Over the last decade, I’ve seen San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter grow into a vibrant, bustling enclave of hoity nightclubs, cachet eateries, posh hotels & [tavern-is-the-new-black] swilleries on what seems like every corner, all sandwiched between innumerous highrise condo and office buildings that continue to expand our internationally distinct skyline.
But for some – me included – all that growth birthed a scene that’s less ‘appealing date night destination’ and much more ‘don’t want to deal with wannabe NY snobs in some Universal Citywalk-like tourist mob.’ Seriously. Like Sweet Brown says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” IMHO, going out downtown can be a production, one that requires brand name threads, a spray tan and a C-note or three. So, unless it’s a special function or fundraiser that I’m expected to attend, I usually stick to the more laid back, lightened-up joints in the villages. But that’s just me.
Well, imagine my surprise (and utter giddy glee) when I learned renowned Katsuya by Starck was taking over the Quarter Kitchen space in downtown’s schmancy Andaz San Diego hotel. Master Sushi Chef Katsuya Uechi is revered in foodie circles as one of the cuisine’s elite. The original Katsuya in Brentwood was one of my favorite restaurants when I lived in L.A. And, I’ve been a secret stalker of designer Philippe Starck since stepping into his simply chic Sky Bar at the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Boulevard some 15+ years ago.
A good friend, who I hadn’t seen in well over three years, was in town staying at the Andaz and wanted to get together for drinks. Score. Perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Off I went to Katsuya. As soon I stepped inside, I beamed – it felt beautifully familiar, like going home again (just a really cool, fancy, modern home.) The space is open and lofty with lots of light, stark white furniture, dark wood accents and bold punches of color. Several flat screen TVs flank the bar area near the hotel lobby-side entrance, playing everything from sports games to Bravo housewives.
After taking it all in, the host gave us dibs on any available table. We grabbed a corner banquette and the catch-up commenced. Our server was bubbling with personality and instantly began recommending drinks from their cocktail menu. We settled on their signature Berry Evocative (rum, hand-crushed strawberries, fresh lime juice & a splash of citrus soda) and Burning Mandarin (vodka, hand-crushed Serrano chili, fresh lemon, orange juice & a splash of cranberry) which was, hands down, my favorite. The chili gave it a nice little kick on the back of the palate. Since it was 5:45pm, we were still in “Social Hour” (4-7pm daily) so signature drinks were only $7.
The food, the food, the food. Katsuya San Diego, you did not disappoint. It was every bit as fantastic as I remember. And, again, with $7 Social Hour prices on several of their house specialty dishes, it was finally a trip to eat downtown that didn’t burn up my bankcard.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I’m a sushivore – I could literally eat it three meals a day, seven days a week. As I glanced over the menu, my mouth was ordering faster than my brain could process because everything sounded so tempting. Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna, Honey Yuzu Shrimp, Kiwi Scallops, Rock Shrimp Tempura Roll (to die for…I could’ve had two more) and even their melt-in-your-mouth Kobe Beef Sliders (just to mix it up a bit) were all sinfully delicious. We were also tempted by some of their Robata offerings, so we got the Tsukune Shitake (shitake mushroom heads stuffed with chicken) and the Asparagus Bacon (really, how can you go wrong with bacon anything.) Everything was perfectly flavored, exquisitely prepared and tastefully presented, rather quickly I might add.
Our server gave us some insider deets on Katsuya specials and events that’ll prove helpful for my next trip down yonder. Oh yes, there will be another. First, if you’re eating at the restaurant, you can valet your car at the hotel for only $5 (two hour max.) That’s cheaper than any lot downtown. Second, if you’re a Padres fan, on home game nights between 5:30 and 7pm, belly up to their bar for Bento, Beer & Baseball; a bento box over-full with hot ‘n cold eats + draft Sapporo for $17. Every Monday, all bottles of sake and wine are 50% off and every Thursday specialty cocktails are cheap-ass, all night long. It gets better. Want to make a reservation at Katsuya or any of SBE’s premier nightlife, restaurant & hotel destinations? Ya, there’s an app for that.
Few things could entice me to brave the Gaslamp hot mess on the regular, but sushi, Starck and the foodgasm that is Katsuya are most definitely three. Be wary of servers bearing sake bombs though – shirts, shoes and pants actually are required for service here. Do not ask why I’m mentioning that…just go with it, and enjoy.