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The Taste Buds rave about Shimbashi Izakaya

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 Sweet, one of our staffers who plan to keep his/her identity the best-kept secret in San Diego, and guest foodie Umami.

* 1555 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar, CA 92014
* 858-523-0479
* Website: Shimbashi Izakaya
* Open for lunch and dinner. Happy Hour specials available

DEL MAR – What’s not to love about Shimbashi Izakaya?

Shimbashi is a combination of two Japanese words, creating the words “new bridge,” and Izakaya means Japanese pub. So the idea in this lovely space is to relax and unwind after a busy day with good food and spirits.

First, there is the million-dollar view of the Pacific Ocean where spectacular sunsets can be viewed from the outdoor patio or inside in the pub. Free-standing heat lamps conveniently chase away the chill when the sun falls below the horizon. This would be a perfect place for a date night or to share the California lifestyle with special friends.

Then there is the sushi, the sashimi, the tataki and the tapas-style Japanese menu featuring fish from around the world, served with such elegance and style by Chef Yoshi Nohara. Each dish is a visual treat, as Chef uses his artistry to create a morsel that is as tasty as it is pretty.

Not to be outdone is Hideko Edwards, the highly knowledgeable general manager, and the wait staff members who made sure the Taste Buds were never lacking for food or saki. Hideko didn’t have to twist our arms to try a rare saki, Junmai Dai Ginjo Genshu, costing $68 per carafe. Served chilled, the saki was so smooth and so light – a perfect complement to just about every course that Chef sent out for us to try. The saki menu is extensive, and prices vary, so there are choices for all budgets. Japanese beer, wine and cocktails are also available.

For the adventuresome, try the Omakase Course: Chef’s Choice. Omakase means “to trust,” so put yourself in Chef’s hands and enjoy! This six-course menu starts at $60 per person (two-people minimum), and a reservation is required for this special treat.

Tempura course

Umami loves tempura, so Chef sent out a mixed platter ($12) that included perilla (a mint-like leaf), pumpkin, purple Okinawa sweet potato, kisu (whiting) and shrimp.

The fried batter was light and crunchy, and both of the Taste Buds give a thumbs-up to the assorted tempura.

Grilled course

The Amiyaki Washu Beef ($28) was sparingly grilled just enough to release all of the incredible flavors of this delicate and expensive red meat. Few words can describe this exquisite dish.

“The taste is to die for,” Umami said.

“Shut up and eat!” Sweet said. “This is incredible.”

Seafood platter

Chef created a seafood platter ($28) comprised mostly of sashimi. This was truly a work of art, the seafood meticulously arranged like a still life painting over crushed ice in an elegant glass bowl and full of eye-popping colors.

The variety of seafood included the incredible delicacy, sea urchin from Catalina, as well as Hamachi (yellowtail) from Japan, Spanish mackerel from southern Japan, tuna from Hawaii, sea bream from Japan, shrimp from northern Japan, Atlantic halibut and Atlantic salmon.

The seafood was so fresh and so perfect on the palate.

After first presenting them on the seafood platter, Chef fried the fish and shrimp heads.

Sweet and Umami said there was so much joy on this platter, and they celebrated with another swig of saki.

A second tempura course

One of the most popular tempura dishes is the shrimp with a caramelized sauce. Not only was the presentation a thing of beauty, but the huge shrimp were perfectly cooked and the maple-honey sauce made perfect sense.

Our only criticism, and it is a minor one, is that less is more when it comes to the sweet sauce. Drizzling the sauce over the shrimp would have worked, then providing additional sauce on the side would have allowed the diner to choose the amount of sweetness that is desired, and kept the tempura from getting a little soggy.

A second grilled course

Fans of sea bass will absolutely love the grilled Chilean sea bass ($19) with its gorgeous presentation on a half-moon-shaped plate. The fish was lightly marinated in a Saikyo miso paste that gave it a hint of sweetness. This pleased Sweet to no end, who bartered with Umami for an extra helping by giving away a prized tempura shrimp.

The sushi course

First up was King Crab California Roll ($18), made with cucumber, avocado and sesame seeds. It’s a speciality here. The roll has a combination of mild heat and spices, without overpowering the delectable crab. Yum!

Then there was La Fresca, featuring spicy tuna, yellowtail and pico de gallo … sort of like Japan meets Mexico in Del Mar. Outstanding!

The dessert course

After all that wonderful food, the Taste Buds were marveling that they weren’t feeling bloated. So when Hideko suggested dessert, we couldn’t resist.

To cleanse the palate, Hideko delivered Shimbashi Mojitos made with fresh lime juice, mint and shiso leaves. Its citrus taste was smooth and refreshing without being too tart, a perfect way to prepare for the sweet course.

The Chocolate Cake ($8) was decadent, served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. The Passion Fruit Cheesecake ($8) was light as a feather, served with a scoop of green tea ice cream.

A footnote

Shimbashi Izakaya also offers fun classes. Learn how to make sushi every Saturday from noon to 3 pm. Participants are taught to make two kinds of sushi rolls: a Celebration Roll and a Lobster Salmon Roll. Participants receive assorted tempura, miso soup, a green salad and a ginger cocktail (soft drinks for minors), all for $28 per person. Make a reservation, though, because classes are limited to first-come, first-served.

Photo captions

Entertainment cover: Assorted tempura and Junmai Dai Ginjo Genshu saki

Upper left: Amiyaki Washu Beef

Middle left: Chilean sea bass

Lower left: King Crab California Roll and La Fresca rolls