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San Diego Restaurant Reviews

  Kaito Japanese restaurant has Italian flair

By: ADAM KAYE - Staff Writer for Union Tribune

On paper, the entrees sound as if they come from an Italian kitchen: spaghetti with soft-shell crab, linguini with Manila clams, penne with chicken and broccoli.

But the name on the menu's cover, Kaito, comes straight from Japan.So does Hiromi Kimura, who owns the Encinitas restaurant with her husband, Ryan Bertsch.

Kaito Restaurant (kaito means "ocean person" in Japanese) opened in March in the building where the Fantasy Showgirls adult cabaret operated for one stormy month last year.

The short-lived lounge closed after public outcry and orders from the city and the courts that adult activities cease.

Kimura and Bertsch have remodeled the cocktail bar and have ditched the many TVs once mounted behind it. The once-blacked-out windows are clean and open, and a breeze blows through them. Neon signs denoting areas for VIPs and private dances are long gone. So is the mirrored stage and brass pole.

"A lot of times people still ask, 'Where's the pole?'" quipped Bertsch.

Bertsch and Kimura explained their vision for their sushi, seafood and pasta restaurant during an interview between the lunch and dinner hours this week. During the conversation, Bertch's son, Sho, 2, climbed onto his father's lap ---- clutching, appropriately, a stuffed orange fish.

"We picked Encinitas because it's a very popular spot for good dining," said Bertsch, 31, who lives with his family in Vista. "We did our homework." Kimura, 29, grew up in her father's restaurant, Anchovies, an Italian eatery in Chigasaki, Japan, a coastal resort an hour from Tokyo. Kimura said her father also opened a Korean barbecue and a Mexican restaurant in Japan.

Kimura had tried Mexican food in California when, after her graduation from high school, she visited the state as a competitive golfer. At Shadowridge Country Club in Vista, Kimura met the man she would marry in 1999.

The young parents say Kaito Restaurant is very family-friendly. Kids dig sidling up to the sushi bar, Bertsch said, to examine seafood displays and to watch the chefs' busy hands.

Two of those hands belong to veteran chef Kazuo Morita. Morita was deftly assembling shrimp sushi, but ran into trouble as he created a seafood display on a round platter. Still-living sweet shrimp (yes, that's how they're served) wiggled and jumped from the plate. The restaurant also serves live sea urchin.

Kimura's creations include pastas and seafoods with cream sauces and basil.

Sushi sampler plates look like paintings on porcelain. The eight-piece sushi (chef's choice) with eel roll is $19. Shrimp, avocado and tomato salad is served right in a hollowed half-avocado ($9.45). Entrees include Grilled Salmon, Scallop And Shrimp Brochettes ($18.95); Shrimp, Scallops And Vegetable Tempura ($12.95) and Chicken Teriyaki ($12.95).

Spiny sea urchins offer a taste of the exotic, or there's a basic Grilled Rib Eye Steak if you prefer. Then there's the pasta. The spaghetti plate with soft-shell crab, seasoned with mozzarella cheese and caraway seeds, is $12.95, as is the Linguini With Manila Clams. Penne With Shrimp ($14.95) and Spaghetti With Smoked Salmon ($13.75) are among other options.

Diners can joke with the fast-fingered sushi chefs. "It's a very friendly, open atmosphere," Bertsch said, "where people can sit at the sushi bar and have fun with the chefs."




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