Sunday, July 15, 2018

j / wata TEMAKI BAR - the ONLY sushi handroll bar in SD!

j / wata TEMAKI BAR is the latest food venture from Chef Junya Watanabe, the brain behind Pokirrito, Raki Raki Ramen, and Angels and Hearts on Convoy in Kearny Mesa, San Diego. You can find all of these eateries in a nice little row in the strip mall anchored by O'Brien's Pub and many other fast casual restaurants.
The concept behind this 24-seat bar are premium handrolls! The menu is small but that is because each handroll is made right in front of you and served personally by the chef. The chef waits until you have finished eating your current roll before making the next one.
My husband and I were able to dine in on one of the Grand Opening weekends.  They have been opened for about a month and the word has gotten out.  We came right at 11 am and had no problem getting a seat. When we left 55 minutes later, there was a line.  All of the staff we interacted with were very friendly, made us feel welcome and answered any questions I had.
This is the menu:

We chose the Go set that came with 5 rolls.  There are no substitutions and no splitting plates.
One novelty of this place is that they roast each seaweed on top of a charcoal open flame to get it toasty. You can hear the crunch when you take a bite. I really enjoyed the texture of the nori!
They give you a disposable wet towel to wipe your hands with when you sit down. Even though there were chopsticks available, I just used my hands! The usual cone-shaped hand rolls hold everything at the bottom, but these were open ended rolls, so if you are prone to being clumsy like me, you had to be careful because the filling easily came out once you were near the end of the roll.

The rolls are about five inches long packed with simple ingredients. We started with the Maine Lobster roll.You can see how much lobster meat was in there!
The next roll was the Spicy Tuna roll. It was great, but we're used to eating this sushi so it didn't make that big of an impression.
The third roll was a Bay Scallop roll. This was one of my favorites! You can taste the freshness of the seafood and the mayo ratio was just right!
The fourth roll was a Negi Salmon roll.  I filmed Chef Brian making this one. Again, one of our regular sushi rolls. It was also good.
The last roll was the Blue Crab roll.  It was heavenly! The sweetness of the crab melted in my mouth! This was very yummy.
One might think four or five rolls doesn't make for a filling meal, but when you take the time to savor each one and patiently wait for the next while having good conversation, I was satisfied! This also leaves some room for dessert. The receipt offered a 15% off a same day purchase at the Angels and Hearts creperie next door. Yogurt World and the newly opened Cauldron are a few doors down as well.
Here are some other items that j / wata offers.
The atmosphere is like an open exhibition kitchen with interesting art on the walls.  Initially there was only one Chef working while Chef Brian was still prepping. But once the place filled up,  Chef Brian jumped in to start filling the orders. I'm glad too because I wanted some "sushi chef" talk and got the chance to banter with Chef Brian. That's part of the sushi bar experience, right?
If you like seafood, I think you will enjoy this place. I have never ordered a lobster, scallops or blue crab roll at other places because of the price, but this set of five rolls was $21.75 and worth it!

Ok, I mainly gave some positives right? So here's some negatives:

  • Parking in this strip mall can be like the Hunger Games so be prepared! I don't really count this against the restaurant though.  Maybe Chef Watanabe can invest in a parking garage nearby since he owns a lot of the places?
  • The water came with no ice.  I like ice. We had to request for some ice when it came time to refill. But again, our server was very nice (and nice-looking too, hehehe). 
  • Here's the one thing that was off-putting. The Chefs are gloved up making the rolls but then they are also touching tablets with the same hands checking on what to make next.  Does this only bother me thinking about yucky germs being spread? Not sure how to fix that.  Chef Brian was using his pinky finger to swipe on his device, but I'm certain his pinky also touches the mound of rice whenever he grabs some for his next roll and so on. Whatever. I guess I've seen worse.

Overall for the taste, friendly staff and concept, 4 stars!  If you've tried it, what did you think?

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