Chef and restaurateur Junya Watanabe recently opened The Yasai—San Diego’s first Japanese vegan restaurant. The Yasai (which means “vegetable” in Japanese) serves an entirely plant-based menu of sushi plates, tempura dishes, and ramen bowls, including the Nigiri sushi plate with rolls made with Impossible Foods vegan meat and vegan crab and shrimp, and a Crispy Gobo starter plate with fried shavings of burdock root sprinkled with nori dust and truffle zest. The eatery also offers globally inspired appetizers such as tostadas, pretzel sliders, and Eggplant No-Tuna Bites. The 50-seat restaurant took over the space of Watanabe’s former meat-based poke bowl and burrito restaurant. Watanabe, who claims to be a pioneer of poke in the area, said he transformed the space into a vegan Japanese restaurant to stay ahead of the competition. After discovering techniques using fermented vegetables in other restaurants around the world, including a French restaurant in Paris, a sushi restaurant in Tokyo, and Shizen in San Francisco, he was inspired to create his own concept. “A plant-based Japanese menu is a culinary challenge,” Watanabe told media outlet The San Diego Union-Tribune, “but it’s a challenge that has fused my passion for food with my creative ambitions, and resulted in an elevated flavor palate that redefines what it means to be vegan.” Watanabe also plans to transform one of his Rakiraki restaurant locations to house another The Yasai sit-down restaurant and a omakase-style vegan sushi bar, which are scheduled to open in January.
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