Leaving Kansas – Robata Ya Oton

The food was served in a private little eating room, which was a bit difficult to get in, but a nice intimate way to share a meal

The food was served in a private little eating room, which was a bit difficult to get in, but a nice intimate way to share a meal

I love my neighborhood. And my community. And I love living in the older urban part of the city, quirks and all. But contrary to my bias for the culinary beauty that is 30th Street, San Diego’s people–and its food–are diverse…and diffuse. One of my newer friends lives north of the 8, so he and his girlfriend invited Wife and I northward to nestle in for a night of adventure at Robota-Ya Oton in Kearny Mesa. Here’s how it went…I usually like to have a menu to work off when going to a restaurant.  You know, a little advanced planning can be a good thing.  Turns out this restaurant has no website.  Strange, right?  I did get some tips from Yelp, but Wife and I are pretty open so we were happy to leave the ordering to our friends.  Which turned out to be a good thing because of this

Yes, you are reading that right. A very fun way to eat, in my book

Yes, you are reading that right. A very fun way to eat, in my book

Yup, gotta love a place where the menu isn’t in English.  Or, I should say, I love the adventure of just taking a chance.  To be fair, our companions couldn’t read the menu, either, but they had been before, so our adventure was in their hands.  The base of our meal was a style of cooking called Robatayaki.  It involved a large round boiling pot in which we dropped hunks of thinly sliced raw meat, vegetables and noodles.  I don’t really have any pictures of that part because by the time we started eating it I was, well, a bit preoccupied.  My friend we were meeting was both an adventuresome eater and very well-versed in public policy issues that impact our region.  To the lay observer, these things may seem totally unrelated.  In my reality, though, sharing good food with someone who really digs into the issues that impact our community is like a home-run of dining.  That said, although  I think all four of us shared the food itch, occasionally we’d get wrapped up in a conversation about municipal finance and budget constraints and kind of forget that we weren’t at a post work happy hour.  Fortunately, we have patient significant others, so when it was time to turn back to this

I'd never had beef tongue prepared this way, but it was very good

I’d never had beef tongue prepared this way, but it was very good

we could all stay focused.  The “this” in this case is beef tongue-kabob.  No, that’s not a colloquial name for something else, it is the tongue of a cow.  It’s a pretty common food item for many parts of the world and one I’ve grown fond of over the years.  Here’s an interesting history of beef tongue consumption (‘cuz I’m a giver like that). The four of us were well suited for the style of eating at this restaurant, since the small-plate style tastes started flying out of the kitchen.  We had this

All I can remember from this photo is that I destroyed this plate. So worth it.  Not sure even how to tell you to order it

All I can remember from this photo is that I destroyed this plate. So worth it. Not sure even how to tell you to order it

and this

2013-01-08 19.13.41

and this…

A tender, sliced spare rib that didn't last much longer than it took me to snap this photo

A tender, sliced spare rib that didn’t last much longer than it took me to snap this photo

Oh, and these little guys.

These are...wait for it...chicken hearts.

These are…wait for it…chicken hearts.

It sounds like a lot more food than it actually was.  No, okay, maybe it was really a lot of food.  If they invented a way for me to have one bite of everything without being wasteful, maybe two bites, that’d be perfect.  Instead we nestled in a for a few hours of casual adventure dining and talking about work and travel and the things we all do when not making money.  What I always find fascinating about people is how much we have in common.  Absent a ton of independent wealth, most people need to make a living.  So we find things that make us tick or put food on the table or whatever it may be, but then there’s this world of life beyond career that is filled with the uniqueness of our stories but still common bonds.  A great meal can serve as a backdrop for celebrating life and sharing experiences in a way that a work meeting or a happy hour just doesn’t capture.  We didn’t spend the night waxing so philosophical, but whenever I have a nice long, fun dinner it feels good to be reminded of how much more a meal can be than a time to eat.

Anyway, we rounded out the evening with this

We got this almost more for the novelty.  It didn't have the characteristic flavor of green tea ice cream, but wasn't bad.

We got this almost more for the novelty. It didn’t have the characteristic flavor of green tea ice cream, but wasn’t bad.

A green tea cheesecake. When we go back we’ll skip this item and find a place that specializes in dessert, this wasn’t their forte.  One difference of going out to eat way up in Kearny Mesa is that the end of the meal meant getting in a car. Ugh. Wife and I have been spoiled a bit, I suppose.  Eight years back in San Diego and four years in D.C. before that, and most of that time hasn’t required a car to enjoy a night out.  As someone who occasionally enjoys adult beverages, the freedom of pedestrianism is quite liberating.  Throw in a bike option and all of the sudden the urban core is not only a useful option, but a borderline requirement.  I wonder, though, if our friends might not prefer having a car to hop into to head home.  I didn’t ask that question, but will next time.  Just the same, our trip up into the somewhat newer portions of the city was a nice adventure and it’s great to add a new spot to the list.  I’d definitely go back and will encourage friends to visit.  Get some advice on what to order from the server.  If you can’t read the menu, I mean.  Thanks for checking this out.

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