When The Lanai opened in Leucadia two years ago it was a welcome addition to the Leucadia dining scene and its outdoor patio fit right in with the Leucadia funky vibe. Its gourmet take on Hawaiian plate lunch with an emphasis on poke was also on the forefront of the poke explosion that has happened since. Their sandos (beach speak for sandwiches) including the Hawaiian-style Cuban with Kalua Pork, Spam, Swiss, pickles and mustard and Katsu Chicken with panko fried chicken, volcano slaw, pickles and Katsu sauce were an instant hit with hungry surfers and locals alike.
What I’ve enjoyed about The Lanai was the option to keep it light and healthy with a fresh catch of the day or go big with the Loco Moco and it’s one-third pound beef patty, two fried eggs, onion gravy and steamed rice. Basically, they have something fresh and delicious for every size appetite.
Since Lanai loosely translated means a roofed structure with open sides, the Leucadia location is not fully protected from the occasional weather occasions we have in the area. That and the fact that the concept was perfect to expand on led owners Doug and Cortlyn Moric on the hunt for a second location … as they were getting ready to have twins I might add. A perfect spot presented itself in the village of Del Mar and they jumped on it.
The intimate new space is perfect to complement their success and add some new features that make The Lanai even more appealing. It has a slice of an ocean view and lots of fun people-watching with its location right on Camino Del Mar between 11thand 12th. And yes, the addition of beer, wine and sake makes the experience even more enjoyable. The very exciting news in Del Mar is the addition of sushi and more importantly, a top-notch sushi chef in charge of the program.
Sushi Chef Aaron Hahn has been at it for a while and his story is worth telling. He started training to be a sushi chef the summer of 1997 at what he called “a hole in the wall place called Mr. Sushi.” His mentor and who helped him lay his traditional style foundation was named Kuro San. Kuro learned from Otta San of the well-known Sushi Otta in Pacific Beach. From there he landed at Cafe Japengo to Sushi on the Rock where he spent six years working under Paul Johnson. As chefs do, he jumped around a bit from place to place in San Diego learning from everyone he could. Eventually he moved north to Los Angeles then Las Vegas. San Diego was home though and drew him back in.
His mentors and friends in the sushi and culinary world include Davin Waite from Wrench & Rodent, Jason Molano, James Holder, Paul Johnson, Tim Johnson, Edward Park, Kuro San and Pancho of Tabu Vista.
All that said, Aaron presented some of the best sushi I’ve had in a while. It did not hurt that it was melt-in-your mouth toro. For those unfamiliar, toro is the fatty belly meat of the bluefin tuna and it is being caught by San Diego fishing boats as of this writing. We went from that to a plate of the exact opposite with the filling and not-so-delicate Loco Moco, but I was with my big eater friend Brooks and it would have taken a lot of toro to fill both of us up. Poke followed that and took us back to the lighter side of The Lanai menu.
Dessert provided a new culinary discovery for me with the refreshing Japanese mochi served up. Mochi is a sweet, chewy rice dough that is filled with a super smooth ice cream and it’s fabulous.
The combination provides that sweet craving I tend to have after a meal but the light textures did not take us over the top into a food coma. Versions of this delightful dessert can be found at area Vons and Trader Joe’s.
I still feel that the original Lanai in Leucadia is on my short list for a post surf session (or whatever your hunger building activity is) daytime feeding frenzy as it just has that cool outdoor island vibe. That said, if you find yourself in Del Mar and want to add sushi to that mix, the new location is really worth checking out.
The Lanai is located at 1101 Camino Del Mar in Del Mar between 12th and 11th streets. Call (760) 613-4564 or visit www.thelanaileucadia.com for more.
Lick the Plate can be heard on KPRi, 102.1 FM Monday – Friday at 4:10 and 7:10 p.m. David Boylan is founder of Artichoke Creative and Artichoke Apparel, an Encinitas based marketing firm and clothing line. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (858) 395-6905.