Photo credit: All Things Andy Gavin
When I began populating my Wish List page a couple of weeks ago, there was one restaurant on the list that is close to my apartment. I have seen and driven by this restaurant hundreds of times over the years, and it never crossed my mind to visit this place. But in an attempt to find new places to try around the area, I came across Kiriko on Jonathan Gold’s 99 Essential Restaurants list a few months ago. Kiriko has actually been on the list for years, but for some reason it never really caught my attention, as I was enamored with the likes of Urasawa, Mori Sushi and Sushi Zo. But I finally read up on it, and became intrigued. And somehow, that intrigue became an obsession during the last couple of weeks…
Last Thursday, on my way back to the apartment from work, it suddenly hit me: must go to Kiriko. Now. So I made a sharp turn on Sawtelle and found parking in a hurry. When I walked into the restaurant at around 6:15, there was no one there yet (the restaurant opens for dinner at six). It wouldn’t be filled with customers until past seven, so for a period of time I was the only customer. For some reason, I was a bit nervous upon being seated. It was like I was on a first date – a blind first date even. My legs were shaking due to a combination of angst and excitement. Luckily, the restaurant had a very inviting feeling to it, and the friendly sushi chef kindly asked me what I would like to order. My lips trembled as I said “omakase.” After a brief chat regarding the specifics (to which I replied “I’m open to anything”), the chef smiled and proceeded.
Blue Crab Sunomono
It started with a blue crab sunomono, served in a martini glass. It was a nice, refreshing start to the meal. There was more blue crab than meets the eye, too.
Next was a foursome of items that showcased some of Kiriko’s specialties. From left, there was homemade tofu with pesto, ankimo with ponzu gelee, homemade tofu with soy, and smoked salmon and mango with caviar. The homemade tofu was firmer than the one I had at Raku, but was nonetheless well-made. The one with soy was straightforward, but I was surprised at how well it went with the pesto (and the fact that pesto was served at a Japanese restaurant). The ankimo had a red-ish color, but was ridiculously soft and creamy. But the star of the plate was the smoked salmon and caviar. Kiriko smokes the salmon in-house over applewood, then wraps that wonderful salmon around a very ripe piece of mango. The caviar on top gives the bite a luxurious and salty contrast. What a creative combination!
Homemade Tofu w/ Pesto
Ankimo w/ Ponzu Gelee
Homemade Tofu w/ Soy
Smoked Salmon and Mango w/ Caviar
The next plate reminded me of Matsuhisa. Clockwise from left, there was kanpachi with a yuzu gelee and jalapeno, Japanese barracuda, halibut with sea salt and lemon, and albacore with garlic chips. The kanpachi was reminiscent of Matsuhisa’s yellowtail jalapeno. The use of the the sauce in gelee form (like with the ankimo) was pretty smart (first time I’ve seen it at any sushi place). It stays on the fish better this way, and as a result you get more of the flavor from the sauce. The barracuda had a smoky flavor (not sure if it was smoked though) – very nice. The halibut was kind of like the tiradito from Matsuhisa, except much less acidic and spicy. I was able to taste the fish better this way. And the albacore was nice as well, but was more standard than its counterparts.
Kanpachi w/ Yuzu Gelee and Jalapeno
Albacore w/ Garlic Chips
Halibut w/ Sea Salt and Lemon
Snapper w/ Soy and Pesto
Next up was a type of snapper (forgot what fish it was specifically), blowtorched until it was fairly cooked through, then served with a drizzle of soy and pesto. Pretty good, but was rather uninspired after two awesome plates.
A soup with matsutake mushroom and red snapper was served in this cute teapot, the soup which I drank from an accompanying teacup. If the weather was colder, this would’ve been really great. Also, there was actually a lot of soup here. I think a reason I was extremely full at the end of this meal was because of this.
After the soup was finished, it was time for sushi.
First up was the red snapper, served with sea salt and lemon. Straightforward, but very nice.
(Left) Bluefin Toro, (Right) Bigeye tuna
Next up was a pair of tuna sushi. The left was a huge piece of bluefin toro that looked like it was brushed with some soy. The right was a bigeye tuna. Both were just plain awesome.
For some reason I’ve never been amazed with amaebi. Most of the time it just tastes mushy to me. The one I had here was good, but didn’t blow me away. The head came back fried with some ponzu on the side, like at Sushi Gen.
I believe this was the first time I’ve had pike mackerel sushi. Actually tasted less fishy than I expected, milder than its Spanish counterpart.
(Left) Smoked Sockeye Salmon, (Right) Wild King Salmon
Salmon sushi at an elite sushi restaurant? Really? Well, Kiriko is actually known for their salmon, so it would behoove me to try it. And you know what? They were absolutely delicious! The left was the smoked sockeye salmon (different from the one with mango from earlier, which was the king salmon smoked I believe), and the right was the wild king salmon, un-smoked, served with a sheet of sea kelp on top. Kiriko has really changed my mind on salmon sushi, at least while I’m at the restaurant.
Straightforward uni (looks like the Santa Barbara variety), but tasted really fresh and creamy.
At this point of the dinner, the chef asked me how full I was. I was actually pretty damn full, but wanted to make the most of my inaugural visit. So I asked if I could have a little more. A few minutes later, I received this piece of anago (probably just finished cooking) served with sea salt. This piece of sushi really made me reassess my opinion of eel sushi and the liberal use of sweet eel sauce at most places. If anago can taste this good without the sauce, there is no need for it anymore.
Blue Crab Hand Roll
My last item was the blue crab hand roll that I had read about on Yelp (yes I know Yelp sigh, but I was looking up hours of operation which I didn’t see at first on Kiriko’s website). Like with the salmon before, Kiriko was able to get me excited about cooked blue crab at a sushi place. Amazing.
I don’t know how they did it, but this was the most full I’ve ever been from a sushi dinner. I was unfortunately so full at the end of the meal, I was unable to order dessert. Which is really a shame, because Kiriko is also well-known for their homemade ice cream. I will definitely be going back soon. Actually, very soon most likely, as Eugenia caught me going to Kiriko because I had checked-in to the restaurant, and I had promised her I would try the place with her. Well like I said Eugenia, I’m sorry…that I got caught!
This definitely wasn’t a cheap dinner. The menu states that the omakase is estimated to be around $80-120, and I spent around the price ceiling mark. But there were two distinct clientele at the restaurant during my dinner there. One was the group of Kiriko veterans who were on familiar terms with the sushi chefs (a group which I aspire to be a part of). The other was a group of young, college-aged kids (from UCLA I hope) who came to order platefuls of California and spicy tuna rolls. Kiriko is awesome enough where it can cater to the most elitist of sushi enthusiasts, and not have the snobby attitude at the casual Americanized sushi crowd. In fact, I’m sure their California rolls are great (they use the same blue crab as in the sunomono and hand roll).
After some careful consideration, I think that Kiriko beats Sushi Zo out as my favorite sushi restaurant by a nose. And if you take the ambiance into consideration, then it’s not even close. Kiriko serves high-class sushi within the confines of a comfortable neighborhood gem atmosphere. Not to mention, some of the dishes that were served were creative, and just downright delicious and awesome. Kiriko, you just won yourself a new regular (but forgive me if I don’t go all-out every time).
Chris Hei grade: A-
11301 W Olympic Blvd, Ste 102
Los Angeles, CA 90064