Valentino’s Lounge

Phillip Brents

Thu October 30, 2014 9:07pm

Kusay Kalasho, left, is proud owner of Valentino’s Lounge in Otay Ranch.

Five years after opening, Valentino’s Lounge owner Kusay Kalasho still gets a kick out of many customers’ reactions to the restaurant nestled in the heart of the Otay Ranch community.
“With a name like Valentino’s, people coming in for the first time thinking it’s an Italian restaurant, but it’s sushi,” Kalasho explained with a good-natured laugh.
Actually, the restaurant is named in honor of Kalasho’s oldest son. Jordan’s Krazy Burgers and Hot Dogs, which Kalasho also owns next door, is named after his second-oldest son.
Both restaurants are part of a business enterprise that Kalasho has managed to put together since arriving in this country in 1979. “I am proud because I’ve built it from scratch,” he said. Valentino’s is definitely a happening place.
“We have all kinds of exotic foods,” Kalasho noted. “It’s a great adventure.”
The restaurant serves an eclectic clientele — Mexican, American and Asian. Therefore there’s a lot of variety in the menu, especially the starters, specialty rolls and sushi. It’s great tapas-style dining. The restaurant features a sushi bar in front, a full spirits bar in the back and interior and patio dining in the middle. How fresh is the fish?
“It was in the water last night,” Kalasho chuckled.
The restaurant procures its fish in cold waters off Japan. Sushi chef Mabu Imai, a 20-year veteran in the industry and native of Japan, said the cold-water environment makes fish give off less of a “fishy” odor than those caught in warmer waters.
Sushi comes in one-piece hand rolls ($5), two pieces ($6), eight-piece rolls ($9) and six-piece sashimi ($15). Choices include albacore, crab, surf clam, egg, eel, halibut, mackerel, octopus, scallop, salmon, smoked salmon, shrimp, sweet shrimp, squid, smelt egg, sea urchin, salmon egg, tuna, yellowtail and quail egg. There are 24 selections of eight-piece specialty rolls.
The restaurant’s happy hour has been extended from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily. There are $6-$8 specials on sushi rolls, chicken potstickers, sliders, ahi tacos and vegetable tempura. Draft beer goes for $4, martinis and margaritas for $6. The restaurant is known for its tamarindo martinis, in particular. There is a full array of premium wines — both white and red — and sake (both unfiltered and filtered).
“Our bar is crazy — we have shots from $5 to $1,000,” Kalasho said.
Sake is half-off on Monday, martinis are half-off on Tuesday and bottles of wine are half-off on Wednesday.
Having trouble making a menu selection? The Kobe beef sliders ($10) and jalapeño poppers ($9) both make excellent starters, as do the panko scallops ($13) and creamy shrimp and lobster tempura ($14).
The sliders are tasty, stacked with cheese, lettuce, tomato and balsamic onions. The tasty crispy fish and chips ($11) are served with the restaurant’s signature truffle fries and lemon tartar sauce.
Popular entrée items include fried rice and yakisoba. Both dishes can be ordered as vegetarian or with beef, chicken or shrimp. The yakisoba is chock full of seasonal vegetables and noodles mixed with a Japanese Worcestershire sauce.
Also try the chicken or beef tapanyaki. The tapanyaki was new to our review team. Think of it as a sizzling fajita but with an Asian touch. The chicken breast and thigh are sliced and served on a bed of grilled onions, mushrooms and zucchini drizzled with teriyaki sauce. The 10-oz. rib eye steak is grilled and sliced over roasted potatoes, sautéed onions and mushrooms. Garlic rice comes as a side with either tapanyaki order.
Save room for dessert. The endings at Valentino’s are delicious. The warm chocolate lava cake goes wonderfully with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The dessert dish is served with fresh berries and caramel sauce.
Also high on customer preferences are the flan, bananas Foster (sliced bananas sautéed in butter and brown sugar and topped with Grand Marnier over vanilla ice cream and a waffle), tempura banana split and green tea brulee. Don’t forget the strawberry mango white chocolate cheesecake. Simply fabulous.