Saturday, September 22, 2018

Review: Single Fin Kitchen (& Little Italy Food Hall)

Hamachi bowl at Single Fin Kitchen
The hamachi bowl comes everything,
including the kitchen sink.
Poké is over.

Food halls are the hot new culinary trend. They're popping up across San Diego County, and while they're similar in format to your classic mall-rat, Hot-Dog-On-A-Stick food courts, they're generally more sophisticated and thoughtful about the cuisine on offer.

The newly opened Little Italy Food Hall, where Amy and I went for date night, is a great example. Its six gourmet food (and drink) options include killer Milanese pizzas from Ambrogio15 and Sam the Cooking Guy's decidedly non-traditional Not Not Tacos.

We first grabbed a couple of drinks from the Food Hall Bar. Amy got the Piazza Spritz, a bright, fresh blend of prosecco, aperol, grapefruit liqueur and blackberry. I got the daiquiri italiano, which was nice and sweet with a prominent nutty amaretto flavor.

Drinks at Little Italy Food Hall
For dinner we opted for Single Fin Kitchen, which specializes in Japanese-style seafood. We started off with some shishito peppers. Usually about one in ten of these are actually hot, but in this batch I'd say at least half of them brought some serious pain. The ponzu and topping of smoky bonito flakes were pleasant additions (when I wasn't dying of spice!).

Single Fin's main attraction is its elaborate donburi rice bowls—and I do mean elaborate. As we watched their creation, it was almost comical how many sprinklings of extra ingredients they got, even after they looked finished. To give you an idea: Amy's bowl contained rice, hamachi sashimi, hamachi tartare with green onion, shiso leaf, cucumber, chile threads, avocado, radish, pickled veggies, smoked bonito flakes, microgreens, seaweed and furikake. Whew!

Salmon bowl at Single Fin KitchenWas all that complexity really worth it? Well... actually yes, for the most part. It could easily have been overwrought, but instead it was like a whole ecosystem of harmonious flavors. You could create a forkful of hamachi tartare with a bit of minty herb fragrance from the shiso and some hearty bonito... or maybe a delicate bite of sashimi that balances chile threads with cooling cucumber.

My bowl, the Salmon 360, included three types of salmon—sashimi, tartare and torched belly—as well as sake-marinated salmon roe, microgreens and a thin slice of fried egg. The salmon belly was delicious and tender. The egg, too, was almost melt-in-your-mouth. I really liked the ocean flavors of the seaweed and spices. If there's one problem with these bowls, it's all too easy for the taste of the fish to get lost in the jungle of ingredients.

The staff was friendly and funny—and apparently in a good mood too, because they also gave us a free scoop of black sesame ice cream. Let me tell you, they weren't messing around; it was so rich with sesame seeds that it tasted almost like a peanut or almond butter. The trade-off, though, was in the texture: Since it was so packed with ground seeds, it really wasn't all that creamy. Still, we finished every bite just to savor the uniqueness of that sweet sesame flavor.

The creativity on display at Single Fin was positively kaleidoscopic. Sure, maybe not every element in the bowls really needed to be there. And by the time we finished, I actually felt slightly exhausted from the variety (and maybe those peppers had something to do with it too). But there also something exciting about having such a host of ingredients lovingly assembled by folks who obviously care about their craft. I want to try the other stations in Little Italy Food Hall, but it'll be hard when Single Fin is right there tempting me.

Score: 8.5 out of 10 (Excellent)

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