A laughing Buddha
550 Park Boulevard #2104, San Diego
At last. Have been watching this site for months.
I’m riding on the southbound Orange Line as it pulls in to the Park and Market stop. Bunch of school kids haul out and start streaming toward the corner convenience store. It’s that time of day. Around four in the afternoon.
Maybe they have the right idea. I jump down the steps just before the doors start closing. Across on the sidewalk there’s a big shiny water bowl for dogs — which tells you people really are starting to make this their neighborhood — and beside it a chalkboard sandwich board that reads: “Now Open. Sushi.”
Then, up on the black metal canopy, a sign in the style you’d expect to see in, say, 1890s Chicago.
“The Parlour. Sushi, sake, craft beer, wine.” That word “Parlour.” It’s spelled the English way. Now I’m curious. Quick Wiki check. Huh. From French parler, to speak. Started when monks took the vow of silence but could break the rule in special “parlour” rooms. “Speakeasy” comes from the same place?
Ed ate too much — half the teriyaki chicken was boxed to go.
I’m heading in, past a couple of beautiful little big-leafed trees with trunks woven together like a girl’s ponytail and into a kinda dark-wood interior. Straw lamps, a snarling gold dragon, a white ceramic laughing Buddha, and five high chairs at the counter. Black curtains that say “Ichiban” shelter what looks like a prep room. Way-big TV screen fills the center between shelves loaded with glasses for wine, sake, and beer. Oh, and a whole other room branches off through an archway to the left. Two sushi chefs work away behind a counter there.
That’ s when this slim guy comes up. Trong. I’ve talked with him before. First a couple of years back, when he and two buddies Mike and Gustavo started up the District, the sandwich place a block away, and then here, when I first noticed this place changing earlier this year.
“We’re up and running,” he says, “except we haven’t got our patio yet, and our wine-and-beer license is another month away. So, this is still soft-opening time. But sushi’s going strong.”
I sit up to the inner bar where the sushi chefs are at work, right beside a ceremonial model junk with red Chinese lettering down its sails. Trong brings me a menu. Starters has things like “Steamed Eddie ($3.95),” which is steamed edamame beans in sesame oil, with garlic and roasted sesame seeds. Then miso soup (made on the spot, it says, $3.95), a seaweed salad ($4.95), an “ahi stack” that is mostly tuna ($9.95,) and teriyaki chicken with rice and broccoli ($8.95).
Traditional rolls, like the spicy tuna, the California, go for $5.95, hand rolls start at $5.95 for the “Parlour Cone,” with spicy krab and shrimp tempura, or the Octopus Cone ($5.95). Or, the crispy “Real Deal Eel Cone” ($5.95).
Specialty rolls go up a little in price, but they look interesting. “Sin City Roll” has yellowtail, salmon, krab, and “outside spicy” tuna, whatever that means, for $12.95. The “T.J. Roll” is filled with shrimp, veggies, poblano chili, and jalapeño ($9.95).
The $5.95 California roll was eight pieces, not four. Ed didn’t complain, though.
But what catches my eye is the Specials list, that first one. “Lunch Special,” it reads. “Includes 4 pieces of CA roll, choice of starter... choice of any hand roll or teriyaki chicken, and a fountain drink of choice, $9.95.”
It sounds like a deal. The starter choices are the “Steamed Eddie,” “It’s So Miso” soup, or Parlour salad.
“You still doing lunch?” I ask Trong.
“Oh, sure,” he says. “The special?”
“Yes,” I say. “I’m a quantity man. Gimme that, with the Steamed Eddie and the teriyaki chicken.”
Because, can’t fail to notice the teriyaki on its own costs just a buck less than all this together.
For drinks I go for a pot of tea, Asian style. No milk or sugar.
This is a whole lot of lunch. Heck, you could just about fill up on the edamame. And the California roll? I see they have eight pieces there, not four. My only complaint: not enough wasabi, even though Damian the sushi chef gave me plenty more when I asked.
Whatever. By the time I’m through, I know the main course is gonna be a challenge even for my robust gut.
But all the time, I’m chug-chugging on bowl after bowl of hot tea, and that somehow helps.
The teriyaki chicken has rice, broccoli, and a whole slab of sliced chicken breast. Man, it’s a lot. About halfway through I toss in the towel. Have to ask for a box.
Trong says he can’t wait till they get their license and the patio’s up and running. He’s come a long way. His parents escaped from Vietnam after the war and settled in Washington DC. He started learning the restaurant business there.
Gotta go. ’Course, this time of day, the place is empty, but I can see the potential for a muy cool scene here. Especially with the patio and warm evenings. Because you can just feel this whole district pulsing like a pupa, ready to bust out into full butterflyhood.
Can’t wait to watch it happen, sitting with a sake, catching the East Village sunset.
- Prices: Starters include “Steamed Eddie” (edamame), $3.95; seaweed salad, $4.95; “ahi stack,” tuna, $9.95; teriyaki chicken with rice and broccoli, $8.95; spicy tuna or California traditional rolls, $5.95 each; “Parlour Cone” (spicy krab, shrimp tempura), $5.95; octopus cone, $5.95; “Sin City” specialty roll (yellowtail, salmon, krab, outside spicy tuna), $12.95. The “T.J. Roll” (shrimp, veggies, poblano chili, jalapeño), $9.95; “Lunch Special,” (includes California roll, starter (miso soup, salad, or edamame), plus any hand roll or teriyaki chicken, fountain drink, $9.95
- Hours: 11:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. daily (till 10:00 p.m., Friday, Saturday)
- Buses: 3, 5, 11, 901, 929
- Nearest bus stops: Park and Market (3, 5); 11th and Market (11, 901, 929 northbound); 10th and Market (11, 901, 929, southbound)
- Trolleys: Blue Line, Orange Line
- Nearest trolley stop: Park and Market