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San Diego Restaurant Reviews

   The Japanese Cafe

By Sue Prelozni

Situated along the main square of the recently opened Vista Village Center is a new restaurant, the Japanese Café. New to this location only, as this is the third teriyaki and sushi bar owned and operated by Sam Fan.

The sushi bar is set off from the main dining area with screens and bamboo bars, giving it a nice feeling of seclusion. This cozy café, designed by Sam’s wife, Joyce, features bamboo ceilings, Japanese murals and art, and plays traditional music in the background.

Behind the sushi bar are large plate glass windows which lend a sort of New York style people-watching experience. You have the choice of watching the sushi chefs work their magic or enjoying the constant parade of people.




The sushi experience was just that, an incredible experience. Sam honored my dining companion and me by being our personal sushi chef for the evening. We began with one of his specials – the Del Mar roll. An exquisite combination of spicy tuna, spicy eel tail, and salmon topped with scallops and shaved Bonita, it was delectable.

We watched as Sam took a large chef’s knife to a cucumber and turned it into in a spiral which would later become the outer casing of our next treat, the Paradise roll. Yellowtail tuna, salmon, eel tail, carrot, crabmeat, encased in soy paper, then completed with the cucumber. Everything tasted crisp and fresh.

“The most important thing is that the fish is fresh,” says Sam. “No matter how good of a sushi chef you are, the sushi won’t taste good unless everything is fresh.”

About 90 percent of the fish Sam uses comes from Japan. Everyday an employee picks up the fish at the docks in Los Angeles from a special broker. The fish is more expensive, but Sam wants quality first.

He gets scallops from the north of Japan, tuna from the deep, cold waters off Asia. He says, “I use no local fish.”About 90 percent of the fish Sam uses comes from Japan.

Everyday an employee picks up the fish at the docks in Los Angeles from a special broker. The fish is more expensive, but Sam wants quality first. He gets scallops from the north of Japan, tuna from the deep, cold waters off Asia. He says, “I use no local fish.”

This quality is reflected in the price, certainly in the special rolls. And you will taste it. The value is definitely found in the fresh, superior fare.

The JF special, named after Sam’s daughter, Jennifer, is the next delightful roll we are presented. It is a combination of asparagus tempura, shrimp tempura, salmon and avocado, topped with baked scallops in a sweet sesame sauce. Words can hardly describe the rich, full flavors.

One of the simplest pieces we had was a spicy, lobster hand roll. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a bit of zest to wake up their taste buds.

This eating extravaganza continued for about two hours, and just when we thought it was over, Sam completed the meal with a kind of dessert sushi he calls the Volcano. If you are a fan of the sitcom, “Friends,” and its character named Janice, then, “Oh My God!” I’m not going to describe it further; you’ll have to order this for yourself. I didn’t see it one the menu, so you will have to ask for it.

Although Sam has been a practiced sushi chef in the US for only ten years, he comes from a family of such chefs. His parents owned a sushi restaurant in Taiwan. “I saw it everyday; I learned by watching.” Sam came to States in 1972 and settled in the San Diego area. He worked as a cook at various kitchens, including the Lawrence Welk Resort and the Lakeside Country Club. He opened his first Japanese Café six years ago.

He now owns three, located in Del Mar, Oceanside and Vista. The latter has only been open two months, but the place is packed. The three sushi chefs had not taken a break all night. Perhaps Sam’s reputation for fine sushi precedes him.


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Hours: Monday – Thursday 11:30 am – 9 pm; Friday - Sunday 11:30 am – 10 p.m.
Payment accepted: Credit cards, cash.
Pricing: High-end sushi goes up to $12.95 for special rolls; Traditional Japanese entrees average $12 – 15.00.
Other: Very courteous staff. Very clean environment.


35 Main Street
Vista Village Center
Vista CA

760-758-8899


                                                                                                                                                   Photos by John Leonffu

 

 

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