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The Surfside: Sushi and California Cuisine

Video Interview
(15mb WMV)
sandiego.com, Inc.

With seven sushi restaurants within 1/2 mile of my home in Pacific Beach, you'd think it would be hard to decide where to go. Not so. However, because of its location, Surfside was one of the last places I discovered. If you go down Garnet Avenue in PB to corner of Mission Boulevard (where it continues on to Crystal Pier) take a right, behind the Denny's you'll see an Alberto's taco stand and "Pollo and Pappas" on the far corner. Tucked between them, with as much humble presence as the Japanese are famous for, is The Surfside Sushi and California Cuisine.

They open at 5:30 every day and on weekends, there is usually a line within an hour or two. When you first walk in, all the staff greets you with the traditional "irasshimase" or "Welcome to our place". Walk-ins are welcome and there's a pleasant hallway out of the sun/cold and off the street to wait if all of the tables are full. You can also make reservations for parties of one up to 50 or more that fit nicely in their main dining room.

The Sushi Bar
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Suppose you take up station at the sushi bar where the five sushi chefs do their work and hand it over the counter. In my visits to the restaurant, I've sat with an almost all Japanese collection and once with a whole gaggle of oceanographers from Scripps Research - recommendations, I would say.

As you sit down, you'll be greeted by a server with a small wooden rack holding a fresh, clean, hot, white towel to wash your hands. You'll get a big glass of water with lemon and a small cup with an appetizer of seaweed or fish salad to get your taste buds tuned up.

Now it comes time to order your food. The menu, and the specials chalk board up on the wall, are in both English and Nihingo (the term of the written form of the Japanese language.) They offer traditional Japanese fare, preferred the native Japanese customers, like sea urchin, monk fish liver, sea cucumber and fatty tuna. It's a good idea, still, to know the Japanese names: "maguro" is yellowfin or Ahi tuna while "hamachi" is yellowtail; "unagi" is freshwater eel while "anago" is saltwater eel. You can find a good short list of sushi terms at The World-Wide Sushi Restaurant Reference. http://sushiref.com/glossary/ The basic menu at Surfside hasn't changed in two years, but the specials are new every day.

For the beginner, The Surfside offers dishes with American roots, like the California roll and Seafood "Explosions" which are served hot and have a creams sauce. And they serve everything in between. "Everyone is welcome, " says manager Aki Sota, "beginners and everyone. We even have vegetarian and low-carb customers." The most popular beginner dish, according to Aki: Crunchy Roll, a mixture of shrimp and tempura crumbs.

The concept of sushi originated with the Japanese custom of storing fish and many believe it was codifed into a specific cuisine in the 1700's by a Japanese chef named Yohei who dropped the salting and pickling methods to serve fresh raw fish.

"Sashimi" is raw fish alone sliced and served in elegant presentations. "Sushi" is accompanied with rice in either the nigiri form where hand pressed clumps of rice are topped with slices of fish or the "maki" form where fish and/or vegetables are wrapped with rice and seaweed (Nori) in rolls sliced into bite sized pieces. The sticky "sushi rice" is prepared with rice wine vinegar.

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The Surfside gets its fish from all over the world with 50%, the specialties preferred by native Japanese, shipped in from Japan fresh every day and the other 50% brought in locally and from Los Angeles, still fresh and every day. "We get tuna from all over, " said Aki, "in the summer time it's more local, in the winter time from places like Ecuador."

To be "sushi-grade" like you might see in the store, the fish must be frozen at federally mandated temperatures and times, all except tuna. When asked for his favorite dish to be served, Aki named the Chilean Sea Bass, which is marinated in miso for two days.

The Surfside also serves the traditional cold, salty soybeans still in a pod called "edamame", miso soup which is a broth with chunks of fish or soy curd, and a delicious seaweed salad. They also have a good selection of Japanese beer and sake. I usually opt for the large hot sake, but their premium brands are better served cold.

The Surfside serves over 100 people a day an average of 800-1000 sushi pieces each with the five chefs, seven servers, two kitchen staff, preparing rice and the hot foods, and two dishwashers. More than most restaurants, your dishes are usually cleared within a few minutes of consuming their contents and your water glass or beverage rarely stays empty.

"Arigato" Thank you!
Copyright©2005 sandiego.com, Inc.

Whether you sit at the bar or a table, the collections of sushi you order are presented in colorful arrangements. The more numerous types of sushi ordered for larger parties at a table, of course, look like a garden of sushi. If you order something like mackerel, the initial sushi will be presented with the filleted skeleton of the fish. Once you've dined on the sushi, the server will remove the plate, deep fry the skeleton and bring it back out to you with a dipping sauce. Think fish fries but a bit more crunchy.

If you're looking for a friendly atmosphere to try your first sushi, The Surfside will fill the bill. Excellent fish and a welcoming environment to dine will greet you. As you leave, of course, you will hear everyone call after you "arigato" or "Thank you!" to complete your experience.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 858-273-2979
  • Name: The Surfside
  • Address: 4527 Mission Blvd.