I was super skeptical at the idea of "vegan sushi" -- what? how? why? -- but the Yasai was quick to change my mind. Everything we ate was delicious, innovative, and yes, actually tasted like sushi.
The Yasai is an all-vegan eatery specializing in sushi and ramen. Although I have yet to try the Yasai's ramen, I have no doubt it's delicious, as the Yasai is headed by the same chef and owner and owner as Rakiraki Ramen & Tsukemen, Chef Junya Watanabe. In fact, Rakiraki happens to be right next door to the Yasai at their the Kearny Mesa location. If you're unfamiliar, Rakiraki has long been hailed as one of San Diego's best ramen spots, even winning the title of Best Restaurant in San Diego Magazine in 2017.
After much deliberating over the menu selections, we ordered the Hanzo Sword, Caterpillar Roll, and Chef's Choice Premium Nigiri. The Hanzo Sword ($15) was made up of fermented eryngii (king trumpet) mushroom, tempura green onion, faux-shrimp, truffle aioli, spicy aioli, pickled serrano, lemon zest and scallions. What makes this roll a must-order is that it's made with forbidden rice! A rice that not only looks cool (it's dark purple in color), but has an incredibly high amount of antioxidants and protein compared to other rice. This roll was fun and absolutely delicious. There was no truffle flavor detected whatsoever but the spicy aioli with the crunchy tempura and pickled serrano worked so well together. 10/10 would order again!
The Caterpillar Roll ($12) was made with crispy miso shiitake, panko-crusted faux-shrimp, cucumber, avocado and eel sauce. This one was very pretty but fairly boring compared to the Hanzo Sword. The faux-shrimp tasted deceptively real - especially when covered in batter. I liked it but don't know if it warrants a repeat order.
And now for the star of the show: the Chef's Choice Premium Nigiri ($22/8pc). The "fish" was substituted with things like heirloom tomato, bell pepper, jalapeno, king trumpet mushroom, inari (tofu skin), eggplant and avocado. The whole plate was garnished with flowers, microgreens, even gold flakes.
Because everything was made with such care and precision, we had a tough time trying to figure out what each piece was made with. Each one was an experience, each bite full of flavors like soy sauce, miso, eel, just paired with veggies instead of sashimi. Each vegetable was prepared so differently than what we're used to, we had to take a beat and examine each one to be able to tell what it was!
The king trumpet one was a favorite for me, as well as the eggplant. The inari one was my least favorite, but that's mainly personal preference -- I'm not a fan of tofu skin.
Overall, I thought it was a perfect execution of vegan sushi. The Yasai should be on every San Diegan's list. You have to try it at least once and experience such culinary innovation for yourself!
Outdoor seating was impressively done, with twinkly lights, plexiglass barriers and little fake walls tall enough to make you forget you're sitting in a parking lot!