Written by Erika Anderson
Settled on the side of 4th street in Downtown, San Diego, there is a new restaurant that is full of life and flavor. Gaijin is owned and operated by West Group here in San Diego who also hold the deeds to Bar West in Pacific Beach and The Griffin in Bay Park. Already having won the San Diego Magazine Best of Asian Fusion award, this eatery holds itself above other Asian-inspired restaurant’s here in San Diego by encouraging their staff to be inventive and to cook with a personal style that you find nowhere else. The kitchen is run by acclaimed Chef Antonio Friscia, who oversees the preparation and presentation, and he prides himself and his staff on their picks of the quality of produce and protein that he receives from each one of his vendors. With all this being said, we were excited to be invited to a special taste session, and even more excited to just catch a glimpse at the new, trendy hotspot in town.
Once we walked in, we immediately started drifting away to a kind of hip, new-age style eatery that is reminiscent of the newer ramen lounges popping up all over the world. There is comfortable seating that is close enough to feel like home and far enough to have your own personal experience with good company.
The menu is simple enough. It is broken down into Starters, Yakitori, Noodles, Compliments, and their many beer, sake, and soju selections. Before we even touched on the food, we started off ordering Hitochino White beer and a plum Kakigori cocktail. The beer is amazing, by the way, but the true star was the plum wine shaved ice! Yes, that’s right. They literally give you a snow cone with booze on it. Remember those early, early days when you used to try to come up with creative ways to make alcohol taste good? Well, they might have cracked the code for all of us! This thing was amazing…and I mean RIDICULOUSLY GOOD TASTING. Plus, it got us a little buzzy and that’s all that counts, right? Added bonus: Every hour at dinnertime, they serve a round of sake shots to all the 21+ patrons inside the house…what is better than free booze and a group shot?!
Once we were nice and hungry, we sat down and decided on a couple selections from the menu (these specific dishes are what we ate and will describe for you but there is still a full menu to explore! To win a $50 gift card to try Gaijin out for yourself, please see the end of this post).
We started off by receiving the Carnitas Bao Bao and Crying Tiger Skirt steak. While we were waiting for those to come out, they brought us a complimentary version of their dinner salad. It was chopped cabbage marinated in kimchee style sauce that was, to our delight, pretty damn spicy. The waiter came over and dropped the two starters, and we dug the hell in!
The Crying Tiger is marinated skirt steak which has a mix of red onion and cilantro sautéed into the sauce with the meat. We couldn’t believe that anything tastes that good and is that spicy. They definitely achieved it!
Bao Baos are amazing…and Gaijin’s Carnitas version is one to put on a foodie pedestal. The dough on the outside is so fluffy and perfectly steamed, it makes the mouth water just thinking about it. The pork is marinated and stewed, then topped with pickled cucumbers and pepper relish. The picture kinda says it all.
Next up was actual dinner. Gaijin has an excellent selection of Yakitori (Japanese style of grilling meat on skewers) and noodle dishes to satisfy even the hardest to please palate. We ordered the Seven Samurai (a Yakitori dish with a mix of bacon wrapped asparagus, bacon wrapped quail eggs, portobello mushrooms, Duroc pork kimchee, chicken things, skirt steak, chicken heart, and eggplant). The most incredible tasting skewer, you ask? The bacon wrapped quail eggs are TO DIE FOR and should be on your order every time you visit.
Shortly after, we had the Gaijin Drunken Noodles and the Spicy Miso soup come out to once again fill our slowly growing bellies. Their philosophy is that it is okay to slurp your noodles, and to have fun doing it.
For all you Thai Drunken Noodle lovers, this is a little different than you would expect. The noodles are the ramen type, there is not an overly sweet and sticky sauce that coats it, and the vegetables are thrown in fresh. Basically, the minute this was walked to our table, we noticed that it already trumped the other kinds.
The Spicy Miso soup is a winner here amongst ramen soup enthusiasts. The broth is hot and flavorful while they give you the option to add what they call ‘Compliments’ inside. These include things such as shrimp, spinach, eggs, spicy miso paste, and much more! This is a meal in its own or it can be shared with two people.
Last but not least, we had to get some dessert. They have a pretty good selection including unconventional favorites such as green tea tiramisu, mocha ice cream, and S’MORES! The s’mores are cooked directly on top of the Yakitori grill and come either in regular or with chocolate covered bacon inside of it. We, of course, had to get both and found that the bacon variation definitely made a positive difference! Don’t be fooled…the sweet and the savory work PERFECTLY together!
We are definitely fans of this place at DJhere and want you to experience it too! For all of our faithful readers, we have a blog contest that we are running where you can win one $50 gift card to sample Gaijin yourself! Winner will be selected on September 14th, and we will email you directions for pickup! Just comment on this blog with your answer and email; let us know what YOUR excited to try and why…you might be on your way to experience exactly what we did on that warm summer night.
Always remember their goal: to build a sense of community and happiness through our food and service. Come as you are; leave with a full belly and a smile.