Joseph O'Brien 2 p.m., May 25
Fresh wasabi at Ikiru
Japanese restaurant in Liberty Station has the hard to find condiment on the menu
I’ve had my eyes open looking for fresh wasabi ever since a reader told me about a (since closed) sushi place in La Jolla that served the green horseradish prepared fresh instead of the ersatz powder that’s more commonly used outside of Japan. I was taken aback to find it on the menu at Ikiru Japanese Restaurant in Liberty Station, of all places!
Yup, there it was, listed as an appetizer: “fresh wasabi,” $1.95. I had to try it.
Served up in a ramekin alongside an excellent order of salmon sushi, the wasabi had a chunkiness that I hadn’t expected, but it packed a whopping amount of sinus-clearing heat. Maybe it had been chopped instead of grated? Wasabi tartare.... Regardless, the flavor was brighter and fresher than the fake stuff, with a green, herbal taste. I don’t think it was the finest wasabi available, which can costs hundreds of dollars for a single pound and is usually reserved for fine sushi restaurants, because the flavor of that is downright revelatory. It was nevertheless a rare treat and an improvement over the reconstituted paste.
I put it to good use on my chirashizushi bowl as well. There was nothing really exciting in there--the typical salmon, tuna, tamago, snapper, seaweed, and rice--but it was cut well and the fish was of excellent quality. The rice at Ikiru was a tiny bit extra sweet and, while a touch gluey in the bottom of the chirashi bowl, the effect of the high-profile rice and the fresh wasabi satisfied.
Needless to say, Ikiru’s sushi impressed me. There were plenty of “average” sushi bar items on the menu, but the everyday stuff plays second fiddle to the better-than-expected fish and the delightful surprise of the fresh wasabi.
2850 Womble Road