Sushi Dokoro Shirahama4212 Convoy St.
Sushi Dokoro Shirahama translates as "Sushi near the white sand beach," which was accurate when Koji Kotani's sushi restaurant was located in Del Mar, but it seems a tad inappropriate for the current Kearny Mesa location. Regardless, the man turns out some of the best sushi in San Diego.
I heard about Sushi Dokoro Shirahama, known to regulars simply as Shirahama, from a friend who lived in Del Mar. He described the sushi as "mind-blowing" but warned that Kotani was somewhat anti-social-the reason for his re-location to Kearny Mesa from Del Mar, and the reason for selecting a tiny location. "He's like the Soup Nazi of sushi," said my friend, who pleaded with me not to write this review lest the restaurant become too popular.
Located in Convoy Plaza, sharing a parking lot with a kickboxing studio and a Vietnamese restaurant, among other businesses, Shirahama, thanks to its modest signage, can be hard to spot. The blacked-out windows and draped entrance add to the air of exclusivity. The interior is spare and relaxing, with lots of wood and soft lighting from rice-paper lamps.
Unlike many sushi places that dazzle with an array of exotic-sounding rolls, Shirahama keeps it real by offering nigiri sushi almost exclusively; the only rolls on the menu are salmon skin, tuna, pickled vegetable and cucumber. The variety of nigiri sushi is extremely impressive, however, with many options I'd never heard of before, such as amber jack, aoyagi and gizzard shad. Shirahama also offers dishes like teriyaki and sukiyaki, as well as appetizers, including a menu of daily specials featuring exotic fare like baked conch and monkfish liver.
It was hard to choose from so many intriguing options. We settled on Toro (fatty tuna, from the belly of the fish), Aji (Spanish mackerel), Iwashi (sardine) and Tamago (egg). We also ordered a salmon-skin roll, edamame, tempura and a soft-shell crab appetizer.
For some reason the sushi was brought out first, so we let it sit while waiting for the appetizers. The sushi looked good. The pieces of fish and egg were large, mounted on small lumps of rice. The Aji and Iwashi were both split in the center, filled with small amounts of finely shredded ginger and green onion. Shortly after the sushi came, the other dishes arrived in fast succession, beginning with the edamame.
The edamame at Shirahama were excellent. Fresh and sweet, they were some of the best I've had, with a rich, almost buttery, texture and just the right amount of salt. Normally, I can take or leave edamame, but these were great.
As we worked our way through the edamame, the soft-shell crab appetizer came. Consisting of two soft-shell crabs fried to a deep mahogany hue and split in half, they were incredible. Sweet, crunchy and tender, they were served with a large Meyer lemon wedge, sweeter than ordinary lemons. The crab appetizer's a must.
Then we turned to the sushi. My friend was right-it was mind-blowing. Well, as mind-blowing as sushi can be. The rice was perfect. Perfectly cooked. Perfect texture. Perfect stickiness. The fish, laid on top, was fresh, with just the right amount of wasabi. I usually order my nigiri without wasabi because most sushi chefs wield a heavy hand, but this had just enough to give the sushi some bite without overpowering it.
I was particularly taken with the Iwashi. My girlfriend found it too fishy, but I loved the oily fish flesh. (Mmm... oily fish flesh.) The ginger and green onion countered the richness nicely. The salmon-skin roll, too. Often greasy at lesser sushi places, Shirahama's salmon skin roll was sublime and delicious. The skin was crispy and not at all greasy, paired with cucumber, ginger and wasabi-wrapped simply with seaweed and Shirahama's excellent rice.
We wrapped up our meal with the tempura, which was every bit as good as the other food. Light and crispy, the tempura was made with fresh vegetables and super-sweet jumbo shrimp, the vegetables cooked until just done, retaining much of their natural crunch.
My friend's protestations notwithstanding, I'd urge you sushi aficionados to seek this place out. Be sure to make reservations, and be prepared to spend some money-our dinner for two reached about $75 with tax and tip. Lunch hours are noon until 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner is seven days a week, 5 to 10 p.m.