Sea Butter, eight sushi pieces loaded with clams
When it comes to sushi, the Southland is definitely rising.
I’m coming out into the sun from the dentist’s office, down here in the Otay area. Feeling a lot better. Ready to tackle — hey hey! Food!
And Lo and Behold right in the strip mall between me and the 933 bus stop, is this kinda corrugated iron place. Open, and even at this late lunchtime, crowded.
“El Pez,” it says. “The Fish.” And it’s showing a lot of sushi. That, I can definitely handle.
Nayeli: shares front of house duties
Girls and their doting boyfriends are sitting at tables, like they’re just out of school. They’re all eating sushi. Looks like California Roll. Only $4 each. Deal.
This is just east of Montgomery High School and the famous vertical wing that overlooks Palm City, exactly where San Diegan John Montgomery became the first person in America to actually fly in the air. He took off right here, in 1885, 18 years ahead of the Wright Brothers. How come he’s not more famous?
Meanwhile I’m feeling light enough to float away. I take a seat. El Pez feels more like a pub than a fish eatery. Clubby. Nayeli comes over. She has the menu. “Something to drink?”
Modest front, but deliciosity inside
Well, why not? Feel like celebrating. I get an IPA, $6 in HH (3-6, daily), and look over the menu. It promises Japanese with a Mexican touch. Interesting.
Prices are good. It starts off with “appz,” such as coco lime albacore tostada, for $2.50, a lot of $5 dishes like gyoza, karaage (basically chicken nuggets), or kura crab (soft shell crab with salsa negra), $6.
Main dishes such as bowls mostly hit the $10 mark. Poke bowl is $9.50. Pork katsu (pork loin, panko crumb-fried) is $9.50. So is carnitas ramen. Plus they do a $10 daily special. Today — Monday — it’s salmon kama, meaning the fatty collar of the fish. Comes with rice, salad, gyoza, and miso soup. Good deal.
Grilled oysters in garlic sauce
They have “saladz,” and I get the house ($4), which comes with lotus root croutons. But main dish-wise, the one that sticks out for me is called “sea butter” ($10.50). Comes with krab mix, avocado, and bay scallops, “baked with creamy Dynamite.”
Dynamite is usually mayo, sugar, and chili garlic so that’ll give them a sweet tang. And the little scallops on top sounds good. I go for that, and when it arrives it is a beautiful little package. Eight pieces of sushi on stripes of eel sauce (which is usually eel or clam broth, soy, maybe a bit of sweet sake, and sugar. Has an almost caramel flavor). They come with shredded salady strips on top, and then dynamite sauce leaking out from the pile. The surprise: it’s warm. And it all contrasts nicely with the hoppy cerveza.
Yes, I get greedy and go on to order a rainbow roll (a rich mix of krab, cucumber, avocado, salmon, albacore, tuna, and shrimp, $9.50), and it’s too much for me. But I’ll definitely be back for the sea butter.
Crazy Caesar roll: spicy crab, salmon, finished in the salamander
Not too far west down the road, I’m in the area again, this time with my friend Annie. We pop into another joint with some sushi I’ve hankered after. The Baja Oyster and Sushi Bar. The evening sun streams through the bamboo trellis windows. It just has an atmosphere that makes you think of like Saipan or Honolulu. Nazareth, one of the cooks, hands over cups of seafood miso soup, part of the welcome deal. “This is an oyster bar?” asks Annie, who’s Scottish. She knows what she likes. “I’m going for oysters. Do you have sautéed oysters in the shell?”
Chuy has come to take our order.
“I can do that,” he says. And ten minutes later, he turns up with a plate of bubbling grilled oysters in a very dark, garlic-filled sauce in each shell. It’s $11.95 for half a dozen.
I’m looking at sushi, natch.
Clam: a wealth of flavor hides inside
“Which would you go for today?” I ask Chuy.
“No question,” he says. “Today, it has to be the Crazy Caesar Roll.”
So I go for the Crazy Caesar, and man is it luscious. It has a lot of the usual suspects inside, spicy crab, cream cheese, avocado, cucumber. But then they put salmon on top and spicy mayo and later add eel sauce and kinda broil it in the salamander. It comes out wicked golden with blackened sesame seeds and fresh green onions on top. Costs $13.95. We get through our four chunks each lickety split. “Luath,” says Annie. “Fast, in Gaelic.”
Of course then Chuy comes around just when we’re taking a breath. “The clam is really good tonight too,” he says confidentially. “Chef’s putting every kind of seafood inside.”
“Clam? Dinna hesitate,” says Annie.
“‘Don’t,’ you Sassenach.”
Whatever, I don’t hesitate, and Chuy goes off to put the clam order through. Costs $9.25.
And what a beautiful surprise. It’s a big clam shell inside foil. Hot! So you unfold the foil, then hinge open the clam, and voilà! A steaming, cheesy mess of scallops, calamari, octopus, and clams.
“Sautéed with pico de gallo,” says Chuy, “then grilled.”
It’s cheesy, a little spicy, and sitting on saffron rice. The shell itself makes it worth it.
We’re stuffed. Suavecito’s playing on the sound system as we head out. Sky’s going sunset-crazy over Saturn.
“Now that was a hoot,” says Annie.
- The Places:
- El Pez, 3404 Palm Avenue, Suite C, Otay Mesa West, 619-779-4886
- Hours: 11:30am-9:00pm daily (till 10pm Friday)
- Prices: Coco lime albacore tostada, $2.50; gyoza, $5; karaage (chicken nuggets), $5; kura crab (soft shell), $6; poke bowl, $9.50; pork katsu (pork loin) $9.50; carnitas ramen, $9.50; daily specials, e.g. salmon kama, $10; house salad, $4; California roll, $4; sea butter sushi roll, $10.50; rainbow roll (krab, salmon, albacore, tuna, shrimp), $9.50
- Buses: 929, 933, 934
- Nearest Bus Stops: Palm Avenue and Beyer Way (929); Palm Avenue and Beyer Way (933 westbound); Palm and Picador (934 eastbound)
- Baja Oyster & Sushi Bar, 1912 Coronado Avenue, Suite 105, Nestor, 619-575-4606
- Hours: 11am-9pm daily (till 10pm, Friday, Saturday)
- Prices: Fish tostada, $3.95; mixed seafood tostada, $4.50; tuna sushi (maguro), $5.95; yellowtail (hamachi), $4.95; salmon skin hand roll, $5.25; crunchy roll (shrimp, cream cheese, avocado), $10.50; seafood-stuffed clam, $9.25; Crazy Caesar roll (spicy crab, salmon), $13.95
- Buses: 901, 933, 934
- Nearest Bus Stops: Coronado Avenue and Saturn Boulevard