Wa Dining Okan
A couple of weeks ago, a colleague and I ventured out for a Japanese dining experience like no other. Each of us have heard many great things about this (very) little restaurant, tucked into a strip mall by the Nijiya supermarket. Completely unassuming, almost mysterious with its dimly lit dining area, Wa Dining Okan was truly an out of the world experience.
The main dining room was very “cozy” and it is no wonder people always make reservations. There is a big bar seating in the middle and a few tables dotting the sides of the restaurant. Spread on top of the bar are the special tapas of the day.
We had reservations and were seated immediately upon arriving at the bar area. “K” and I had to hold back our excitement as we stared at the spread around us. They waitress behind the counter took our drink orders and offered us warm towels. And we begin!
How could we NOT order a tapa or two when they were placed right in front of us?! So to start off, we ordered the marinated spinach salad and the pumpkin salad.
Both were seasoned wonderfully, but “K” was not a huge fan of the spinach. I on the other hand loved it. The pumpkin salad made me think of potato salad (although truth be told, I haven’t had potato salad since perhaps I was a wee young lass). The pumpkin gave the salad a nice sweet tone, but not overly sweet as if it was yam or sweet potato. Ok…so this was a great, promising start, next…
Holy ****! We had seen the pictures and strong recommendations on Yelp for this salad, but we were still completely taken back when the Gobo salad was placed in front of us.
The salad is made of Mizuna, a root vegetable or mustard greens (per Wikipedia, it is also known as: Xiu Cai, Kyona, Japanese Mustard, Potherb Mustard, Japanese Greens, California Peppergrass, Spider Mustard, etc.), dressed with sesame seed oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and probably more that I couldn’t identify. On its own, the greens was deliciously peppery, nutty, and fragrant. Then they go and top this with a GIANT pile of fried, sweet gobo and take the whole dish to another level! The gobo was shaved thinly and fried to crispy perfection. Man! We were being impressed by just this place’s appetizers already!
Now we needed some protein in our meal…
When this little bowl came out, the smell hit us like a freight train. Oh how can this little piece of pork taste so freaking amazing?! Had we ate this dish with our hands, we would be licking our finger tips to get every last, fatty, flavorful, sweet, smoky, drop we possibly could. This is what happens when pork is treated with tender, loving care.
To cleanse our intensified palates, comes our next course…
A nigiri with salmon ball sits in the bowl with little rice crisps and seaweed. The broth is brought out separately in a teapot so the customer can pour their own broth to their liking.
Let the rice soak up some of the broth before breaking the rice ball to let everything mingle and mix. The broth was light and flavorful, which blended with the simple rice and salmon. My favorite part of this dish is when you get the piece of the rice ball that has been crisped up from cooking. The texture is amazing when you bite down and have the soup sliding down your throat.
Our next course, to continue down our lighten palates…
The salmon and scallop carpaccio. The salmon was seared on one side and left rare on the other. The scallops were sashimi grade and just plainly sliced to allow for the sweet, fresh taste to over take you. Both were drizzled with a sesame oil and soy sauce mixture if I remember correctly. I know I’ve kept saying how amazing each dish has been, but I’ll say it again: this was AMAZING.
However, anything that is too good to be true must come to an end right? Well, we had to hope off that train when our last entree came…
The chicken thigh skewers were the low point in our meal. However, it is not the skewer’s fault! The chicken was properly seasoned and grilled without drying out the meat. Yet, this came after all the other dishes before and after being bombarded by all the different flavors, textures, and aromas…the skewer just kind of fell to the back of the line for us.
Not to fear! There will never be a case when “K” and I eat and we do not end with dessert!
Thank goodness that we did get dessert even though by this time, “K” was ready to throw in the towel, because this was superb! We ordered the sesame seed pudding with black honey and by golly! I think whoever came up with this one must have had the thought, “Gee…this crème brulee is good, but too heavy. What if I changed it so that it’s lighter, softer…like a tofu dessert at Chinese dim sum, but we chill it and add some honey?” This was what it reminded me of. (So much for my dismissing most Asian made desserts, I take it back!)
It has been weeks since stepping foot into this magical land of food. Now that I am reminiscing about that dinner, I fondly remember at how amazed we both were at the simplicity of the dishes at Wa Dining Okan. This restaurant is not about shocking you with spectacular looking dishes, but rather they want the fireworks to happen on its own in your mouth and oh boy…did my mouth have the party of its life that night!
Wa Dining OKAN
3860 Convoy St
(between Aero Dr & Kearny Mesa Rd)
San Diego, CA 92111