2958 Madison Street, Carlsbad
“Wait! Sushi is raw fish?”
My nephew had this revelation while we were getting read to chow down on an assortment of mackerel, octopus, raw shrimp, bluefin and other delicacies at Blue Ocean Robata and Sushi Bar in Carlsbad.
“Yeah. It’s raw and it’s good.”
My nephew recently turned 21 and, until recently, was a vegetarian. My brother and I decided to educate him on some of the finer things in life: Japanese food and specialty cocktails — both of which are a specialty at Blue Ocean.
Considering that I live in La Mesa, Carlsbad might seem a long drive for sushi, but it’s really good food. And good cocktails — hic!
We started out with three appetizers: the chilled oysters with a green apple-wasabi mignonette, wagyu beef dumplings with kimchi, and caramelized eggplant with hazelnuts and sesame.
The dumplings were good, but the oysters were outstanding: fresh, briny, but clean-tasting. Even my nephew enjoyed them, and it was his first time trying them.
But the caramelized eggplant was a revelation: crispy, crunchy, and covered with a teriyaki-like glaze.
“Wow, they made eggplant not like eggplant,” said my brother.
It was the type of dish that I would drive back for.
So was my choice of cocktail: the Far East Ricky, a blend of gin, shiso (a Japanese herb), and cucumber.
“They go down really easy,” warned Marlene, our waitress.
Yep. A great summer cocktail.
My brother stuck with the Ginger Old Fashioned, and was very happy. Likewise, my nephew enjoyed the Firing Squad, which combines, tequila, bitters, pomegranate and pressed lime. It had a bloody mary feel that was bloody good.
We shared a seaweed in ponzu dressing. It was very refreshing. I think my nephew was bummed that in all his years of vegetarianism, no one had introduced him to the joys of seaweed. I’m a bad uncle.
For the sushi, I just put my hands in the sushi chef and he prepared a good variety of classics like bluefin, tako (octopus) and mackerel, and some adventurous choices — like raw shrimp.
“That shrimp was swimming 30 seconds ago,” said Andrew Halvorsen, the chef de cuisine. “If you like it, we’ll deep fry the heads. And the mackerel bones.”
We did and they came back a few minutes later battered and delicious.
“This is pretty good,” my nephew said.
“Yeah, it is,” said my brother.
What was especially cool is that Blue Ocean serves chopped up wasabi root, not a paste. The effect was spicy but in a way that allowed the flavor of each fish to come out. I may not be able to go back to paste again.
By that time, I had switched from cocktails to a Hitachino Nest White beer. White beers are usually food-friendly, but I thought the Echigo Rice beer that my brother ordered was a better fit with the cuisine.
My nephew slurped up his Moscow mule and ordered something called the Chim Chim Go Speed Racer.
“When you see a drink in a Japanese bar named after Speed Racer, you have to try it,” my brother egged on.
The Chim Chim blends gin with orange and absinthe. I thought it was great in sips, but a little goes a long way. My nephew was happy. Good thing, because I had ordered some robata.
Robata is a method of grilling that uses special Japanese charcoal heated up to 900 degrees. The foods cooked on the grill are flavored simply and beautifully.
The pork belly was especially sweet, salty and juicy, and came in cubes on a skewer. The black cod was more delicate and flaky.
My nephew enjoyed the mushrooms but I liked the peppery flavor of the grilled chicken gizzard, but the bacon-wrapped scallops were hard to beat.
For dessert, we had two choices:fresh strawberries with a coconut sorbet and a ginger-butterscotch pudding.
At any other meal, the ginger pudding with its gingersnap crust would be a home run, but it was really heavy compared to the previous dishes. The strawberries and sorbet capped things off nicely.