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First Look: Asa Bakery, Sushi Gaga, Bar Kamon

Saké Master Ayaka Ito brings her hometown of Nagoya, Japan to the East Village with three concepts in one

As if Ayaka Ito doesn’t already have enough on her plate—two restaurants, host of the annual Sake Festival, and being one of San Diego’s sake ambassadors (she’s one of only a few sake sommeliers exist in the county). Her next act seems a bit ambitious.

This week, Ito and business partner Masaki Yamuchi, open three new food and drink concepts next to her grand ramen shop, Beshock, in East Village. You enter all three through one door. “There’s so much more we can introduce to people in San Diego that originated from Japan,” says Ito. “[We can] bring it here and tie it with local flavors to make something original.”

Asa will greet guests first as a bakery similar to a Japanese kissaten, or the tea and coffee shops popular in Ito’s hometown of Nagoya. Similar to American cafes, kissatens have a focus on coffee over teas and offer a more traditional feel on the inside with red velvets, low lights, hand-painted tea cups, and antiques. Expect robust coffees, tea-based beverages, and 100-percent Japanese-style teas like hōjicha and matcha from Shizuoka. Various breads and pastries will be available throughout the day, like savory sozai pan and sweet melon pan—similar to Mexican sweet bread, with a crispy top layer and soft middle.

Hidden beyond the bakery, Sushi Gaga will be her omakase-only concept, with only seating for 10 guests per evening. While Ito’s Kappo-style menu will feature fresh sashimi and nigiri, it will still offer meat and other warm dishes for those who may be less comfortable with raw fish.“As [guests] get comfortable with sushi, you can offer more of a story about the fish itself,” Ito says of slowly introducing patrons to omakase-style dining.

The third concept is Bar Kamon, a Taisho-era cocktail bar that draws on a time in Japan—beginning in 1912—when the country began to open itself to western influence. Guests will be ensconced in handmade paper and wood-framed shoji walls as they sip cocktails like the Hinoki Old Fashioned, with the wood-infused Japanese whisky, served in Japanese pottery. They’ll be surrounded by vintage furniture, red carpet, chandeliers, and a small Zen garden.

All of the concepts were designed to give her top employees new places to grow their skill sets. Bar Kamon is inspired by a longtime team member Brett Grimsman (a bartender who worked his way up to general manager) who wanted to open a bar. Asa will afford an opportunity for cook-turned-chef Tatemoto Hayashi, who had always wanted to open a cafe, to observe master baker Yuto Hikosaka, who moved to San Diego from Japan. And then there’s the drive to continue to share the flavors and ingredients that Ito discovers every time she travels back to Japan—be it a fruit from Okinawa or specialty sugar from Hokkaido.

Asa bakery opens Friday at 9 a.m.; Bar Kamon will be open on Wednesday, August 23; and reservations for Sushi Gaga will be available starting September 1 for seatings beginning September 15. A link to Sushi Gaga’s reservation system will be announced on its Instagram page @sushi.gaga.

By Ligaya Malones

Ligaya Malones grew up in Kaua’i, Hawai’i and is a San Diego-based writer covering the intersection of food, travel, and culture. Her work has appeared in publications including Food52, Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, and Salt & Wind Travel.

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