the back corner of the Convoy Center for more than 25 years, long before sushi bars became popular. There is no huge list of fancy rolls here. The best bets seem to be the sashimi or nigiri, many only $3.95 per order.
Even customers shouted greetings as we walked inside, and "thank you" and "come again soon" as early birds left. The bar quickly filled up with regulars (everyone, apparently, is a regular). But the chefs are still the focal point, taking part in your conversations, helping you decide what to order next and sharing your sake.
6:45 p.m. Jeff, our sushi guide for the night, finally called. "Where are you? No, not Convoy Court. Convoy Center."
6 p.m. We cruised down strip-mall hell again, reading signs in Thai, Korean, Japanese. "What is this place called? Katsua?" No one had Jeff's cell phone, and information had no listing for a sushi restaurant that started with a "K" or a "C" anywhere near Convoy. Tempers were dangerously short.
5:30 p.m. The last sushi bar recommendation I had tried left a bone in my tuna and served up the slimiest, runniest sea urchin I have ever not eaten, with an accompanying level of service usually found only in romantic comedies.
So it is with some reservation that I had agreed to carpool up to Clairemont Mesa and meet a friend of a friend for sushi. I planned to make it an early night.
Sake: God's gift to raw fish or tool of the devil? Weigh in at cityeat@SDcitybeat.com.