Yakitori Taisho (San Diego)

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Anh and I were trying to find a place to eat over the weekend and saw that Yakitori Taisho just opened a few weeks back. It is a part of the family of restaurants including Yakitori Yakyudori and Hinotez. We weren’t too confident they would be open for lunch on a Sunday, but gave it a shot anyways. Our suspicions were right and they were closed. Boooo. Never to get too down about being denied food, we dusted ourselves off and made it out for dinner a few nights ago. Right before we left I googled them to see if I could find their hours and noticed mmm-yoso paid them a visit recently. Sweet! After seeing what they had, our resolve to march on and try again was reinforced. It isn’t very visible from the street. If you find the barber shop and nail salon it’s sandwiched between you’re at the right spot.

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The place is as cozy as you can imagine. It might even be slightly smaller than Sab-E-Lee in Linda Vista. There’s only two tables with the rest of the seating up front at the counter.  You can probably fit fourteen or fifteen people as long as they don’t mind each others company and body heat. I would not bring a group larger than four.

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There was only one other couple inside when we arrived sitting in the corner. We took our seats center stage, right in front of the grill. To say we were excited to eat would be an understatement. It wasn’t like the atmosphere was electric, but inside, my hype meter was slowly reaching capacity. There wasn’t too much noticeable heat coming from the kitchen, nor was there a strong odor. But the couple I mentioned had already finished eating and the grill was unmanned. We started off with six things, but had clear intentions on keeping our menu to order more later. I’ll lay it out in the order we received our selections.
DSC_0011They started us out with the only non skewered item we ordered. One of their deep fried section options, the Calamari, comes with house ponzu sauce. It was lightly fried and had an airy, crispy texture on the outside. The ponzu was thick and tart. I was loving the sauce and challenge of trying to get as much of it onto each piece of calamari as I could. It may have been a tad bit rubbery, but not enough to keep us from enjoying it. 
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Our thought process was to order a few vegetables so we wouldn’t be as meat heavy as we would inevitably be, regardless of said strategy. Each yakitori order comes with two skewers. The Shiitake mushrooms had bonito flakes on top. As we would come to realize throughout our meal, the juicyness for almost every skewer was quite high. The earthy flavor and juice of the mushrooms prepared us for what was to come.

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There was a miscommunication and I thought I ordered the plain Asparagus. No matter. Never have I turned down a date with asparagus wrapped in bacon. Do you really need me to tell you how this was? Bacon + anything = win. But seriously, the bacon was cooked just right and none of the meats ate heavy. It was as clean as bacon can be. There was a side of mayo if that’s your thing. Having it plain and with mayo were both satisfying.

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When the Toritamanegima, or chicken thigh and onion came out, we were ready. Up until this point we hadn’t eaten any of their chicken skewers, which happens to occupy the most space on their menu. It was pretty tasty. In ranking them, it sits in the middle of the pack . I like how they don’t try to do anything too fancy. It is simple but very good. 

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This my friends made an impression! The Butashiso is pork belly with shiso leaf, accompanied with a plum paste. My favorite single bite from the San Diego Night Market was pork belly yakitori. I really liked how it wasn’t super fatty or greasy. This version from Yakitori Taisho blows that one out of the water on balance, moisture, and the added layer of flavor from the plum paste. It almost ate like a meatball and I couldn’t differentiate fat from meat. It really was just one juicy piece of pork. I’ve always thought pork belly is either prepared really well or poorly. It can be a combination of fatty, oily, salty, and overdone. This is a great example of how a perfectly executed pork belly can taste. The plum paste added a little sweet and sour to the palette, making you salivate even more.

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The Tebasaki are chicken wings. I thought this was a bonus because we got chicken meat AND chicken skin in one order. Isn’t meat supposed to taste better with the skin and bones still attached? I answer with a resounding, yes! The skin couldn’t have been cooked better. Its super crispy nature played off the chicken perfectly. I’ll admit I’ve taken skin off chicken wings before because it acted purely as a gelatinous, fatty unappetizing layer, impeding my path to the meat. It would be a sin to do so here.  IMG_4264

We saw the chef preparing plain asparagus and immediately noticed the portion size being a little larger than the asparagus with bacon. Anh and I were like, “ohhh that’s what we would have gotten.” Then he put it in front of us. So I’m not really sure if they recognized the miscommunication, or if an order of asparagus with bacon actually comes with extra asparagus. My guess is they realized we wanted the plain asparagus and just decided to give it to us even though we already got the one with bacon. Again, these spears were simple and flavorful.

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Were we full yet? Clearly there were many more options on the menu to choose from. One Kobayashi wiggle set us back on track to order more. I wasn’t even calculating the cost because both of us were having a grand ole time trying everything we had so far. Speaking of cost, it appears as if most of the yakitori here is slightly more expensive than Yakitori Yakyudori. Still, everything we got came out to roughly $40. Back to this delicious food! The chicken meatball, Tsukune was a delight to bite into. It was so juicy! They burst with chicken flavor reaching every corner of my mouth.

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The Sasami is chicken breast and comes with a sauce or topping of your choice. They offer plum paste, wasabi, or yuzu citrus pepper. Since we already had the plum paste and Anh is not a wasabi fan, that let us with one option. Unfortunately, this was probably the driest pieces of meat we had all night. If not for the yuzu citrus pepper, we would have ended the night on an asi asi note. The chef meticulously added a small portion of the yuzu citrus pepper on each piece, reminding me of Kristen Kish of Top Chef fame with her tiny little plating tweezers. Anh bit into her skewer first and must have made a funny face because the chef came over right away and asked, “spicy?” By that time the heat just hit me and we both nodded letting him know it wasn’t too much for us to handle. It’s funny how such a small amount can completely change a dish. The spiciness lingered not for one, two, or even five minutes. I felt it on my tongue and the roof of my mouth for almost ten minutes! But I loved it. The heat wasn’t the unpleasant type you desperately seek milk for. I didn’t know it was possible at this point in the meal for my taste buds to perk up like they did. If the chicken was a little more juicy it may have been near the top of our favorites.

By the time we left there were six people including the staff laughing it up. If we spoke Japanese I bet we would have got a kick out of some of the things they were joking about. Even with the communal chit chat, the chef and server were very attentive over the course of our meal. Food wise we were impressed. If you can go to a restaurant and order eight different things with each giving you something unique and pleasing, that’s a restaurant I’d want to go back to again. And we hope to! 

Yakitori Taisho Collage
Yakitori Taisho
5185 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92117
http://yakyudori.hinotez.com/

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About Darren

Fooood! I love it if you can’t tell already. I love everything about it. The taste, the smell, the look, the feel, the satisfaction, the gratification, and ultimately: the fun! I’ve been in San Diego for about 10 years now and it amazes me that there are still places to uncover. Traveling, eating, and taking pictures of food has always been a hobby of mine. So naturally Michael and I thought it made sense to share what we found with all of you. I tend to side with the savory but never shy away from a knock out dessert. If you have a place you think we haven’t tried let us know! We’re always on the lookout…

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