Chef’s selection nigiri from Azuki Sushi, including chutoro fatty tuna, otoro fatty tuns, yellowtail belly, sea bream, king salmon, and halibut.
The seven pieces of sushi were packaged in the sort of container you’d expect to find in a grocery: one of those rectangular trays with a clear plastic, snap-on top. Except grocery store sushi boxes usually feature bland ahi, yellowfin tuna that owes its bright red color to preservative, carbon monoxide treatment.
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Not the case here. One of the nigiri in this box features the lighter pink of a more flavorful piece of tuna, chūtoro, a top cut from tiny, belly portion of the prized bluefin tuna. And beside it, a piece of the even choicer otoro, cut from the bluefin’s most tender underbelly. The otoro is a lighter pink still, mottled by so much fat that melts in the mouth; so much it can barely hold itself in one piece on pressed pat of rice, inside that plastic box.
These are but two standouts from one of the best take-out orders I’ve enjoyed since going into isolation: the seven-piece $26 chef’s selection nigiri combo from Azuki Sushi in Bankers Hill.
In normal times, I wouldn’t deign to order take-out sushi, certainly not from any of the city’s top sushi restaurants. One of the best things going for modern sushi bars is the visual experience: the expert knifework on display by its resident sushi masters, the artful presentation of dishes, the interaction with the chef choosing the day’s top pieces of fish, hopefully encouraging to eat the most special pieces without dipping them in soy sauce.
At the top end, sushi restaurants are there for celebrations, special occasions, for nights out of self-indulgence. Unfortunately for those with birthdays and anniversaries during this shut down, nights out don't exist right now. As dining rooms have been order closed during the covid-19 pandemic, most fine-dining establishments have closed with them. Without the upscale service and atmosphere, without the being-seen-ness, the calculus of business suggests fine food alone cannot eke by on a take-out model.
But while some sushi restaurants offer luxurious and high-priced meals to compete with the best of them, incredibly, most of our best sushi establishments appear to be open and serving takeout.
I found this surprising, at first, given how delicate and perishable uncooked fish is by definition. But then I remind myself that, centuries ago, sushi originated as street food: compact and easy to transport. And while in person dining contributes much of the joy of the sushi bar, the number one reason to indulge is still exceptional fish.
So, with nowhere to go and nothing to celebrate, I observed the one month anniversary of sequestered life by ordering myself a box of exceptional nigiri, to go. Beside the fatty tunas, there was a piece of king salmon, a cut of fatty yellowtail, plus delicate pieces of seam bream and halibut.
Besides curbside pick- up and delivery from Azuki, other top sushi bars still serving during the pandemic include San Diego’s most revered, Sushi Ota, in Mission Bay, as well as sushi restaurants opened by family and protégés of its master chef Ota: Himitsu in La Jolla, and Shino Sushi + Kappo in Little Italy.
Also active are Point Loma’s Umi Sushi, and Coronado’s Saiko Sushi.
North County home diners may enjoy authentic sushi from Kaito Sushi in Encinitas, while the south bay has Goody’s Sushi.
But current day sushi orders are restricted to high-end fish. Dozens of sushi restaurants at every level still are open around the county; most likely, your favorite among them.