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Observing one month in isolation with take-home sushi

Azuki one of several top sushi restaurants serving Japan's greatest street food

Chef’s selection nigiri from Azuki Sushi, including chutoro fatty tuna, otoro fatty tuns, yellowtail belly, sea bream, king salmon, and halibut.
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.

Place

Azuki Sushi Lounge

2321 Fifth Avenue, San Diego

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.

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Chef’s selection nigiri from Azuki Sushi, including chutoro fatty tuna, otoro fatty tuns, yellowtail belly, sea bream, king salmon, and halibut.
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.

Place

Azuki Sushi Lounge

2321 Fifth Avenue, San Diego

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.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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