The Coast News Group
Head Chef Andy Suzuki working his magic in the new Sushi Room at HapiFish. Photo by David Boylan
Head Chef Andy Suzuki working his magic in the new Sushi Room at HapiFish. Photo by David Boylan
Lick the Plate

New sushi room at HapiFish introduces Omakase

Let’s start with a brief definition of Omakase, which roughly translates to “leave it to us” in Japanese. 

It’s a custom sushi dining journey that features a menu prepared just for you. It’s a chef-driven evening where the chef prepares a sushi menu based on your preferences. You tell him what you like, and he will design five or six fish courses based on what’s fresh that day and what he thinks will fit your tastes.

As the meal unfolds, the menu changes based on your feedback. It’s an interactive experience where you get to know your chef and enjoy the most fresh and innovative sushi available. Omakase at The Sushi Room is an experience unique to Encinitas and will be a complement to the long-established patio known for Hapi Hour and sushi specials.

Andy Suzuki (sensei) is the head chef at HapiFish. Originally from Tokyo, Japan, Suzuki has more than 30 years of culinary expertise in sushi and Japanese cuisine. Suzuki comes to HapiFish from RA, a nationally recognized sushi chain, where he was the original head chef for nearly 15 years.

Suzuki brings the culinary expertise and sushi edge to HapiFish. Suzuki is also owner Justin Masunaga’s “Master Sensei.” While attending college, Masunaga worked under Suzuki, learning his technique, skill and appreciation for Japanese culture and food.

Masunaga is also a restaurant industry veteran and sushi chef in California, New Zealand, Arizona, & Colorado. Masunaga’s sushi training and the Encinitas beach vibe influenced his vision for HapiFish and the new Sushi Room is just an extension of that.

Because not everyone is a sushi expert, I thought it might be of helpful for those who are new to the cuisine to get some introductory points from the experts. The team at HapiFish collaborated on the responses.

Lick the Plate:
Let’s say I’ve never tried sushi or anything even remotely close, what is your advice to ease into it?

Our advice to a sushi newbie is to come with an open mind and to sit with a sushi chef. A skilled sushi chef will be sensitive to the fact that a customer is a first-time sushi eater and make recommendations accordingly. It is important not to be intimidated.

Any particular dishes you could suggest to start with?

Start with something cooked. Americanized sushi rolls are very palate-friendly for the novice sushi eater. Signature rolls that are cooked and topped with various sauces and garnishes help beginners get over the psychological “raw” stigma. HapiFish has a signature roll called the Doublewide which has panko fried chicken breast, spicy crab mix, and cucumber topped with avocado, Japanese BBQ sauce, and crunchies for specifically this purpose. It was to our surprise a very popular roll.

Our Beach Bum roll is a HapiHour favorite and appeals to almost every sushi eater (spicy tuna, crab, cream cheese, & jalapeno all tempura fried and topped with spicy mayo and unagi sauce).

Can you give a brief overview on the difference between rolls, nigiri and sashimi?

Good question. Don’t think of sushi as just rolls. Maki sushi (rolls) are/were a very small part of traditional sushi. Nigiri sushi (typically a filet of fish served over a rice ball) is very simple yet very delicate. The simplicity and quality of the ingredients is what makes sushi delicious. Sashimi is the presentation of filets of fish. The true art and delicacy of sushi is meant to go far beyond just rolls … but they are a good place to start.

When you evolve to Nigiri tuna, yellowtail and salmon are the three most popular fish in the modern sushi bar. They are identifiable by most diners in other cuisine and they are mild in flavor compared to some more “exotic” fish. They are also very versatile fish in that they can be offered in number of ways, either cooked or raw.

What about pairing beer, wine and sake? Any advice there?

Sake is wine made from rice and is very similar in its manufacturing process to regular wine. Contrary to popular practice, quality sake should be sipped like wine or a fine scotch as opposed to shot. Sushi is delicate in both flavor and texture. It is served fresh and typically at cold-room temperature. Drink pairings should be similar. Japanese beer is typically light, usually a lager. This is because Japan has warm, humid temperatures and lighter beer pairs well with the cuisine. It doesn’t overpower the fish/food. Wine is also very similar in that lighter wines accompany sushi/Japanese cuisine.

Thanks for the tips HapiFish! I’d suggest sushi experts and beginners check out HapiFish. Located at 190 N. Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas or check them out online at