Steam can be seen rising from fresh vegetables being sautéed and sizzles can be heard from seasoned fish being grilled as colorful sushi rolls are served to hungry customers in the richly illuminated dining areas of Point Loma’s Sushi Lounge. Driving by what appears to at first be a small sushi joint at the corner of Dickens and Rosecrans, it would be easy to mistake the Sushi Lounge for a modest mainstream sea food chain. However, upon entering through the doors, the illusion is shattered. Suddenly you’re not in suburban Point Loma but high end San Diego. The brick walls painted in reds, greens, and beiges decorated in quaint green plants and iron sculptures give the restaurant a more modern and fancy feel. A bar complete with flat screens to watch the Superbowl at the center of the restaurant with wine glasses and already set plates, dipping bowls, folded napkins and chopsticks await customers upon seating. Surrounding the bar is a stylish dining area with deep brown tables and chocolate brown leather chairs. Across the bar and dining area is another, dog friendly, bar with the same decor walled with clear doors that lead to the outside and are folded up when the weather is permitting. Point Loma’s Sushi Lounge is truly a diamond in the rough.
Katie Rooney and Frank Interlandi are the owners of Sushi Lounge and have come a long way since the opening of their first lounge in Poway 11 years ago.
“We worked together at another sushi restaurant in La Jolla,” said Rooney. “Frank is a sushi chef and I run front-house operations so it was kind of a good match up.”
Ronney said her and Interlandi had “hit the ceiling” with the restaurant in La Jolla and their love for sushi and people inspired them to branch out on our own.
“We felt that we could still bring something to the industry that was unique,” said Rooney. “Sushi is very social and I love the health benefits. I feel good serving good food.”
Rooney handles the hiring and finances of the business and Interlandi manages the culinary side. After 11 years, having built branches in both Poway and Encinitas, Rooney said it was a relief to finally open up business close to home.
“I live in Point Loma so it was really exciting to open a restaurant in my neighborhood,” said Rooney. “We’ve always been positioning ourselves as more of your neighborhood sushi restaurant. We want a local community to embrace us as their own.”
According to Rooney, that sense of community has shown clearly at her and Interlandi’s other locations. The two are hoping to establish the same community here in Point Loma.
“We do a lot of community activism, volunteering and give a lot of support to the local schools and charities,” said Rooney. “That’s what continues to differentiate us from other sushi restaurants.”
Starting in February, Rooney and Interlandi are going to partner with PLNU to give students a chance to give back to the school while dining at Sushi Lounge. 10 percent of each student’s Sushi Lounge meal bill will be donated back to PLNU’s The Point newspaper. In addition to this special deal for students, Rooney and Interlandi make sure to accommodate for the community as well.
“We try to cater to all crowds,” said Rooney. “We have fantastic lunch specials seven days a week, a great happy hour seven days a week and half-priced rolls on Mondays.”
Rooney said Sushi Lounge aims to make sure that no matter what a customer’s price point is, they have something for everyone without compromising on the quality.
“We’re definitely on the higher tier pricewise so I understand how that might seem intimidating,” said Rooney. “But I think that once they get to know the quality, that’s something that’s really appealing.”
In addition to the price deals for budget accommodations, the atmosphere at the Sushi Lounge is hard to beat. The feel is a cross between Benihana and Mongolian grill. With great music, lots of natural lighting and a fun, relaxed tone, Sushi Bar is a place for all occasions.
“Because it is such a social food, it’s also a great place to come with family, on a date or with friends,” said Rooney. “Sushi is really meant to be shared.”
There’s a coffee shop next door with free wifi which you can pull off of while sitting in the “cave” bar as Rooney puts it. She adds that they are in the works of adding a patio to the back of the bar in the spring to make the restaurant more open and outdoorsy in the summer, bringing in the fresh breeze and summer sounds. And with its safe distance away from the harbor, no one need worry about birds flying in to snatch up a meal.
“We want people to come in and feel relaxed, at home, clean and fresh,” said Rooney. “It should peak your interest when you walk in as being different from typical sushi restaurants.”
Rooney and Interlandi have come a long way in the design of Point Loma’s Sushi Lounge. The cave bar used to be a barber shop and the dining are used to be a Mexican restaurant. Now, with its classy and earthy décor, the place is unrecognizable. And Rooney and Interlandi did all the designing themselves.
“It’s open, airy and light,” said Rooney. “It’s amazing to see how it turned out.”
As for the food, Sushi Lounge has a wider range of options than most. While they mostly focus on the sushi, Rooney doesn’t consider the business to be traditional.
“We focus mostly on southern California flavors such as cilantros and serranos and interesting combinations,” said Rooney. “We make almost all of our own sauces which brings a unique flavor to a lot of our dishes. When you put love into your food, even if it’s something you’ve already had before, the experience is elevated because it’s all fresh.”
Rooney add that the alternative flavors they provide and the other cultures Sushi Lounge incorporates into its food really brings in more of a global approach to sushi.
“Our fish comes from all over the world,” said Rooney. “Our tuna is mostly local but a lot of our fish come from Hawaii, Fiji, Japan…wherever we can get the best quality for a particular fish.”
Owner and customer favorites include the Citrus Chili Yellowtail with serrano chillies and cilantro lemon yuzu soy sauce, and the Tsunami Rolls with grilled shrimp, crab, avocado, Cajun seared albacore, roasted garlic, and more. Menus can also be found online and has something for every taste pallet. And if guests can’t decide for themselves, the servers are there to help.
“Sushi can be very intimidating. It’s a foreign cuisine that not everyone has a lot of experience with,” said Rooney. “We pride ourselves on really offering an informative hospitality so we really train our servers to talk to the guests and find out what it is that they enjoy in order to make proper recommendations based on preferred flavors.”
In addition, every September Sushi Lounge holds a chef’s competition where the house chefs compete with one another and the customers vote on their rolls.
“About five of those dishes have made it to the menu now,” said Rooney.
This is the place to go to after a long, hard day. After one has woken up late for a test, drove 20 miles to realize they’ve forgotten their purse, or even after a favorite team lost the chance to go to the Superbowl. For those looking for a fun, classy, down to earth sea-food restaurant to call home, and a food dish to eat their cares away without worrying about the calorie count, Sushi lounge is well worth the quick trip.