Rolled cod tacos and rolled salmon sushi, eyeing each other warily
“Something for everyone!” says the website for Craft & Sea, the North Park restaurant now occupying the space that was — as far back as I can remember — Zensei Sushi.
A small window sign marks the location of Craft & Sea
I find it interesting that Zensei’s closure took place only after the number of restaurants surrounding it on the doglegging corner of Upas and 30th more than doubled. Within a stone’s throw, dining options have come to include pizza, ramen, tacos, and burgers. Yet no competing sushi. So, while sushi apparently stopped thriving at this location, Craft & Sea does serve it. As well as tacos.
A craft-beer taplist might be the focus here
It’s not the first local restaurant I’ve known to offer tacos and sushi under the same roof. That distinction goes to the ill-fated Juan Chou that briefly operated down the road, in South Park. But it still seems odd.
Though Craft & Sea has been at it more than three months, the small sign hanging in the window gives the impression of impermanence. Like it could change its name at any time or disappear altogether without too much fuss.
I stood at the service counter reading my options. The sushi rolls didn’t get very complicated, mostly featuring tuna, salmon, or shrimp. I opted for the Alaska roll featuring salmon, avocado, and cucumber at $8 — about the industry standard for simple maki.
3396 30th Street, San Diego
Aside from a chicken option, most of the tacos veer toward seafood — fried or grilled cod, octopus, or shrimp. Most of them ranged from $3.50 to $5, with a surf-and-turf at $6. I tried a fried fish taco out of habit and quickly realized I could find better for under four bucks across the street at Tacos Perla. So, to round out lunch I went for the more unusual offering: fish rolled tacos at three for $4.50. Which set up the unusual pairing of rolled tacos and rolled sushi.
The rolled tacos also featured cod, cut into thin strips wrapped in corn tortillas and smothered in cilantro crema, shredded cabbage, and diced tomatoes. I’m accustomed to guacamole topping rolled tacos, and I missed it when neither the cod nor the cilantro offered much flavor. I wound up dousing the dish with a spicy red salsa provided, which helped a little.
I knew going back and forth between the two dishes would result in culture shock, and I worried that the spiciness in the tacos would overpower the more delicate sushi. But sesame seeds sprinkled into the rice added a nice additional layer of flavor to the raw fish, which wasn’t top-level but quality enough to enjoy with beer.
Craft & Sea offers a great local brewery taplist, and I suspect that’s the thread that holds this whole thing together — everything on the menu goes well with beer. Something for everyone means four people can sit at the same high-top table drinking different styles of beer and ordering differing small plates to match.
But even if a restaurant can pull off both tacos and sushi, I recommend sticking to one or the other.