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Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub

1815 S Coast Hwy, Oceanside

Door to the Seabasstropub

Door to the Seabasstropub

Tucked in the back of Oceanside Bull Taco, Wrench and Rodent is the brainchild of Davin Waite, local sushi guy who came up through the ranks of La Jolla’s Cafe Japengo. The name allegedly means nothing except, "We're very cheeky," at least according to the staff. The place bills itself as a tiny oasis of sushi greatness, a place where sushi nerds can geek out over cutting edge preparations of “unorthodox nigiri and sashimi.” The restaurant’s Facebook page teems with food porny snapshots of unusual fish parts prepared to melt the heart of the most-bored food cynic.

Plus, the buzz was nothing but positive. Everybody seemed stoked on the Seabasstropub. I guess I was just set up for disappointment.

One piece from a big, soft, glossy mag said the place had a “Victorian punk rock style.” Grungy is one thing, but the Seabasstropub comes off as seedy and, at least metaphorically, dirty. I can see embracing some grittiness, but sticky tables and sloppy service? I wouldn’t begrudge a restaurant for not wanting to meet my few, extremely simple requests — unless of course the menu said, “We appreciate your creativity; special requests are always welcome!”

Apparently, they aren’t. Lesson learned.

OK, on to the food. Wrench and Rodent’s claim to fame lies with creative sushi preparations, but much of the preparations reveal a trying-too-hard mentality. Many of their sauces, like the arugula chimichurri and the caper tapenade, are just too fierce for sushi. They lack subtlety, and there’s no question that a simple nikiri (Mirin and soy sauce) would better complement the “chef-selected” fish of which Wrench and Rodent is so proud.

The only thing worse is when the kitchen, for some baffling reason, decides to omit everything from the sushi. Yellowtail and tuna both came out to table without any trace of wasabi or nikiri, and that’s wholly unacceptable at a place with such a high-opinion of itself. Sure, there’s plain old soy sauce on the table, and a big chunk of wasabi on the plate, but should I really be expected to disassemble my sushi, add wasabi (with what? my bare hands?), and then overpower it with undiluted soy sauce?

I think not.

One would think that this temple of sushi-craft would have the basics on lock, but one would be wrong. The basic recipe for the rice is too sweet and gummy, and without good rice and a command of the basics, how are you supposed to elevate the craft above Sushi Deli standards? What’s the point in redefining sushi when you can’t even prepare octopus properly?

A lot of people don’t know this, but Picasso was a more conventional artist before he experimented with Cubist technique and changed the world of art as it was known.

The man had mastered the lessons of the Old Masters, Mannerists, Impressionists, and everything in between, and his artwork only got experimental after that. Reverse engineer a Picasso, and there’s a perfect portrait underneath. The lesson here is that you can’t neglect the basics, which is exactly what the Seabasstropub has done. You want to start a revolution? Fine. But don’t ever think the small stuff doesn’t matter.

When the best thing I can say is, “At least it wasn’t expensive,” well, that’s barely an endorsement. People may think I’m hating just to hate, but let me stress that I came into this restaurant with childlike excitement. I keep a little notebook of restaurants to try, and I wrote the following phrase therein:

holy fucking hell the seabasstropub!

Word for word. I felt like I was in for sushi revelation, so being disappointed like this just plain hurts. Everywhere I go, I hope to be delighted, but Wrench and Rodent broke my foodie heart. It’s a major problem for our food scene when a place glides along on an endless wave of hype; propelled by tidal forces of puffy journalism and aggressive PR campaigns, Yelpers who wouldn’t know real cuisine if it hit them in the teeth, and meek diners who toe the party line that anything labelled “local” is automatically good.

The vital takeaway here is that the Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub isn't terrible. It's very average, and this isn't meant as some kind of super-personal takedown. The looming problem is that the restaurant, and the bogus things that have been written about it, would have us all believe that The Dalai Sushi Buddah Jesus was behind the bar, imbuing slices of yellowfin tuna with His Holy Certitude.

I could say the same for half-a-dozen other places, all equally hyped, all (almost) equally disappointing.

How about some more of these super-hyped restaurants actually live up to their own promises, or just be real about what they are, OK?

/RANT

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Comments

shirleyberan Sept. 14, 2014 @ 10:39 a.m.

Really enjoyed your assessment. Wouldn't get past the front door with that unappetizing epithet.

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Ian Pike Sept. 15, 2014 @ 4:37 p.m.

Thanks. It was a let down all around.

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Mercy Baron Sept. 16, 2014 @ 9:25 a.m.

Wow, really surprised to see no defense amongst their supporters. Thought there would at least be some retort from someone at their establishment defending or promising to truly elevate their menu items. You know, like biz owners do when they see those Yelp reviews that you're always claiming the reviewers don't know what the hell they're talking about?

Hey Ian. I do love reading your reviews, respect plus coming your way from me. But just want to let you know not ALL Yelpers are clueless. I'm one of those Elite Yelpers (we get parties thrown for us each month at some establishment) who actually knows what the hell I'm talking about. I'm a Kansas City Certifed BBQ Judge and I was just asked to judge at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas in Nov. Yeah, I agree a LOT of Yelpers should shut their pie holes, or at least read a lot of pro reviews and get educated, but again, please realize that Elite Yelpers (there's a little Elite badge next to our pics so you can tell us apart) try to pen much more thoughtful and considerate reviews for the public. Btw, I do not work for Yelp, we're just freelancers that don't get paid. And I also write for the Reader...just not food, although I would love to!

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JessicaHarwood Sept. 16, 2014 @ 1:03 p.m.

Hi Mercy, Thank you for your feedback. If you check out our yelp site you will notice that I do my best to respond to all reviews that are less than glowing. However, it was only after a local chef posted a rant in our defense that we even learned about this review. As for Mr. Pike, it is always upsetting to hear about a guest having an unfortunate experience. As you might be able to tell from the caliber of responders there are quite a few people in San Diego who are excited about what we are trying to do. Have we had moments of epic failure? Of course. Will we keep failing? Most likely. But we started a hole in the wall restaurant with nothing but a passion for using local food and the commitment of a talented chef (as well as an iPhone and a Facebook page!) and we are doing our best to stay true to what we believe in despite criticism. I am sorry that Ian was disappointed. I hope that he will give us another chance. His comments about commitment to basics? Davin is extremely committed to the basics and the fact that many of our supporters are accomplished chefs leads me to believe that he is doing something right. But everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and some of them get published in the San Diego Reader. Thank you again for your comments, and we hope to see you sitting at the bar sometime soon so you can let us know what you think! Best regards, Jessica, Davin and the Wrench & Rodent Crew

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Ian Pike Sept. 17, 2014 @ 1:04 p.m.

I'm aware that you know your stuff, but we have to disagree about Yelp. I can't support Yelp culture in good conscience. The extortion (passive and direct) of which Yelp and some of its users have been many times accused is just bad for the food industry. In my experience, Yelp rewards bad behavior and negativity, and also causes a huge problem of inflation in its ratings. I recognize that a lot of people use it, and that it's not going anywhere, but the most I can manage is "tolerant" when it comes to Yelp and other crowdsourced review sites. These days, I actually worry a lot about how to differentiate my own work from Yelp and co., because in order to stay relevant, I need to offer something that John Q. Internet can't get from a review site. You've definitely found a better way to play ball with them than I have (and kudos to you for it), but it's just not my cup of tea.

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Ian Pike Sept. 17, 2014 @ 12:58 p.m.

Wow. Everyone wants to jump to the defense of W&R, but only as a way to showcase how chummy he is with the chef. It's almost as if having a little social standing in the restaurant "scene" is more important to all these internet tough guys than the actual food is. Fancy that. Trying to namedrop yourselves to credibility is like asking the bouncer, "Do you know who I am?" when he won't let you into the club. There's a reason I work anonymously....

Either way, anybody who thinks there's anything "personal" about condemning W&R's concept, however good it looks on paper, is seriously missing the point. We have a serious problem with bogus "high concept" restaurants in this town (though it's not as if other cities don't suffer the same fate), especially when they foist overpriced mediocrity on a public willing to gobble it up just for the sake of being up on things in the foodie scene. I read an essay a while back. I don't remember by whom, but it was about the way "foodie" jargon and restaurant buzz is almost like sports for the hip, urban, younger crowd. Too often, people mistake the food equivalent of purple prose for pushing the culinary envelope, and that's what W&R is. Don't get me wrong, I would LOVE to see someone reinvent the wheel in a way that actually makes sense, but this isn't it. Every time I go out to dinner, I hope to have my face rocked straight off of my face, and onto someone else's face, forever. Unfortch, it doesn't happen all too often, because the vast majority of restaurants are nothing but meh.

And, yes, I do blame W&R (and the big, soft glossy soft journalism pieces on their website) for leading me on. You set the bar high for yourselves, and the takedown is gonna be harder when it comes.

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SheenFischer Sept. 17, 2014 @ 3:16 p.m.

Wow. I totally agree that the "foodie" world is saturated with band wagon foodies who are far too apt to fall in love with the newest, shiniest, overpriced place in town at the first sign of a 4 star Yelp review. As a middle aged person who was a foodie before there was really even a food scene, I often find myself smirking inwardly when listening to foodie wannabes talking about the great bacon and blueberry pancake they had at Sunday brunch.

With that said, after reading your review and your responses, I find myself smirking openly at the shallow content proffered by someone who is more in love with the words he writes than the subject about which he writes.

It occurs to me that your issue is clearly not with the food you were served but with the chumminess of the patrons to the hard-working owners. Did you bother to lift your head from peering between the rice and the fish in your quest for wasabi to notice that the W&R Seabasstropub was filled with patrons from all generations, locals and tourists alike? Did you take the time to ask for a few minutes of the owner's time for a more in depth description of what the place is all about? The operative part of the Seabasstropub moniker is "pub". This place was conceived to be a local gathering house - a pub at which not just sushi, but great company is served in abundance. You are, after all, a journalist, aren't you? Isn't this the type of information that a journalist is paid to uncover in the interest of writing a well-rounded article?

I cannot help but think that you either did not have the courage or the not so original thought of ordering omakase, where you would have been served items such as swordfish bone marrow, house cured swordfish bacon and pastrami, sculpin carcass, Uni custard, perfectly prepared blood clams and other myriad other items that may not appeal to the common palate and as a result are not and will never be on the menu. Pity, because those items should not be missed and cannot be found anywhere else.

Let us not overlook the block you are carrying on your over-burdened shoulders regarding the food scene in general. Your comment above is so appropriate "Too often, people mistake the food equivalent of purple prose for pushing the culinary envelope". I couldn't agree more. And, as with every cultural revolution in history, our current foodie revolution is overwrought with the 95% of people riding the wave and the coat-tails of those that are the trend setters.

No, I don't believe your article was a personal attack. As with every trend, there will always be those that work just as hard at swimming against the tide as those that work at swimming with it. So, since you speak of Purple Prose, I would say that is the flavor of the day when it comes to this review and your responses. As you have said, "You set the bar high for {yourself}, and the takedown is gonna be harder when it comes." Cheers!

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Ian Pike Sept. 18, 2014 @ 6:38 p.m.

My accusations of rampant cronyism, which I believe are valid in the Facebook comments above, are intended to disregard the critics rather than be the thrust of my argument. Don't be mistaken, I think that the basic menu concept of W&R is flawed. "Unorthodox" sushi is all well and good with me, at least in theory. The problem is that a restaurant claiming to innovate, as Wrench and Rodent does and is purported to do, needs to make positive steps in order to be worth something. Lots of the things on their menu seem to be innovation for innovation's sake, with little regard for how it actually tastes. The end result is that properly prepared "orthodox" sushi (from Shino, Ota, Akinori, or Tadokoro, to name a few) is significantly better than anything on the menu at W&R. I accuse their food of purpleness because it lacks substance.

Put another prosaic way, think of Chekov's Gun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chekhov's_gun). A lot of the things on the W&R menu are needless, and some of them flat out make the food worse than it has to be. And there's a problem with that, which is tied to the problem of people bending a knee before that which is cool, simply because it's cool.

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kennygss Sept. 17, 2014 @ 7:29 p.m.

So Ian,

In your view, all rave reviews posted elsewhere (published as well) are "bogus". You also infer that anyone who might post to the contrary of your opinion is simply a needy person seeking favor with the restaurant and chef. In fact, you are suggesting that your palate and opinion are the only valid ones as it relates to W&R. Think about that for a second or two. You "know better" than all those other writers, bloggers, Chefs, Food Pro's, front and back of house eaters, as well as as all the " regular folks" that frequent the place. I would hazard that it is just not your thing. That does not mean much more than that. You are holding an establishment to a food ethic of your conjuring, and are then disappointed that they don't care if you touch your Nigiri to the soy on the left or the right. It is not INTENDED to be a traditional Sushi Bar. I think that is where you disconnected. That, and offhandedly labeling many of the finest Chefs in this cities palates as patently unreliable. I get that your job is to be "critical", but, I would think that that criticism should come from and actual understanding o the subject. Maybe you could take a lesson from the endless comparisons between Campy and Dura-ace (more in your wheelhouse). I want to like your review, I want to look at it as authoritative and informative. Unfortunately, you come of as arrogant and somewhat petulant, and not in a cute or useful way. You must learn some humility. Also, I think you could save a rep some time by telling Holman to not bother sending reps out to restaurants. Your arrogance will precede them. Also, by the mere activity of taking your job at the Reader, you are screaming; "Do you know who I am?!"

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Ian Pike Sept. 18, 2014 @ 6:45 p.m.

First point taken as fully valid, but would you have me set myself up as anything less than an authority? Kind of part of the job description, no? Would you rather I slimed my way into inconclusive nothing-prose and never take a stand on anything?

I also understand that W&R isn't intended to be a "traditional" sushi bar, but I also think that many other "traditional" sushi bars are way more innovative and expressive in their cuisine, and much more humble about it in the process.

As for the Campy/D-A debate, I do think it's needless to endlessly bicker ove their superiority. (I ride SRAM Red anyways, ja!) However, if you botch the build on a brand new Super Record gruppo, it won't be worth the boxes it came in, and that's kind of the problem with W&R. I'm so down with them trying to do things differently, but I won't tolerate them kludging poor sushi together in a way that takes potentially great components and makes none of them work right.

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Ian Pike Sept. 18, 2014 @ 6:53 p.m.

Also, I try really hard not to be "Do you know who I am?!" guy, despite the fact that modern journalism all but requires writers to do so. I mean, very few of us keep our faces off the interwebs these days, and I try to keep a very low profile and let my stories speak for themselves, rather than attend the shiny parties and kiss the asses of the local superheroes.

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amyFG Aug. 27, 2015 @ 9:45 p.m.

not a good way to keep a low profile. Ha! Very contradicting, just like your article.

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Ian Pike Sept. 18, 2014 @ 7:10 p.m.

Oh, and to all the people who accuse me of closed-mindedness, I am the most open-minded fool you will ever meet, in terms of food! Seriously, I will relish things that make most of you gag :D

List of things I don't like: I don't eat blue cheese because it makes my tongue go numb, and then I can't taste the rest of my dinner. And I don't really care for natto.

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amyFG Aug. 27, 2015 @ 9:59 p.m.

Funny! the most closed minded and most judgmental people are the ones who think they are the opposite....

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GRP Sept. 27, 2014 @ 12:18 p.m.

Ian, I have never been to W&R, and cannot comment on the food and atmosphere. I can say your review was an exceptional piece of insight into todays state of affairs in the restaurant industry, especially with regards to social media activities.

Everyone is a critic these days, and finding anything to talk about that projects a person as an authority, or knowledgeable, or simply saying "I am here" (to be noticed, perhaps) brings us social media overload and commentary. Which I am guilty of right now!

Anyway, people should think carefully about hanging a hat or making jubilant statements which can actually be detrimental to them and their reputations down the line. Thanks for bringing attention to this behavior, and hopefully we will see it trending differently.

It was a ballsy review, and it is good to see you answer all your comments here and stick to your guns. Refreshing for todays (published) critics!

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amyFG Aug. 27, 2015 @ 10:35 p.m.

Very Amusing! you guys made me laugh!

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