Inside it's as though you've entered a basement apartment filled with sushi-philes. Across two sterile dining rooms (concrete support beams behind floor plants; yellowish lighting), you'll see Little Italy's young professionals; middle-aged couples who know off-the-radar sushi spots; restaurant-industry types relaxing with Japanese tapas, of a style called "Kappo."
The sage diner sits at the counter surrounding Shino's sushi chefs. There's co-owner Robert Nakamura. Like the other men wearing black sushi-chef coats and white caps, he's young, lean, reserved ... until you become a regular, then he gives gracious bows and fist bumps.
When I sat at the sushi bar, fellow diners commended my choice of throbbingly fresh, white-purple amberjack sashimi, or a $12 bottle of unfiltered nigori sake. The chefs chatted onstage while slicing octopus carpaccio.
Of one sushi roll - panko-fried crab, scallop and asparagus inside seaweed and rice, topped with seared Kobe beef slivers and jalapeños - I asked, "Why's this called the Del Mar?"
Chef Nakamura beamed, "It's 'Where the surf meets the turf.'"
Presented with baby greens on a plate streaked with balsamic vinegar, the 10-piece Del Mar is Shino's most expensive roll. Its psychic value - you're eating sake-massaged, beer-fed cattle! - beats out any bold flavor.
Shino is best at tradition. Nakamura went through the chef system at Pacific Beach's prominent Sushi Ota. His staff worked either there, under sushi master Yukita Ota, or at Hane Sushi, an affiliated Ota-investment in Bankers Hill run by Robert's brother, Roger. Some Shino chefs trekked through both.
And 2-month-old Shino, owned by the Nakamura brothers, must be added to the sushi lover's circuit. (That tour includes Sushi Ota, Hane, Azuki Sushi in Bankers Hill, the hidden Shirahama on Convoy Street and the Gaslamp's Taka.) Because you'll walk away gabbing about the essential goodness of Shino's fish.
Their turnover-sized yellowtail cheek (hamachi kama) exceeds expectations. I kept chopsticking at its broiled, golden skin and rich white meat for rewards.
The salmon belly - a long, fat-striped fish ribbon with a rice lump under one end - looks like an orange boa after feeding and tastes buttery and enchanting.
While I'm spreading praise, members of the female waitstaff work diligently in the background, politely, even on a hectic Valentine's Day when they were "in the weeds," as they say in server parlance.
Read Keli Dailey's full dining review and more on utsandiego.com
Pictured: The 10-piece Del Mar is Shino's priciest roll. - Sean M. Haffey