Juvenile red tailed hawk with clean and pristine feathers

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


"Our eyes made contact from across the room. I am sure that I speak for the two of us when I say that we both felt that certain spark. She blinked at me. I ate her."

My friend Bigdave drove his supersonic BMW M5 down the coast this weekend from the Bay Area. Dave is raising his late brother's son who is something of a prodigy, scoring a perfect math SAT and they scouted UCSD, Caltech and a few different universities.

I met them in Del Mar and we walked through Torrey Pines reserve, getting some nice sunset shots. I thought of a new restaurant that I wanted to try, Dave being an adventurous eater. Zenbu is located in Cardiff at the site of the old Yogis. It is a japanese restaurant with a very different twist. You enter the place and face a large salt water fish tank that takes up an entire wall. They must have spent a fortune decorating the place, there are a beautiful set of dragon panels hanging above the sushi bar to your right. On the left is a normal bar for alcoholic libations. The tiny tables sort of fill up the middle.

What makes Zenbu a cool experience (although the quality of the food was definitely mixed) is this: You pick out a live fish swimming in the tank and that's your meal. A guy climbs up with a net and scoops it up on the way to the kitchen. You pay about $25.00 a pound and it is served fried or live or some other way. We had a rockfish that weighed in about a pound and a half and were able to make proper introductions before it was served.

The restaurant is too dark for my taste and feels very compressed. To be fair, I didn't see the back room. We got seated in a table for two that was converted into a table for three for us. I had to do some fancy calisthenics stepping over a chair to even sit down, after receiving instruction from the wait staff about the best land route to take to actually get to my seat.

I believe that the owners own a company, Ocean Giant, that delivers the fish to most of the sushi bars in the area. You would think they would have it a little more together. All of their numerous sushi chefs were gaijin, or white folks. Nothing wrong with that but their work was clumsy, paltry and unprofessional. Our handroll looked like an anorexic model dressed in an oversized trenchcoat, with no gobo, no accoutrement to the over spicy tuna. The other very expensive roll with snow crab and shrimp, was also overdressed and not enticing. Maybe there is a reason that the japanese have such laborious training methods? I understand that you can get the fish prepared tokyo style, blinking and alive on your plate. Supposedly the sculpin can stay alive for up to 45 minutes on your table. Nice. Nothing like a live fish tail to clean out the forgotten crevices in your gullet.

We started the meal with a sashimi salad on the recommendation of our gorgeous server. This was a mistake. Three or four miniscule pieces of tuna on a limp overdressed bed of greens for an outrageous price.

The fish came to our table next, expertly cooked, cubed and quite delicious. Unfortunately it wasn't quite large enough and I fought with my table mate for the available bites. It came with three delicious sauces, a green chili, ponzu and garlic and was a very pretty dish. The fish was surrounded by tomatoes, and a frisee of maybe sweet potatoes, and was quite tasty. Meyer, the prodigal son, had chicken teryaki, which was also really delicious.

The staging of the food is not together. We thought that they forgot our sushi order but it arrived much later. You expect more from an eighteen dollar sushi roll.

I felt about twenty years older than the median age in this tony establishment. My guest noticed that all of the servers were gorgeous and the men and women both looked like they could have come from a Leni Reifenstahl movie celebrating aryan or nordic superiority. Tall, blonde and buff.

I would say to give Zenbu a try if you want to impress jaded friends and try something different. Bring a bunch of money and try the cooked fish. I would stay clear of the sushi, it's just not very well done. (not a pun.) The place is an interesting novelty but if I was looking for sushi on the coast I would visit Nobu in Solana Beach and steer clear of Zenbu.

This fish was just bug eyed for me. Photo by Dave's Blackberry.


grumpy said...

never patronize an establishment with "zen" in the title; they're only trying to impress you with how hip, how cutting edge they are; zen schmen; oh, the sorrows of the bourgousie!

Anonymous said...

Your PETA fish expierience sounds like a big bummer.

Anonymous said...

Good morning Robert !

I just read yesterday's blog and was SHOCKED to see that you, an absolutely great writer, made not one, but two errors.

I'm sure I'll get over it soon....

You ran 'a' and 'very' together: avery. Right after than you combined plural (oh shit, I can't spell that word and can't get the spellcheck to work right now..LOL). Anyway you combined singular and plural together, something to do with tomatoes I believe.


P.S. Now don't start tearing apart my writing skills. I try real hard not to misspell anything when I communicate with you.

Blue Heron said...

I am glad you are paying attention, Wanda. Poor spelling is a sign of poor breeding and always inexcusable. You will be happy to know that I have corrected the offending passages.

And to think I used to be a proofreader...

Anonymous said...

zenbu in Japanese means "everything". But, yeah, sounds pretty pretentious.