This post is easy pickings. This is home base for me. It may not have been the origin of my interest in all that is food, but it is certainly the epicenter. Welcome to The Wrench and the Rodent Seabasstropub. The operative syllable in the name is Pub.
WnR in South Oceanside is a place where regulars and casual diners alike hang out and chat, drink beer, wine and sake, make new friends, reacquaint with old ones, pass on the local happenings and enjoy a casual, laid back vibe with attentive service and some of the most innovative and certainly the freshest sushi and other offerings in the county.
Ordering Omakase here (Japanese sushi speak for “I’ll leave it to you”) is highly recommended. There are absolutely no more creative and capable sets of hands in which to place your immediate dining future than the team of chefs here. Note that so ordering places you squarely in the realm of the bold and adventurous, so be ready for the gawks and shimmering looks of awe that you will receive from your fellow diners.
As we grab our seats and toss out our greets, we are presented with our first plate. Traditional cuts like the seared Albacore here are seemingly never quite traditional. Add a little avocado, zucchini and mango and you have a delectable opener for the evening.
Then again, sometimes the fish, like the Big Eye Tuna, screams, “Leave me alone! I am who I am, so don’t try to change me!” Done.
A couple of years ago, we stayed at a BnB in Santa Barbara who’s claim to fame was a supposedly spectacular vegetarian menu. Since I knew there was no such thing, I figured, sure, we’ll taste some of their food as a courtesy and then walk down the street into town and get some real breakfast. Their offerings were so flavorful, complete and revelatory that we ate breakfast there every morning of our trip and now look forward to any vegetarian dish that can offer the same breadth and depth of flavor.
Enter WnR’s cauliflower dish. Deep fried cauliflower seemingly freshly picked to order, garnished with heirloom carrots, microgreens and onions and lightly bathed in a sauce without a name – comprised of honey, ginger, fish sauce, lemon juice and serrano chilies and evolved from the continuous feedback of regulars that devour this dish and slurp the leftover sauce as though it is the best thing ever served in a sushi pub, vegetarian or not. Wait, actually, it is the best thing ever served…
And just when you were about to be lulled into that space where only fresh fish and veggies reside, BAM! Out trots a meat and potatoes dish. Lightly seasoned and seared tenderloin, accompanied by Miso potatoes and dressed with uni butter and more fresh veggies. This is surf and turf that even the meat lover in the family can wrap their chompers around.
The basis for all “riffing”, experimentation and innovation in any pursuit, but particularly food, is a complete and sound understanding and execution of the classic or traditional way of doing things. That ability is readily obvious, abundant and available for those seeking the simpler path, as evidenced by this traditional Japanese Hamachi nigiri and belly sashimi.
Is there any wrong in the world that can not be righted by the presence of a sunny side egg? It hurts my head thinking about it. This roasted eel dish definitely had the “legs” to stand on its own (see what I did there?), but with the added creaminess of the egg, this became a “shockingly” wonderful riff on an omelette (Oops, I did it again!)
Another traditional dish arrives. Amaebi or Sweet Shrimp are one of the great delicacies to be enjoyed in any cuisine, clime or place. Young male spot prawns with a delicate flavor and light sweetness are served nigiri style and the heads are deep fried. The very savvy sushi diner will also send the tails back to the kitchen after enjoying the body for a quick dunk in the deep fryer, creating a final, delightful shrimp chip to munch on. This is a must have any time it is on the menu. It is usually served au natural, as it should be, because there is almost no way I can think of to enhance the delicate sweetness of the shrimp (both in texture and flavor) without detracting from it.
This dish could understandably be mistaken for a traditional salmon nigiri dish. But, the sear on this Scottish salmon and the application of the Burnt Blood Tomato Vin sauce clearly moves this into a different classification.
My first comment after placing this local mackerel nigiri on my tongue is that it tasted like it was line caught off the O’side pier about an hour before it was sliced into sushi. I got crickets from the chefs. Sideways glances. Suppressed smiles. More food. Yes, indeed. The fish is that fresh here.
Mango, apple, cucumber rind, watermelon radish and micro greens come together nicely as a palate cleanser. The impromptu poke style halibut on top is like icing on the cake.
Take the sear off the albacore, ship it in from Fiji and serve it sashimi style in a Raisin Tosazu sauce with just enough Eureka lemon oil drizzled on the dish to blend and enhance the flavors and you have some eclectic mad fish wizard’s version of dessert.
They actually serve some great desserts here. The gourmet sorbets and Andrea’s Truffles are in keeping with the local and fresh philosophy that rules all food sourcing decisions. Unfortunately, we barely ever survive to eat any. This evening’s dessert dish, usually reserved for one of less than a handful of potential offerings (including live uni, honeymoon oysters, toro and this dish) was seared fois gras served nigiri style with the lightest sprinkle of sea salt for flavor and sesame seeds for texture.
On any given evening at the Wrench and the Rodent, you can encounter a different mix of fish maestros preparing the freshest of ingredients in whichever fashion their considerable reserves of creativity decide to steer them at the moment. RJ and Yancy are usually around during the weeknights and are knife wielding savants.
Tonight we were entranced by the nimble and perfectly synchronized virtuoso choreography of owner, Chef Davin Waite and Sous Chef Magic Alex (so named, I presume, because of the superhuman, ambidextrous eye-hand coordination and speed with which he produces spectacular plates) – twirling, torching, slicing, dicing, flipping, fileting and casting spells of rapture. Somehow, they carry on conversations with guests, servers and staff while flashing razor sharp blades at the speed of light with the skill of sword masters – fearless and confident that the business edge of their knives will always end in the correct location. They conjure plates full of food out of mid-air and transport from place to place as needed, their feet never moving or, seemingly, even touching the floor. Cooked items from the kitchen appear, Poof, at their workstations to be enhanced or finished without ever being summoned in any fashion that mere mortals would understand.
And, inexorably, the evening slips by, the restaurant empties and conversation eventually falls to a hush as we look around and realize we’ve done it again – spent an evening hanging with friends, eating food prepared by friends, making new friends – all at our favorite corner Seabasstropub. Cheers, my friends!
1815 S. Coast Hwy.
Oceanside, CA 92054