Once in a while, a new restaurant opens that really excites me on many levels.
The recently opened Blue Ocean Robata & Sushi Bar in Carlsbad is such a place. While Robata-style grilling has been around forever in Japan and in larger U.S. cities, it’s catching on with the foodie crowd and when combined with a sushi bar and an innovative kitchen menu like Blue Ocean has done, it’s a trifecta of culinary sensory delights. And let me clarify that when I say something for everyone, I don’t mean in a massive menu from a chain restaurant kind of way. Blue Ocean will delight sushi lovers and those who enjoy grilled meat, poultry, fish and veggies.
First off I’ll give a brief history and description of Robata-style cooking. Robata means “fireside cooking” in Japanese, and, put simply, that’s what Robata is: Japanese-style grilling. For all those people who think Japanese food begins and ends with sushi, Robata grilling actually has a much longer history and tradition.
Robata started in northern Japan and it actually came from the Japanese tea ceremony. If you see really old homes in Japan, in the center of the living space there would be a dug out pit. In the center of the pit was charcoal and a chain hanging from the ceiling attached to a teakettle. People eventually started using that same technique to cook. Typical dishes included hot pots, and eventually Robata came out of that.
Robata grilling uses a special kind of white oak called bincho, a compressed hard-wood charcoal and the preferred technique is to get the juices to drip out from the ingredients and cause a little puff of smoke to enhance the flavor of the food. Unlike a stovetop, you can’t adjust the heat when you’re working with charcoal this hot. Instead, the chefs have to adjust the height of the food for each ingredient and carefully track the time it stays on the grill.
As you may imagine, the grilling possibilities are endless. We tried the Korobuta sausage, Wagyu meatball, flat iron, sea bass, black cod, asparagus and zucchini and they were all amazing. They were grilled perfectly and the flavors were incredible. I love mixing up meat, fish and veggies and Blue Ocean takes the age old surf and turf to a whole new level.
Of course the experience does not stop at the Robata grill. There is a full sushi bar and I should note that the ownership behind Blue Ocean already has a track record with sushi with their Love Boat restaurants. We had to try a roll and some Nigiri so we went with some albacore and blue fin and an Aloha roll that featured pickled ginger, avocado, shrimp, and crab that is deep fried with a pineapple sauce. A lot going on for sure but it all worked together perfectly.
In addition to the Robata grill and sushi bar, there is a nice selection of entrees from the kitchen that includes some great looking mussels with lap cheong sausage and togarashi matchstick fries, sticky pork ribs, honey lacquered duck breast and a lobster crusted fillet mignon.
The dessert menu is equally impressive with a ginger butterscotch pudding and a chocolate almond torte standing out among several selections. Again, back to the something for everyone point I made earlier.
The talent in the kitchen at Blue Ocean is formidable with Corporate Chef Michael Zonfrilli and Chef de Cuisine Andy Halvorsen teaming up to oversee the Robata grill and kitchen menu. Lead Sushi Chef Brandon heads up the sushi bar team and Director of Operations Jimmy Oh makes it all run smoothly. It was a full house on a recent Friday and the servers were all attentive and the food came out quickly.
There are several options for seating including a nice dining room, bar, sushi bar, or by the Robata grill. It’s a contemporary space yet it’s warm and inviting at the same time.
We tasted a lot on our one visit and still only scratched the surface of what they have to offer. Blue Ocean is the best new restaurant on the North County dining scene and I’d encourage a visit for sure. They are located at 2958 Madison Street in Carlsbad. Call (760) 434-4959 and check them out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BlueOceanSD.