Just tried out Oton on Kearny Villa Rd near Convoy. This is a new branch affiliated with Okan, but specializing in grilled seafood and meats. Didn't see any other reviews so far, and this place definitely deserves one. Photos included!
According to the ad in the Japanese Yuyu, this is obata-style grill specializing in "fresh fish", "just picked produce", "Japanese sake". Robata grill is the same kind of specialty as "Gonpachi" in Beverly Hills and Azabu Tokyo (where Koizumi took Bush). I've tried those locations, and I'd say this is better than Gonpachi in Beverly Hills but comparable to Gonpachi in Azabu Tokyo, with a different emphasis.
The location is where the old Osaka Kitchen used to be. Like Sakura's, they don't have any obvious signage except for a stand next to the door in Japanese. It's near Shogun's, which has a ginormous sign a few doors down. They appeal to Japanese clientelle, which in my experience is usually a good thing!
First off, they have awesome beer on tap ($3.50 Sapporo), as good or (in my opinion) better than a brewery like Karls Strauss. Served ice cold with a bit of fine foam on top. I can only assume I just like Japanese and European beer more. That said Japan and Europe take beer seriously, and this place and Tsuruhashi are so far the SD restaurants I plan to re-order beer from.
From the bar you can see their specials. I started off with 2 vegetable kushiage sticks (deep fried), one eggplant and one organic brussel sprouts. This was perfect, as good as you'd get in a top end Kushiage bar in downtown Tokyo (Marunouchi). They're $4 for the pair, which is on par with a good Kushiage place. I think the brussel sprouts are from Chino, just judging from the size and intense flavor. Definitely a re-order in the future.
I also ordered the fish kushiage, which today was the cheek of a fish (it looked like rock cod, but didn't recognize the Japanese). I'm partial to fish cheek but it's fairly ethnic and it might not be for you if you mind bones.
Next is what I'm sure most of you will love - rare wagyu beef tongue. For those that haven't tried it, it's sliced beef tongue seared and left semi-rare inside - very tender and flavorful. Similar to a tender filet but with more flavor and a taste unique to beef tongue. They know what they're doing, and it turned out perfect.
Lastly, the best part of the meal were the oysters. You can have them raw, or grilled. I usually have oyster raw, but I figured if they're a robata grill so let's try it grilled. I'm not sure the cooking process, but the oysters were garnished and very tender despite cooking. The texture was like breaking a piping hot poached egg. The ponzu they used also really worked for the oyster, and I can say they're much better cooked this way than raw.
Like Okan, Oton is great Japanese food and even in Japan and they'd be able to compete for what they offer. For what I ordered, the bill came out to be $30 plus tax. This was just after a big workout, so I ate a lot and I'd say it was definitely worth it. It's about what I pay in Japan for this kind of food, which is pretty unusual for a place in the US. Unlike most places even in Japan, this makes my short list.
I'd say the grilled oysters and wagyu beef are the two I'd highly recommend the most of what I tried. I plan to report again next time I go, but will be in Japan next month so probably that'll be late October. Look forward to any reports/suggestions!
Service is what you'd expect in Japan, which is more than good enough in the US. The waitress explained everything well in English. They do have semi-private booths. I'd assume their main target is Japanese businessmen away from home, gossiping Japanese housewives, and some locals who appreciate exceptional Japanese food. If you like it, spread the word!
Oton: 5447 Kearny Villa Rd, Suite D, San Diego, CA