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DINING REVIEW: The Taste Buds are delighted by Harney Sushi's non-sushi additions

San Diego Gay & Lesbian News has a regular dining-out column written by The Taste Buds, SDGLN's resident foodies. Today's review is by Savory and Spicy, two of our staffers who plan to keep their identity the best-kept secret in San Diego.

Harney Sushi
3964 Harney Street, San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 295 – 3272

See below for details on Harney Sushi’s 10th Anniversary Celebration on Tuesday, April 26.

SAN DIEGO – Mention dinner in Old Town, and locals and tourists alike will assume you had Mexican cuisine. Although by far the assumption mostly likely to be true, you cannot fault the guesser for not knowing about the city’s best-kept secret.

Tucked away on Harney Street, is a stylish "funk shui" world where even the nachos are original. If Harney Sushi’s first 10 years are any indication of its success, then by 2022, Old Town will also be synonymous with the best sushi in town.

Harney Sushi has built its reputation on more than 30 innovative, specialty-rolls created by their sushi loyalists and award-winning chefs, like Anthony Sinsay.

However, Savory and Spicy did not visit Harney Sushi to review their scrumptious rolls – we already know those are awesome – we were there to review Chef Sinsay’s new non-sushi menu additions.

Sushi lovers tend to express shock when they encounter a fellow diner, like Savory, who would rather eat anything but sushi. Friends and loved ones often out-number and persuade diners like Savory (who reluctantly agree) into eating sushi, only to walk away disliking such restaurants further because of the bland and limited non-sushi options available to them.

Harney Sushi is not that kind of place.

It is likely that as a sushi lover, you will find it difficult to order any of these new items over the roll selections, but you must read on, if only to convince the Savorys in your group that Harney Sushi is truly a place all of you will love.

The stylish "funk shui" world

In preparation for their 10th anniversary, Harney Sushi remodeled their intimate interior with a mixture of retro and natural details.

A friendly host greets you immediately upon your arrival. If you need to wait for a table, you can do so at the full-stocked bar that lines the left wall, separating the main diningroom from one of two outdoor patios.

The lighting at Harney Sushi accentuates the room’s red accents, while perfectly complementing the white plush dining chairs and dark wooden tables. The candle that lights your table further emphasizes the intimacy.

Savory and Spicy were treated to a special surprise when award-winning Chef Sinsay came out to introduce each one of his creations and spoke about his inspiration.

The Dragon’s Breath

Harney Sushi’s drink menu features more than 25 award-winning wines and 40 of Japan’s best sakes, but they know their way around specialty mixed cocktails as well.

Chef Sinsay insisted that Savory and Spicy begin their evening with a Basil Kiss Martini. They both agreed it was an excellent choice. The muddled strawberries hid the taste of vodka, and the lemon juice and pieces of fresh Thai basil gave the cocktail a unique twist.

While we sipped on our martinis, Chef Sinsay announced we would begin our tasting adventure with an interactive rice crispy treat. As he left, Savory and Spicy exchanged curious looks.

He returned with a bowl of liquid nitrogen and a plate of four bite-sized sweet crispy treats. As Chef Sinsay dipped them into the bowl of boiling cold smoky liquid, he explained the temperature was 300 degrees below zero and instructed us to take the crispy treat with one closed-mouthed bite.

Savory was the first to do so, and as soon as her two molars crunched down, smoke blasted from her nostrils much like a dragon guarding the proverbial princess in a castle.

There was not much to the taste, but the novelty of shooting smoke from our nostrils in a nice restaurant was enough to get both Taste Buds to enthusiastically try one more. For Spicy, Harney had her at Dragon’s Breath.

God’s Creation

Savory and Spicy could not recall ever ordering a regular salad at a sushi restaurant, or much less dining with others who did. Most people jump straight into the rolls, skipping the salad; or in Savory’s case, the cole-slaw-like salad that comes with the teriyaki chicken option. However, Harney Sushi serves a salad you must try.

The "Everyday" Garden Variety is Chef Sinsay’s way of displaying the seasonal produce from local farmers. He tells us he gets his produce exclusively from Susie’s Farm, Yasutomi Farm, and the Farmer’s markets in Hillcrest and Oceanside.

He pairs the salad on the fly with a Conundrum White wine, as he discusses the textures and acidulated components of the veggies in our salad.

The salad will change as the seasons do, but ouur potpourri of veggies included roasted baby carrots, bibb lettuce, pickled Persian cukes, celery and onions, artistically drizzled with a light green dressing. The flavors were a pleasant combination, causing Spicy to proclaim that if you like surprises, this is the dish for you.

Of the fresh-flavor profile, both Savory and Spicy felt it was best described in Chef Sinsay’s own words - “I didn’t make this, God did.”

Bagels & Lox

Our next course was a modern version of a classic pairing. Chef Sinsay used Scottish salmon and cured it in his own blend of top secret "everything" spices. He adds his own twist by freezing the cream cheese in liquid nitrogen, and serves it with pickled cucumber hearts and shards of everything-spiced bagel.

For Spicy, this course felt like a delicious “Seinfeld” spoof on sashimi that you would find at a New York City diner. It was creatively presented, with just the right touch of salt.

The Loch Duart salmon, not surprisingly, was of very high quality, and was further accentuated by the cream cheese’s texture. Spicy also said that after trying the pickled hearts, she might have to start gutting her cucumbers at home.

Not your Everyday “Nachos”

Spicy is not exactly a vegetarian, because she eats plenty of fish, but when it came to this coconut-braised Kurobota pork dish, Savory was more than delighted to enjoy it on her own.

Chef Sinsay explained the dish was created for a specialty menu at their Oceanside location, but it was so popular, he had to make it a staple menu option. To give the pork its unique flavor, he renders fat from Mexican chorizo, adds coconut and uses the mixture to braise the pork shanks. The pork itself is a Bershire pig that has been fed sake and massaged so the fat disperses evenly.

Chef Sinsay takes the dish one step further by adding pickled seasonal fruit in place of traditional salsa, and smothering it all in layers of manchego cheese from Spain. He paired this creation with a Cilantro Lime Fizz, which features jalapeno infused soju, cilantro, Sprite, and freshly squeezed lime.

Savory thoroughly enjoyed each bite, noting the dish had been given the perfect name, and are by far the best nachos in Old Town. Although a dinner entre, Savory felt it would be a perfect late night snack, a weekend brunch, or even a weekday lunch, if you can limit yourself to only one delicious drink.

Bass Ackwards

Perhaps inspired by Harney Sushi’s location, our next serving was also a spin on the traditional Mexican favorite – ceviche.

Chef Sinsay explained that he wanted to offer something that looked liked ceviche but tasted entirely different then all the others in San Diego. Savory and Spicy both agreed that ceviche lovers have certain expectations, and that straying from the norm can have serious repercussions.

Sinsay however, does not disappoint. He takes striped sea bass and cures it in citrus fruits from Japan and the Philippines. Then he adds basil, Thai chilies, curried potatoes, peanuts and coconut foam to infuse the dish with Southeast Asia flavors. He named it “bass ackwards” because he said that unlike traditional ceviche, the fish is cooked and the vegetables are raw.

Spicy thought that ceviche lovers may have finally found one unorthodox variety to embrace, but all Savory could say was “wow” – it was unlike anything she had ever tasted.

(Editor’s Note: Prior to publication, Savory returned to Harney Sushi with three sushi lovers who enjoyed several rolls, but of the bass ackwards dish she ordered, three additional “wows” were received.)

Three Technique Striped Bass

Our final dish featured a striped bass served alongside squash from Suzie’s Farm, brussel sprouts, and drizzled with Chef Sinsay’s own homegrown tangerines. He paired this with sake served in a wine glass, and stated any fragrant-type sake would be a perfect companion for this meal.

The bass, like everything else, was cooked to perfection. Savory had only a few bites, not for lack of want, but because she was already full, but like with the nachos, it was Spicy this time that was more than willing to enjoy it on her own. For Spicy, everything about the dish tasted fresh, and she really appreciated Chef Sinsay’s personal touch.

In fact, both Savory and Spicy learned that Chef Sinsay’s creativity is not only featured on the menu, it is also splattered on the walls. He contributed to the remodel with a hand-made drawing of a tree alongside one wall (pictured).

Nut brown ale Chocolate Cake

Both Savory and Spicy were extremely full and satisfied by the time Chef Sinsay brought out his new dessert, but found it too difficult to refrain from eating it.

The chocolate cake featured a lime gelee, salted caramel mousse and caramelized banana -- and was devoured. Savory, normally not a fan of banana, stated that for her, that flavor was perfectly hidden by the delicious combination of everything else.

Both Taste Buds were amazed to learn that Chef Sinsay created this, and all the other dishes, in a small area allotted to him at the sushi bar. He has no full kitchen or even an oven to work with; he truly works wonders with the toaster oven, and by curing the fish dishes.

Savory and Spicy thoroughly enjoyed all of the non-sushi items and they are both confident that you will too. It is a very pleasant surprise when a place that specializes in award-winning sushi, puts as much effort into the options that are ordered the least.

Harney Sushi is perfect for lunch or dinner (hours listed below), but if you are a sushi lover, you should seriously consider attending their 10th anniversary party.

Harney Sushi’s 10th Anniversary Party

Dress to impress when Harney Sushi's biggest celebration so far takes place on Tuesday, April 26 from 6 pm to 1 am.

Guests will be able to enjoy an extensive sushi buffet and open bar, while listening to the sounds of DJ Cobra. The event will also feature “celebration stations” where various courses are provided by surprise celebrity chefs.

The $100 tickets can be purchased online, and it may seem like a lot, but remember, this is endless award-winning sushi, premiere cocktails, and proceeds will benefit the Chef Celebration.

If that seems like too much, stop by any Harney Sushi location through April 30 and enjoy 10 dishes for $10, two of the options are the "Not your Everyday Nachos" and the "Bagel and Lox."

Hours: Monday through Friday 11:30 am – 3 pm (Lunch) and 5:30 pm – 12 am (Dinner). Saturdays and Sundays open for dinner only – 5:30 pm – 12 am.