Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Wa Dining Okan - San Diego

salad with fried gobo at Okan
I've got a couple more San Francisco posts in the queue (Anchor and Hope and Vietnamese breakfast at Out the Door) but I thought I'd take a break from that for a minute, and talk about a great place a little closer to home. I'd been hearing about Okan and dying to go there for a while, so I was very excited when the occasion finally arose a few weeks ago. I thought I knew where it was, but when the time came I drove around for ages trying to find it, so let me save you the trouble. It's in the Nijiya shopping center on the South end of Convoy - just behind Nijiya.
pork gyoza dumplings at Okan
Like it's sister (brother?) restaurant Oton, Okan is a hidden jewel box. The aesthetics are startlingly lovely, with soothing and stylish natural wood decor. It's small, so you will definitely want to make a reservation - though singles or couples may be able to find seats at the square bar in the center of the room. I love their assorted pottery and earthenware dishes, especially the large pottery tumblers they used to serve beer.
fried something or other with soy, daikon, ginger and green tea salt
Sushi or tempura probably come to mind when most people think of Japanese food, but the menu here goes a step further, with some more original dishes. It is an Izakaya, and the dishes could loosely be described as Japanese tapas. Most are small plates, meant to be shared. Our party was fortunate enough to have the assistance of a Japanese chef in choosing what to order, and we were more than pleased with her suggestions. We had the must-try fried gobo root salad, pictured up top, braised pork "Nagasaki style" that literally melted in the mouth, a few of their small starter snacks including fried tofu (pictured above) and some amazing gyoza. We also shared the salmon and scallop carpaccio, the egg omelet with eel, and a pot of rice with king crab meat. (There were five in our party.)
steamed rice with king crab at Okan
The rice was delivered to the table in a cast iron pot, and scooped into bowls by our server - it was slightly toasted and crunchy, and the sweet crabmeat was delicious. It was all excellent, but the gobo salad was especially fabulous and unusual, with young, tender, bitter greens, tossed with a sesame dressing and topped with a giant tangle of fried gobo root. The pot stickers and pork belly are also definite must-haves. They were out of another highly recommended dish - the chilled egg custard, but I plan to try it on a return visit. We washed it all down with beer and sake, served in their beautiful pottery tumblers.
green tea tiramisu at Okan
Unlike most Asian restaurants, dessert here is more than an afterthought. There were three choices, and two out of the three were very worthwhile - the green tea tiramisu, and the pudding with black honey. (The third, a promising-sounding ice cream sundae, didn't quite measure up.) The tiramisu has perfect texture, and a subtle flavor of green tea in place of the espresso, and the liberal sprinkling of cocoa powder on the top is surprisingly harmonious. The pudding with black honey is like a soft flan - topped with a deep honey-tinged caramel syrup. If you like flan or custards, you will undoubtedly love this.
pudding with black honey sauce (like flan) at Okan
Okan also serves lunch during the week. It's a limited menu, but a very good set price of $6.50 for 3 small tapas, miso soup, pickles and brown rice. They also offer add-on entrees for $3.00 to $3.50. - seems worth checking out if you're in the area. Note that they only accept cash at lunch time.

Okan means "mother" in Japanese slang, and the owners recently opened another restaurant, called "Robata-ya Oton" - Oton meaning father. It's located in a small strip mall just off 163 at Clairemont Mesa boulevard. It's only open for dinner, and is somewhat more difficult to find, since it has no sign. It's in the strip mall behind the Arco station, on the far right hand side. After 6:00 pm the door should be open, and after dark, you can see the large globe shaped paper lanterns glowing through the windows. Oton's menu shares some dishes with Okan, but there are some differences. I think it would be best to cover those in a separate post, so stay tuned...

3860 Convoy St #110
in the Nijiya shopping center, just behind Nijiya on the left
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-0941
reservations recommended


  1. wow, look at that, I'm already drooling, great color, looks delicious!!

  2. I'm there (well, not literally, but...) Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. I'm so glad I found your site while searching for a place to dine around town. Pictures look great. Thanks for a great info!

  4. Wow! I never know that there is Wa Dining Okan in San Diego. This is so great. Now I can eat all my favorite food without travelling so long.

  5. Wa Dining Okan is the new generation restaurant. Love the food. Dining Table

  6. We have been back 3 times since reading your review. The food is unique in our experience of Japanese restaurants. The Gobo salad, is every bit as good as you describe, and we have ordered each visit. The room is a small one, and very tastefully designed.