EXCLUSIVE: Nobu’s top sushi chef to create SD’s first Japanese-Italian concept

San Diego's food new this week



Sea urchin and edamame purée with your tagliatelle? Y’know, a little fresh roe on that bucatini might make your eyes roll back until you see Jesus. 

San Diego is set to get its first Japanese-Italian concept with Sora, a high-end restaurant, bar and lounge focused around the Milano-Tokyo creations of chef Noriyoshi Teruya. If Teruya’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s been head sushi chef at Nobu San Diego since its opening in 2007—a protégé of famed chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa for 13 years.

Sora’s location? Near the Downtown train station at 655 W. Broadway, where in 2008 Wolfgang Puck protégé David McIntyre and partners spent big money to open Crescent Heights before succumbing to an economy gone blech. (It is still a huge loss for SD.)

Teruya’s partners in the project are Alessandro Minutella, known locally for his restaurants Panevino, Osetra, Greystone and Chocolat, and Chocolat GM Daniele Visco.

“There will be no sushi,” says Minutella. “The cuisine will be Italian with a Japanese influence.”

Teruya and Minutella became friends through Chocolat (Teruya had lived next to Chocolat in Milan, where the concept originated). The chef invited the Italian restaurateur into Nobu, where he would create special tasting menus combining aspects of both cultures’ cuisines. This month Teruya drove up to L.A. to personally give chef Nobu his notice.

“Chef Nobu was very gracious and wants to the best for him,” says Alessandro. “He even said he might do a celebrity chef dinner the first week we open.” 

The concept is new to San Diego, but not to the Japanese. As an article in The Atlantic points out, Oscar Farinetti's concept Eataly opened in Tokyo before NYC. The Japanese have a long love affair with Italian cooking, fueled both by wartime occupations and the 90s collapse of their economy, which inspired the country to ditch fancypants, expensive French food for more affordable, homestyle Italian.

L.A. boasts a few Japanese-Italian standouts, most notably Il Chianti.

Teruya speaks fluent Italian, having opened a Nobu in Milan at the Armani building. Minutella says portions will be “small-plates, tapas-style and the highest quality possible.” They’re planning a charcuterie and cheese bar, a la Bice. And the wine program will be akin to Cucina Urbana and 3rd Corner, where diners can pick their own wine from temperature-controlled cabinets at retail prices, then open at their table for a small corkage fee.

They’ll be open for lunch and dinner, with free parking in the structure at night after 5pm. A visit of the location yesterday revealed a lot of work is yet to be done, although the interior—which Crescent Heights spared no cost on—is still immaculate. “It’s already beautiful in there,” says Minutella.

Still, SD firm Tucker Sadler (who handled the Convention Center expansion, plus the US Grant remodel) will make a few changes. The patio will be extended. Walls dividing the bar from the dining room will be broken down, and Crescent Heights’ lounge space will be converted into a wine room. Alessandro will also have some live music, a little jazz.

Price? “Most everything under $20,” he says.

With the economy on the mend, development moving west from the Gaslamp and an elite talent like Teruya, all signs point up for Sora.

 Alessandro expects a late-July open.

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Restaurant reviews, food trends, top cocktails, wine, beer and generally the best eats and drinks in San Diego, with reporting (read: eating) lead by food editor Troy Johnson. Looking for the Erins? Erin Chambers Smith and Erin Meanley? Find their most recent musings over at the Around Town blog. And yes, we know that one needs a new name. We're working on it. 

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