Disclosure: Our meal was complimentary, but I was not compensated for this review. As always, all opinions are my own.
My office isn’t that far from Del Mar, but I still rarely find myself taking advantage of the delicious restaurants we’ve recently discovered. Some of it is because it’s just a hair too far away for a quick lunch break; the other part is because after work I just want to go home, which is in a completely different direction than Del Mar. When I was offered an opportunity to explore the menu at Shimbashi Izakaya, I figured I might as well expand my list of Del Mar dining options.
What I’m learning is that we should be spending more time in Del Mar eating…
We were greeted by Hideko, the manager, who is just one of the nicest ladies I’ve met in a long time. Seriously, I loved her so much I wanted to just hug her. And Chiko provided amazing service the whole time we were there. We sat on the patio, with a lovely view of the ocean, next to heat lamp that made the temperature just right.
There is an extensive menu book and then a tabletop menu with seasonal recommendations. The menu book lists over 30 different sakes, sake/sochu cocktails, beer, and then all the food items (of which there are plenty). In Japan, an izakaya is kind of like a pub, where you drink and eat tasty snacks to unwind after work. Shimbashi definitely provides you with a plethora of drink options and their food items come in small portions meant for snacking. And sharing, if you’re into that type of thing. (I’m kidding… I like sharing plates! You get to taste more things that way!)
Travis started with a Shimbashi Mojito, which had muddled shiso leaves in the cocktail for a little twist on the mint. I had a few sips and it was delicious. Just tart enough from the limes and not so boozy that all you could taste was alcohol. I kind of wished I had gotten one, too. I stuck with a pot of hot tea, which was equally delicious in its own way. Plus, everyone was very attentive to whether or not the pot was still warm enough and it was replaced with a fresh, hot pot of tea when I’m pretty sure I was only halfway through it.
That truly unappetizing picture next to the mojito (so, so sorry about that) is the grilled salmon collar, marinated in a miso paste. I love salmon and halibut collars and this one was divine. I feel like it’s a good drinking snack because you can take your time eating away at it, poking here and there to make sure you’ve gotten every last bit. The salmon was moist and fatty and delicious. Some of the skin along the edges was charred and crispy, which is how salmon skin should be. Short of sucking the bones clean, I think we did a good job picking the collar over.
Here are the rest of our appetizers: agedashi tofu (it’s become one our standard dishes at Japanese restaurants), pri-pri shrimp, scallop and crab dynamite (off the specials menu), and gyoza.
The agedashi tofu was good: crispy on the outside, soft on the inside; warm but not too hot. It also came with a dollop of grated ginger and grated daikon (radish) mixed with chili oil. A mouthful of flavors, you could say. The pri-pri shrimp are fried and then glazed with a honey sauce. The sauce is dark (Travis thought it was caramel when he saw it) and it has a caramelized note to it and it’s so good we both tried to scrape up as much as we could with whatever food bit we had. Think walnut shrimp with no mayo or nuts but just as crispy-sweet and mouth-watering.
I’m a big fan of seafood dynamite, but I also like mayonnaise, which is a component of all the dynamite dishes I’ve ever eaten. The scallop and crab dynamite comes served in scallop shells balanced on mounds of wet salt (don’t eat the mound – it’s salt!) Tender scallops, fresh crab, and a sauce that was not mayo-heavy at all. I loved every bite and probably would have licked the shells clean if I could have been sure no one would see me.
The gyoza are listed as being handmade and I’m inclined to believe them. They came to us still hot, with a crisp bottom, filled with pork and chives, wrapped in a thin and delicate wrapper. I’m not sure I’ve ever had gyoza with such a thin wrapper, but I like it.
It was about this time we were wondering how much more food we could fit into our stomachs. It was also about this time that Hideko came by to ask if we were not sushi fans. [I would like to put on record that I had asked Travis when we sat down if he wanted sushi but he said he wasn't in the mood for it.] Hideko told us that their La Fresca roll was very popular and had been voted Best Roll at the Beer and Sake Festival in San Diego. She also ordered us a Lobster Salmon Roll, which was good because I had been wanting some salmon sushi. The La Fresca roll is spicy tuna and avocado, topped with yellowtail and pico de gallo. It sounds a little odd on paper, but it worked perfectly on the plate. And in my mouth. Somehow, the fresh pico de gallo brings out the freshness of the yellowtail and tuna. It’s a refreshing roll if you’re tired of coming across sushi rolls with tempura shrimp in them all the time. The Lobster Salmon roll is filled with lobster and cucumber, then topped with salmon. The salmon was bright and firm and wonderful. I had a really hard time deciding which roll I liked the best, so I guess it’s good we had enough of both.
Hideko also recommended the scallop sashimi – so fresh it was still alive in the kitchen! This was so good, the only thing we added to the scallop was a swipe of lemon. Sweet, firm, tender, and melt-in-your-mouth. I probably would have eaten half a dozen (if they weren’t $23).
After the scallop, we were also recommended a dry sake to try. My experiences with sake seem to involve warm drinks that taste like hairspray, but the one brought out was smooth and cool. We sipped from the glasses and then from the cedar box that held the “overflow” of sake. Ahh… if I knew how to choose good sakes, I think I’d drink it more often! Shimbashi carries over 30 different sakes and they’re are always looking to add more unusual ones to their list. They also have a couple of sake samplers on the menu, so you can try 3 different ones at a time.
And then it was time for dessert. I’ve decided that it’s my job to determine whether or not a restaurant has a suitable dessert item. Maybe not everyone needs dessert, but I like knowing a good dessert option is available to me. Of course, this also means trying desserts becomes a requirement! On the recommendation of Chiko, we went with the pear pie. Slices of pear in a firm custard – it’s not very sweet, just sweet enough. Actually, a perfect ending to a meal of snacks and sushi. Other options are ice cream, mochi ice cream, or chocolate cake. Creme brulee was on the specials menu, but I’m glad we went with the pear pie.
If you were to stick with the small plates and appetizers, the menu prices are actually very reasonable. Some of the specialty sushi rolls get a little pricey, but you can also tell there’s quality in that roll. This is no Sushi Deli! (My apologies if you LOVE Sushi Deli; I acknowledge they are super cheap, but I also feel you get what you pay for.) And, the patio is perfect for some after-work unwinding. You have a view of the ocean, it’s not too breezy, and you don’t get much road noise. Sit next to a heater (or drink more sake) and it all makes for a pretty good night. Considering it’s easier for Travis to come north than it is for me to go south, plus the fact that they’re pretty close to my office, I’m hoping we visit Shimbashi more often in the future.
If you sign up for their mailing list, you start off with a coupon for 20% off your next meal.
They are also running a Mother’s Day Special from May 10-13, 2012: for $28/person, you get tuna poki and a mini assorted sashimi bowl, a choice of pan-fried salmon or crab-stuffed chicken breast with plum basil sauce, and green tea mousse and lychee sherbet. Quite a deal!
Many thanks to Jen at BAM Communications for setting up our dinner and to Hideko for being such a gracious and generous host. We had an amazing time and enjoyed every single bite!