A New Social Dining Experience at Harney Sushi

September 21, 2011

Photos provided by Sinsay Fitography

Chef Anthony Sinsay left a haute cuisine career that included stints in Las Vegas and Beverly Hills, and returned to his hometown San Diego to be close to his ailing mother. A chance encounter with a co-owner of Miso Harney Sushi led to his first executive chef position and an opportunity to showcase his molecular gastronomy skills in full freedom at the "nook" booth at Harney Sushi's Old Town location.

It's no easy feat being a sushi restaurant in San Diego's Mexican food neighborhood, but Harney has managed to accumulate a loyal following in their 10 years in Old Town. With the addition of the Sinsay as their executive chef two years ago, the restaurant is surely unlike any other sushi spot in San Diego.

Because neither Harney location in Oceanside or Old Town has an oven, Sinsay relies on a blow torch, a couple burners, a grill, chemical compounds associated with molecular gastronomy to "cook" and prepare his creations. He also uses the sous-vide method of cooking food in vacuum-sealed pouches for long periods of time in low-temperature water.

Since August, "Nook Dining," named for the private booth tucked away in the back of the restaurant, takes place on the first Tuesday of each month, exclusively reserved for six guests. That's where Sinsay's passion and creativity are harnessed for a multi-course (ten courses in August and seven in September), themed dining experience and pairing.

Originally dubbed a "social dining experience," Sinsay intended that his concept give Harney fans a chance to interact and connect in a communal setting while they share in the experience of dining on innovative dishes prepared using complex culinary execution.

Each month's menu is a one-time event, with Sinsay presenting and explaining each course as it is served. If you're expecting sushi and other staple Japanese items this isn't the venue to get them. His menus are based on his own tradition-defying ingenuity, and the result is not something you'd expect to find at your neighborhood sushi restaurant.

Knowing that the theme for last month's experience was "A Day at the Fair," I was excited to see what playful approach Chef Sinsay had in mind for the second round of Nook. Embracing the start of football season, the September theme was "Tailgate Party," featuring deconstructed favorites from football havens around the country, each course paired with a So-Cal craft brew.

To start, the "West Coast" course was a play on San Diego's beloved fish taco (pictured above) – a delicious and refreshing dish with a sea bass ceviche atop a bed of cabbage and crema, covered with a frozen tortilla dome made up of broken tortilla shells. Alongside the sea bass ceviche, all the flavors of guacamole were beautifully presented -- a harmonious landing strip of sliced avocado topped with red onion, colorful pieces of heirloom tomato, jalapeno slices, and cilantro micro greens.

New England Clam Chowder
The New England clam chowder course featured a light and salty bacon fat powder that was made using a complex reverse emulsification process that resulted in an extraordinary creation. The Southern fried chicken course included a chicken skin batter around thin slices of sous-vide chicken thighs, and was crispy and juicy.

The Kansas City BBQ ribs were finished with Pop Rocks topping, served with fried baked bean croquettes that should be at every barbecue, and came under a hickory smoke filled glass dome atop a mirror plate (under smoke and mirrors, buh-dum-chee). The dessert was another highlight: a not so simple American apple pie with ice cream. The cold apple pie was plated along with flaming ice cream make for a tastey and visually appealing end to an already stellar meal.

All in all, the meal was unlike any I've had and will not be one that I'd soon forget. And perhaps best of all, what started as a table of strangers, after nearly 3 hours of food and beer, ended as a table of friends (Facebook friends at least).

The Nook Dining booth can seat up to six guests and reservations are available in even-number parties. The booth can be reserved for a private party or guests are invited to enjoy the meal while socializing with unfamiliar foodie faces. Nook Dining is priced at the great value of $120 per person, which includes food, drink pairings as well as tax and gratuity. To make a reservation for Nook Dining, guests can call the Old Town reservations line at 619-295-3272, and if you're interested, you better call now, because with only six spots available each month, the list is sure to fill up fast.

3964 Harney Street, Old Town
(619) 295-3272

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