It was two and a half years ago the first time Fluffy Unicorn and I ate at the Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub in Oceanside, August of 2013. At the time, the little popup sushi joint was not even a blip on anyone’s radar, open less than a month, connected to a taco shop, no sign, barely any indication of marketing, an ever-so-slightly crooked, hand-cut menu printed on a laser jet, and paint still wet on the walls of the former surfshop that it had squatted in.
There were all kinds of things wrong with this place at first glance, from the frydaddy cooker just behind the sushi station for cooking hot foods to the vent hood to nowhere screwed into the wall above it. Of the 7 seats at the sushi bar at prime dinnertime on a Friday evening, half of them were still available.
And, then, the food began to arrive…
Things have changed a bit. We’re regulars at Wrench and Rodent now, but that’s no great feat since half of San Diego County seems to be intimate with their oh, so fresh, fusion style fare and personal friends with the owners, Davin and Jessica Waite. There’s a sign now, a small one over the front patio entrance that’s really more like a middle finger to convention since it is so non-descript its proclamation of “Seabasstropub” is barely noticeable from the street.
The taco shop has been assimilated and turned it into a younger sibling, punk rock ramen/izakaya eatery called The Whet Noodle. There’s a line out the door during peak times at “The Noodle” and, even with a $12 average ticket, my guess it that it will soon outpace its older sibling in revenue by sheer volume. The entire kitchen has been transformed into a bit of a mad scientist’s laboratory serving both establishments, with cauldrons bubbling, planchas sizzling, fresh herbs perched in every nook and cranny and all kinds of sharp, heavy and metallic accoutrement hanging just above “head-banger” level.
As we bellied up to the bar for maybe our 80th or 90th visit, I contemplated briefly how I, the most attention deficit foodie in the world had not tired of this place. Wondered how I’ve managed to eat hundreds of plates of food here on a regular basis, all the while shying away from a second visit to other establishments from fear of boredom. Pondered if I would even notice whether innovation and creativity here ever fell victim to the pressure of producing mass offerings for the throngs that dine regularly. Mused how I justified making reservations a week in advance to get bar seats at a sushi joint, okay, MY sushi joint, even if they are the best seats in the house…
…and, then, the food begins to arrive…
Arriving with the food is the dissipation of any foolish notions. With each new plate comes the understanding that innovation is in their DNA here, now bolstered by the subtlety of refinement, the sharpening of experimentation into artistic creation, and the evolution of a unique style. As each offering is served, I frame the photos and realize that every item on every plate has been hand picked locally, sourced because they are growing now, from fresh strawberries and apples to the herbs and vegetables, and then placed carefully for maximum effect.
All the while, guest after guest stops by the sushi bar on the way out to thank the chefs for another great experience or a wonderful first experience.
The honesty of what is happening here completes the rejuvenation of my sushi soul; the type of honesty that says, yes, they believe in organic, seasonal and local ingredients because they are plentiful, available and, yes, probably healthier, too. It’s an honesty tempered with reality. Reality such as understanding the time suck that hand filleting hundreds of anchovies in-house would be and, instead, sourcing them from another local purveyor who has the equipment to take the freshest of fish and turn them into a bulk available pickled delight.
Honesty and reality here mean that being organic and local is much more than a description of how their food is sourced. Rather, it is a philosophy of how they do business and share their success.
Two and a half years in, there is still an edginess about the Wrench and Rodent. They’re no longer the new kid on the block. Even with a queue through the lobby and out the door, they worry about staying busy. The dishes are so unique in presentation and flavor, they’ve become their own genre.
They’re still full of that youthful exuberance and devil may care attitude that has lured adventurous foodies who crave the exotic from the shadows into the daylight. But, there is something tangibly different…Uh, oh…they’ve, “gasp”, matured.
Now, they’re the cool kid on the block. They stand comfortably in a huddle of their peers, knowing what needs to be done, executing with energy and excitement, willing to improvise if needed, confident in their ability, but wearing the mantle of concern, responsibility and leadership that has come with being the de-facto leader and innovator in their field, in their corner of the world.
As for the rest of us, the thronging crowds…well, we make our reservations a week in advance for the best seats in the house, squeeze into the sushi bar or whatever niche is available, get friendly with our neighbors and continue to marvel at the innovation and freshness coming our way.
Here’s the Rundown on Wrench and Rodent:
Ambience/Dining – Walk in seating is usually available for the dining room and patio, often immediately, but averaging a 15-45 minute wait during peak hours. Reservations are available through the Wrench and Rodent website or by phone. It’s an intimate place with a funky vibe and cool crowd. An eclectic mix of music is always playing at a comfortable level, loud enough to have a private conversation at your table, soft enough to have a friendly conversation with your neighbors.
Cost/Menu – I recommend ordering Omakase (Chef’s choice) if you are adventurous and don’t mind getting some of the unique parts and tidbits of seafood that are tasty, but a bit out of the ordinary. The regular menu contains a familiar looking assortment of sushi, sides and rolls, but still with the unique flavor, ingredients and presentations that the Wrench and Rodent is known for. Craft beers, wines and sakes are free-flowing and available. Expect to spend $20-$60 per person, depending on your appetite and choices.
Cheers, my friends!
1815 S. Coast Hwy., Oceanside CA