Tucked away in a small shopping center is one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. Not your typical Japanese restaurant, OKAN offers a memorable dining experience for your eyes and taste buds. OKAN means “mom” in Japanese slang and offers dishes that are reminiscent of home cooking rather than the usual teriyaki, curry, and sushi options.
My work friend and I had heard this place gets quite crowded, especially on the weekends, and because it is small, it would be best to have a reservation. We didn’t need it for the time we chose to go (around 6pm on a weekday). When we walked in, the tiny space was practically empty. There was a large bar-seating area dominating the room with a few small tables along the walls. We were warmly greeted and quickly seated at the bar which had several large dishes displaying some of the specials.
Ordering at Wa Dining OKAN is sort of like going to a tapas bar (no, not topless… ;P). You pick several items off the menu and share with the rest of your party. The portions aren’t large but enough to get a good tasting size depending on how many people dig in. They have a rather large regular menu but offer several specials as well that are listed (in Japanese and sometimes English) on a chalkboard sign outside the door. There is no shortage of choices and the problem of what to get is a common one because it all looks and sounds tasty.
Since there were only two of us, we decided to split 6 dishes. We opted for
– Kabocha pumpkin salad
– Braised pork Nagasaki style ($8.50)
– Roast duck with green onion and yuzu pepper ($8.50)
– Grilled yellowtail cheek with ponzu ($12.95, if memory serves me correctly)
– Tuna and avocado spring roll ($8.25)
– Pudding with black honey
It’s hard to decide which was the best dish of the night – the Kabocha salad or the pudding.
Made with Japanese pumpkin and cucumbers, this vegetable dish was simple and delicious. The pumpkin was soft but firm, perfectly cooked and the cucumber not only was a nice compliment visually but texturally, adding a crunch to each bite. This is one of those surprise dishes that seem like it wouldn’t be anything special but absolutely wows you with each bite. I was very tempted to lick the dish clean and wanted more after we were done.
Next came the braised pork. I’m not sure what “Nagasaki style” entails other than yum. I believe there’s a soy-sauce based marinade involved. Two pieces of pork (roughly about 2-3oz each) with a nice thin layer of fat on each arrived. The pork was moist and tender and quite easy to bite into since we didn’t have forks and knives to use. As you can see, we dug right in before I remembered to grab my phone to take a picture. And you can see the empty dish that used to be filled with Kabocha salad. I was still contemplating licking it…
The roast duck was one of the average dishes of the night, I think. While it was cooked perfectly, the flavor was a little bland. I tried eating it with the piece of grilled green onion but that overpowered the duck. Adding the yuzu pepper (the little bit of green in the left upper corner) did help. I liked the dish but I wasn’t crazy about it; there are other items on the menu I want to try before I return to ordering the duck again.
The grilled yellowtail cheek was a surprise. I love hamachi whenever I go to sushi bars and some places have this on the menu but it was always on the pricy side for what you got – a cheek bone with a little bit of meat on it. So when this arrived, I was quite pleased with the HUGE portion! The rather large piece of fish was around the size of my hand. The top skin was nice and crispy while the meat inside was moist; there was no fishy flavor which made me think that this fresh, not frozen. Dipped in ponzu, each bite was light and mild but delicious. It was a little troublesome to eat with only chopsticks but we managed.
The next dish ended up being the disappointment for the night. While a tuna and avocado spring roll sounds delicious, the reality of it was not. This dish involved wrapping tuna sashimi, some sort of green leafy vegetable and avocado in rice paper. The flavor of the unknown vegetable completely overpowered the tuna and avocado. It was also a crunchy type of leaf so the texture overshadowed everything else. Both the work friend and I were not impressed with it.
When it came to ordering dessert, we had heard they had a tiramisu variation that was to die for along with a heavenly pudding with black honey. The tiramisu was not available so we opted to just get the pudding instead. Oh my goodness, this was amazing. The “pudding” was actually akin to flan in appearance, texture and consistency. But instead of caramel, they used black honey. I had never heard of black honey so some googling resulted in hits stating it’s actually “sugarcane syrup”. Well, whatever it is, it is delicious. Sweet like honey, there’s a bit of a taste to it that reminds me of coffee or something bitter like it. We got a little bowl with extra black honey to pour over our pudding. Needless to say, it was all demolished and we were licking our spoons to make sure we got every last bit of sticky goodness. An excellent way to end a meal on a high, especially after the prior dish.
OKAN also has a decent list of alcohol including beer, sake and shochu as well as plum and yuzu wine. It’s not a full bar though so you won’t find mixed drinks. My work friend ended up with a red rice beer – Hitachino – that he liked. There’s also a white rice beer.
Overall, this was a splendid meal and not a very expensive one for the amount and quality of food we ate. We were both stuffed to the gills; we could have done without the sad spring rolls and still been full. I definitely want to go back and try other items on the menu that looked enticing. And eat more Kabocha salad if they have it!!!
I give Wa Dining OKAN 4 1/2 NOMS. It would have been 5 if we didn’t get that awful spring roll….that was a hairball.
Wa Dining OKAN
3860 Convoy St., #110
San Diego, CA 92111
Filed under: 4 NOMs, dessert, japanese, restaurant review, San Diego, seafood | Tagged: 4 NOMs, appetizer, asian, Convoy Street, dessert, dinner, food review, japanese, restaurant review, San Diego, seafood |