Little Italy’s Pokirrito/RakiRaki electively shut its doors last year to reopen this year as the second outpost of The Yasai under executive chef Junya Watanabe. Since opening the first location in Kearny Mesa, Watanabe has extended the izakaya (small plate) menu and rolls have been refined in collaboration with new sushi chef Juan Galvan. The restaurant offers beer, wine, and sake and is currently open for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m.
The space is defined by high ceilings and accents of wood and glass. Similar to the first location, the sushi chefs practice their craft behind a branded sheet of glass. The Little Italy outpost includes a second view into a kitchen filled with steaming pots of ramen and a griddle sizzling vegan okonomiyaki—a savoy cabbage-based pancake smothered in sauce and crunchies. The wall at the far end will soon fill with The Lab, colorful jars of fermented and marinated vegetables that define the sushi menu.
The Lab’s experiments shine in The Yasai’s Nigiri. Thumbs of forbidden rice under selections like konjac marinated pineapple with edible flower or charred flaps of orange bell pepper. Chef’s choice nigiri include surprises like the bitter bite of fermented radicchio leaves.
With Galvan at the helm of the sushi bar, the rice has thinned out, allowing the fresh and fermented vegetables to shine. Rolls like the Neon Gravestones capture this particularlly well. A rainbow of pickled tomato, bell peppers, jalapeno, eggplant, and fresh avocado curl around sheet of black rice cinching spicy no-tuna, panko no-shrimp, and cucumbers with a splash of ume yuzu and leaves of negi (a scallion-like vegetable).
Watanabe established himself in the San Diego culinary scene through his popular Rakiraki Ramen. While vegan options there are limited, the ramen menu at The Yasai continues to expand. The Classic remains popular with triple-thick noodles in a creamy broth floating with blistered tofu and crispy kabocha pumpkin. The new Red Edition ramen fills the bowl with spicy fermented takano-tsume peppers, garlic, and paprika with tofu and bok choy.