For a stir-fry, we opted for a spicy mix of pork and Korean kim chee with the usual cabbage, bean sprout tails, seaweed, and yet more pork-belly slices, pan-fried fast and hard so the meat was tough. The stir-fry bought off some of the heat of the kim chee, but by no means all. Dragon breath is guaranteed; make sure you have something to quench it, and be prepared for the dragon to keep flying through your body cavities in the night.
An izakaya meal seems to call for a final bowl of soup, especially on a winter night. There are several soupy sections on the menu. From the miso and similar soups at the start, we chose one with simmered pork, deep-fried tofu, and bok choy. The pork broth was light, and this time the sliced pork was regular pork, not belly. I was hoping that the deep-fried tofu would be crisp, like agedashi (deep-fried tofu); instead, it was pleasantly spongy. The broth was mild, likable, rather salty. At the end of the menu are numerous rice and noodle soups (udon, soba, ramen, even a variant of chicken jook), should you want something more substantial.
The menu and all the print ads point like cheerleaders to the house signature dessert, pear pie. We weren’t hungry but ordered a slice. It’s interesting — more a tart than a pie (if you’re thinking of Mom’s crackly-crusted apple pie) — a softly crumby crust topped with custard and spread lightly with poached pear slices. You can get it with or without red bean, strawberry, or green tea ice cream on top. It’s nice, but bringing out the cheerleaders for it seems like overkill.
A menu of 60 regular items and 20 specials is an automatic guilt-trip to a reviewer who can’t afford the time or budget for 10 or 20 visits, unless every choice turns out fantastic — which they didn’t. I guess you could say I made the mistakes so that you won’t have to.
I wish I’d skipped every single fried item to concentrate more on the cold seafood appetizers: wasabi octopus, marinated squid, yellowtail with jalapeño. And/or more sushi, or a sashimi plate, after tasting that superb o-toro. And then more stir-fries and yakitori (especially anything including veggies, which were in short supply on the dishes we chose). And finally, a major soup or noodle dish at the end. All I know about ramen, I learned from the film Tampopo (a brilliant, funny disquisition on the difference between great and not-great ramen, among other thoughts), so I was hesitant to order ramen in a restaurant that offers only one version of it — but I wish I had.
The only other local izakaya I’ve tried so far is the much humbler little Izakaya Masa, with an older, more serious neighborhood/foodie crowd, lower prices, and a menu of about half the size — but with several more venturesome choices (spicy jellyfish salad, octopus pancakes, kebabs, etc.). As you’d expect from Del Mar, Shimbashi is more of a crowd-pleaser and a dating scene. Go have fun there, eat up, and take it easy before you hop that bullet-train home to Poway.
- 2.5 stars
- (Good to Very Good)
1555 Camino Del Mar (Market Square), market level, Del Mar, 858-523-0479, shimbashi-restaurants.com.
HOURS: Monday–Friday 4:00–11:00 p.m., Saturday noon–11:00 p.m., Sunday noon–10:00 p.m. Happy hours 4:00–6:00 p.m. Monday–Friday, noon–6:00 p.m. weekends.
PRICES: $4–$28 per dish. Weekend lunch bento boxes, $16.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Japanese gastropub with dishes ranging from small nibbles to substantial noodles, plus sushi and sashimi. Vast sake assortment, Japanese beers, a few well-chosen mostly French wines, Korean soju, cocktails.
PICK HITS: Grilled black cod; peanut soft tofu; shio buta (pork belly with cherry tomatoes); skewered bacon and tomatoes; sushi of choice.
NEED TO KNOW: Validated parking ($2) in garage; restaurant at garage entry level, opposite Harvest Market valet and elevators (look for sign indicating “Japanese Gardens”). Crowded at prime time; table reservations accepted. Informal. Deep discounts at happy hours. Patio seating in good weather.