Inventive San Diego Dining at Harney Sushi

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Walking into Harney Sushi’s Oceanside location, you know you’re in for a unique experience. Establishing itself as a mainstay restaurant in the sushi-loving San Diego community is undoubtedly a challenge, and Harney Sushi has succeeded. They have not only in created a unique atmosphere, but have also created a deliciously delicate menu featuring creative combinations from highly renowned Executive Chef Robert Ruiz.

Harney Sushi’s first restaurant opened in Old Town over nine years ago. Their reputation for quality and inventiveness is matched by the fun “funk shui” environment. In 2008 Harney Sushi expanded their reach by developing a similar restaurant in the up-and-coming Oceanside Pier neighborhood. And so they say, “the rest is history.”

Chef Robert Ruiz Harney Sushi

The Entertainer met with Executive Chef Robert at the Sushi Bar on a Thursday night. Seated at the packed sushi bar, in the packed restaurant with a line nearly out the door, Robert explained that I was in for a real treat. Chef Robert comes in on Thursday mornings and hits the Oceanside Farmer’s Market for the best of whatever is in season. That day he had picked up heirloom cherry tomatoes and baby mozzarella balls. He masterfully paired that with fresh sashimi and a salty sauce that matched beautifully.

As we sat waiting for our next creation, Chef Robert prepared numerous rolls off the menu and sent them to their tables. Interesting combinations that caught my eye were the “Hippie Roll” which includes tempura sweet potato, shitake mushrooms, avacado and cucumber topped with tempura flakes; the “Dank Roll” which includes fresh snow crab with cucumber topped with spicy lobster, eel sauce, spicy jalapeno mayo and hot tempura crunchies; and “Tatter Tods” which are halibut wrapped rice balls topped with spicy mayo, baked until golden and topped with eel sauce.

sushi roll

Next Chef Robert made a dish which featured asparagus, another item bought fresh at the farmers market. Instructed to eat it with my hands in one bite so the flavors would meld, I took the roll and enjoyed the fresh, crunchy, creamy, salty and sweet notes brought by the asparagus, the soy wrapper, sashimi and sauce. It felt a little strange eating with my hands instead of chop sticks, but the chef insisted — in fact, it made it quite a lot easier to not have to struggle with the chopstix.

One of the most memorable dishes from the night was a salmon dish which was baked, crusted with crunchy tempura and topped with a delectable combination of spicy spicy mayo and eel sauce. The sauce was rich and delicious. Paired with the creamy salmon it was heavenly.

In addition to the wonderful sushi prepared by Chef Robert, I also enjoyed a cocktail from the bar. With more than 25 award-winning wines, 40 of Japan’s best sakes, and an inventive selection of mixed drinks, it was a challenge to choose what to order. I went with “Endless Summer,” a concoction of souju, pear sake, raspberry puree and lemonade, it was the perfect pair to the savory sushi offerings.

Whether you’re in North County or central San Diego, you can enjoy the best of what Harney Sushi has to offer. Head to the Old Town location or Oceanside spot and you’ll be impressed. If you’ve got a large party I suggest a table and the standard menu items. But if you’re interested in dinner for 2 and you’re looking for something truly special, call the Oceanside location and ask when Chef Robert is working. Request a spot in front of him at the bar, and you’ll be glad you did. Any of his regulars can tell you, Chef Robert as an eye and an imagination to create unique bites specific to the day’s best produce and fish.

With Robert Ruiz and Harney Sushi, you’re in great hands. Ruiz won the “Chef of the Fest” title at November 2010’s San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival. Chef Ruiz’s win made it two consecutive years that Harney has taken that honor; Executive chef Anthony Sinsay won in 2009.

Curious what it takes to win a competition of that callibur? Ruiz’s winning Cunning Lengua, “very clever beef tongue,” recipe was judged on presentation, flavor, innovation, and quality of product, along with preparation in allotted time. Using a Sapporo-braised, Newport beef tongue as the heart of the dish, Ruiz complemented this distinctive texture with whole roasted Matsutake mushroom from Washington, crisp Fuyu persimmon from Fallbrook, chili spiced daikon radish from San Diego, and fresh ginger and micro shiso garnish.

This clever recipe beat over 70 of San Diego’s top restaurants and chefs in this year’s “Chef of the Fest” showdown.

Dining at Harney Sushi is not only a feast for your stomach, it’s a sensory experience that will leave you in awe of the inventiveness of the owner, manager, staff, and chefs. The rocker vibe and modern Asian art treat your eyes, as sounds music and laughter fill your ears. The aroma and flavor of the food and drink come together to create a unique experience that cannot be matched by the usual sushi spot. Granted, there are more traditional sushi restaurants, but if you’re looking for something new, something creative, and something unique to San Diego, you have got to experience Harney.

Harney Sushi is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner is served daily from 5:30 p.m. to midnight.  Happy Hour is every night from 10-midnight at both locations, with specials on sushi and appetizers. Harney Sushi also offers catering for office lunches, holiday events, cocktail parties, weddings and more.

For more information or images of either Harney Sushi location, visit www.harneysushi.com.

Old Town: 3964 Harney Street, San Diego, CA 92110. (619) 295-3272.
Oceanside: 301 Mission Avenue, Oceanside, CA 92054-2565. (760) 967-1820.

San Diego resident for over 10 years, I now call this beautiful city home. Originally from the Bay Area, I'm a California girl at heart. I love the outdoors, fitness, food, and a good craft beer (from San Diego of course).

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