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Dining Review: Temaki

Discover Chef JoJo Ruiz's new SoCal-inspired Encinitas sushi bar

Image Credits Vincent Knakal

The room is quiet and purposefully stark. You sit perched atop a stool, watching a chef draw his knife through a loin of amberjack in a single, smooth, masterful motion. The crow’s feet punctuating his solemn expression speak to decades spent refining his skills. He repeats the process several times, resulting in identically sized slices of fish to top fingers of perfectly cooked short-grain rice. It’s fascinating to watch, but you’ve seen this show before, and watching someone slice seafood, shape rice, roll, and cut nori might not be enough to keep you rapt for the duration of your meal.

Even the most avid sushi fans can find themselves at a bit of a loss at restaurants where the chefs are as much a centerpiece as the dishes they create. In such venues, aural and visual stimuli are often toned down or eliminated altogether, making for a dining experience that, while unique and steeped in tradition, leaves something to be desired. 

Yellowtail Specialty Sashimi
Yellowtail Specialty Sashimi

It would seem the team behind Temaki took this into consideration when designing their downtown Encinitas sushi bar, because it’s anything but boring. That’s made instantly and undeniably clear by the chorus of music, laughter, and conversation flowing from its interiors out to Coast Highway. Inside, traditionally minimalist sushi bar environs (light woods, eggshell walls, potted flora) are rendered SoCal-mod with the addition of mounted surfboards, wicker, and vibrant, neon-highlighted graffiti art. 

This is no sedate shrine to the art of sushi. It’s a lively, convivial, downright fun place to enjoy quality cuisine as it was meant to be enjoyed. Executive Chef JoJo Ruiz (who also helms Clique Hospitality’s Serēa, Lionfish, and Joya Kitchen and has been named a James Beard Smart Catch Leader for his efforts to maintain healthy, sustainable seafood sources) wants to allow diners to enjoy temaki (Japanese for “hand rolls”) within seconds of their creation, while the rice is warm and the pristine seafood he so carefully and responsibly procured is cold.

Temaki Executive Sushi Chef Sebastian Sevilla
Temaki Executive Sushi Chef Sebastian Sevilla

That palate-piquing temperature interplay comes through most poignantly in a shrimp hand roll, which is part of three- ($15), four- ($19), and five-roll ($24) sets. The latter also includes rolls packed with scallop, spicy tuna, luscious salmon, and yellowtail brightened by sweet-tart yuzu mayo. Dipping sauces — ponzu, eel, spicy mayo, and more — can be added on for an additional charge. Individual temaki options include toro (tuna belly), blue and king crab, Maine lobster, and a playful creation dubbed Dre’s Pop N’ Rock. Named for the restaurant owner’s Pop Rocks-loving son, it features the explosive confection blended with shrimp and soft mango to create a sweet, texturally adventurous oddity that’s attained must-try status.

Three-piece hand roll set of yellowtail, spicy tuna, 
and scallops paired with Soto, Super Premium Junmai Daiginjo sake
Three-piece hand roll set of yellowtail, spicy tuna,
and scallops paired with Soto, Super Premium Junmai Daiginjo sake

A fan favorite of Temaki’s cut rolls is the Super Ninja Bunny. Stuffed with blue crab, toro, and bubu arare (rice pearls) then topped with garlicky brown butter aioli, salty caviar, and truffle oil, this study in compacted luxury is delivered on a gold platter in the outturned hands of a masked, murdered-out hare-y hitman. Meanwhile, The Kook is a house take on a California roll, West Coast Philly presents flavors of a lox-topped everything bagel, and The Buddha is a vegetarian option filled with tempura sweet potato, tofu, and hon-shimeji mushrooms.

Temaki’s Super Ninja Bunny
Temaki’s Super Ninja Bunny

Sashimi and nigiri with many of the previously mentioned proteins along with striped seabass, eel, and uni (sea urchin) are also available, along with a short list of starters, including edamame, miso soup, beef tataki, and tuna poke. 

A tight but well-curated sake list (including a pair of cold and warm house sakes) is another source of pride for the Temaki team. Have questions about the rice wine roster, or anything else for that matter? Don’t hesitate to engage with youthful staffers who are outgoingly friendly and somehow never look rushed despite servicing a consistently packed house in admirably timely fashion. Their energy further amplifies Temaki’s dynamically spirited vibe.

Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice paired with Junmai Ginjo sake
Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice paired with Junmai Ginjo sake

Youth, gumption, Pop Rocks, and the world’s cutest assassin — it’s no wonder the coastal crowd has taken so quickly and fervently to Temaki and its exciting SoCal take on sushi. 760.704.8888, temakibarsushi.com

Golden Forks

Service 4
Timelines 5
Ambiance 4
Culinary Innovation 3.5
Food Quality 4.5
Sake List 4.5
Value 4


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