Thanksgiving 1997 – I remember it almost vividly (in between pints of Guinness). My good friend Sarah Hopkins took me in for the holidays since my family was divided and all over the country at the time.
I had never been to San Diego before, but I thought I knew what to expect: after all California was the land of fruits, flakes and nuts.
Sarah has always been a free-spirited, loving person that is very centered. We had met in 1993 here in El Paso, and have been friends ever since. She’s traveled the world by backpack, and was excited to have me over for her special thanks giving, which she played host to many of the people she had met and become friends with from all over the world.
It was during this trip that Sarah introduced me to sushi – the first I ever had in Mission Beach, California.
I could not recall the place if I tried, but I remember thinking that it was some of the best stuff I’d ever had, and there were sushi places all over San Diego.
After the trip I returned to El Paso, and wanted to find sushi – but it was nowhere to be found. Several years went by before it the first sushi joints in town appeared, but unfortunately none of them were near the quality I had previously experienced.
The El Paso sushi bar explosion didn’t happen until 2006 – 2015 and by this time, my wife and I had already traveled all over the US – became the ultimate sushi snobs – and figured out that the sushi scene in El Paso still left a lot to be desired. Not to brag, but when you travel coast to coast every year, there are a few things you just have got to try – to see how each city represents itself.
Sadly in El Paso it seems like every joint in town serves more of an American-ized version with comical ingredients such as salsa, spicy mayo and cream cheese appearing in/on/all around/drowning sushi rolls.
Just nonsense, really (in my expert sushi-snob opinion). We found a couple places that we would just tolerate to a certain point, or at least hold us over until we could make it to our favorite places in California or New York.
When another sushi place opened up in town, my wife and I were pretty excited to visit, and rip it to shreds as we have with any other “sushi restaurant” in town. The place we went is called Oishii which translates simply to “Delicious.”
Upon first entry, the facility is actually quite stunning inside and out. I almost regret having gone for lunch as it is such a swanky and well decorated spot, that one would take a date for an elegant dinner — if he (or she) really wanted to show off.
But even lunch here felt like an escape from the “Old west Texas town of El Paso.” The massive glass doors opened up to let in a perfect breeze and the right amount of light to bring out all of your senses.
It isn’t closed in like other places, holding you hostage from your own humanly awareness and taste buds. It frees you to really take in an experience, being in the architectural and engineering field, I can assure you that large windows are conducive to more thoughtful expression.
Otherwise the location is perfect and the patios are a perfect place to hang out.
Inside is even more impressive, with massive and beautiful artwork, tasteful furnishing and finishes all around.
A large semi-circle wooden sushi bar in the more formal dining area, and separate area that has the alcohol bar, which reduces traffic among those with the hot dates they are impressing.
The layout seems awkward but again, I have experience in this field and can assure you that it works as designed. It’s only a matter of time before we come back for dinner…
The service was spot-on: Unless my drink has alcohol, I drink fairly slow. Halfway through our meal, I noticed the ice in my tea melted — only after I was given an extra half-glass of ice “in case I need more.” This waiter was in my head.
Upon first look at the menu, I was slightly stunned by the prices, but I had to remember that this isn’t your typical discount sushi mart found in a shopping center next to a nightclub, ice cream shop or massage parlor.
This is a classy establishment with piles of fancy. When the food began to arrive, I could clearly see that the prices were put into the quality ingredients and professional presentation of anything placed before us.
The first items that came out were the Surf n Turf roll and the Spicy Tuna roll. Remember what I said about presentation:
The Surf n Turf featured very distinct flavors of beef and salmon, nothing drowned out by artificial ingredients or overly spiced sauces. Full inspection show that technically, this is very healthy food already.
The Spicy Tuna was very unique in that it was actual chunks of albacore tuna, rather than the usual ground-up mixture that every single place we’d ever been to, does.
It also wasn’t overly spicy, but rather just enough to let you know it’s there. Again, fresh tasting without a film of artificial ingredients or preservatives.
The other two items we ordered were the Shrimp Shirashi Bowl and the Teriyaki Beef Bon Bons. Again with the presentation:
They came out in such an appetizing presentation that I nearly started eating before taking that picture.
I started with a Bon Bon, which is described as containing Akaushi Taretare (among many other, but not too many, ingredients).
Other than sushi, we are HUGE Taretare fans – which is essentially high-quality raw meat, in a coarsely ground format – in this case shaped as a ball, covered with fresh avocado. As my wife said “..I would come back just for these…”
Meaning that everything was Oishii (delicious), but the Bon Bons seemingly a minor menu item were mind-blowing. Even if you aren’t into raw meat, the flavors are so perfectly
combined that it will turn you into a believer.
The Shrimp Shirashi Bowl again, the display was impressive and the flavors perfectly matched. Leave it to the chef as Oishii to turn a bowl of rice, veggies and shrimp into a masterful display that is also a culinary experience.
On first bites, it is not the typical grilled flavors that one would expect, but rather something far better that you never knew could be done. It was masterful – and it was only lunch.
We have more recently tried dinner items here, and can say that they are easily right up to par with all other items on the menu, particularly the Pork Chop and Chilean Sea Bass (hey, we can only eat so much).
Both were greater than expected in the flavor department, igniting senses that usually aren’t, with the usual local cuisine.
• Extensive lunch and dinner menus: sushi/nigiri/sashimi, appetizer/soup/salad, entrees, etc.
• High-end contemporary modern décor,
great perfect for dates
• Two outdoor patios, great location for right before a show or a night of fun
• Full wood sushi bar in elegant semi-circle
• Ambience is relaxed, large glass doors, plenty of natural sunlight coming in with a perfect breeze.
• Alcohol: 280 bottles of wine including Opus 1, full bar available
• Happy hour 5-7 daily $5 glasses of wine ½ price sushi rolls
• Rooftop dining for events
• Rolls are made traditional style – no cream cheese found here. Bursting with flavor and healthy to boot due to the fresh and unprocessed ingredients.
• All sauces, desserts and ice cream is made in house
Dinner items tried previously:
• Mixed veggies – somehow accomplished distinct flavors all in one bowl
• Chilean Sea bass – rich, flavorful, natural buttery flavor not fishy for non-fish lovers, flakey not chewy, cooked to perfection
• Pork chop – served with a sweet mustard streak – crispy breadding very flavorful – note to self find another word for flavorful
• Fried rice – Again, somehow has distinct taste amongst the mix of ingredients,
• Dessert – Chocolate Mousse Cake with green tea mousse encased in chocolate with brittle.
Yeah, try this.
Truth be told, the cost is due to the quality and fresh ingredients used. Well worth it.
In short, Oishii is definitely OISHII