Friday, October 31, 2008
Cool Things to Do with a Blowtorch and Fish: Kiriko Omakase
I recently tried Kiriko as part of my journey to eat at every restaurant on Sawtelle. Don't ask me for the exact parameters of my dine through Sawtelle journey since I am still deciding whether or not to go to Bar Hayama. But I did know that Kiriko, as one of LA Magazine's Best 75 Restaurants in LA, was on the top of my list.
More after the jump...
Finding myself alone for dinner on a Friday night, I decided to resume my list of Sawtelle restaurants. It wasn't until I was parking at a meter on Olympic that I decided which restaurant to try. I wasn't in a particularly spendy mood, but that had to change when I decided to go for sushi. The restaurant is small and subdued, nothing flashy or obtrusive to the meal. Even on a Friday night it was suspiciously vacant. There were a few tables and a couple finishing at the bar, but not as packed as I was expecting. This is usually not a good sign at places like sushi bars that require quick turnover on their fresh ingredients. However, after my dinner, I am glad that Kiriko is lesser known and I can get a seat at peak hours.
I mistakenly order a salad and an adult yellowtail sushi to start. I mention specifically adult yellowtail because this was listed as buri on the menu, which refers specifically to older specimens on their way to spawning. The flavor was therefore much more pronounced than it would be in a younger fish. Sufficiently satisfied with the buri, I decided to go for an all-out omakase.
Shinji, my chef for the night, guided me into the dinner with a tai red snapper topped with grated wasabi and squeezed with lemon. Since tai tends to be a more delicate fish, it was nice to have some acidity in the citrus. I glanced at a bowl sitting above me on the countertop; sure enough, they had real wasabi root. I asked if I was eating the real thing or the imitation paste. He glanced in front of me, and placed a dollop of something slightly duller green next to the heap of wasabi. Real wasabi, a true rarity, tastes much more herbal and earthy than its doppelganger. There isn't as much eye-watering either. Given the chance, make sure you look for the real thing.
Next was a bonito with a little fried garlic on top. It tasted sweet, meaty and wholesome. No wonder bonito flakes seem to be used everywhere. But this was my first time having it as a sushi. The chutoro medium fatty bluefin tuna belly was satisfyingly melty, but not as decadent as some of the truly fatty toro I've had before. Next came a fish I'd never heard of prior to Kiriko - kinmedai Goldeneye Snapper. Besides sounding like a villain from a James Bond movie, the fish also has a soft white flesh similar to tai. Of course I didn't get much of that delicate flesh because Shinji went to town on it with a blowtorch. This wasn't a dinky brulee torch either, it actually enveloped the counter in flames. I later saw him do the same thing for a seared scallop sushi. It may be partly for show, but who doesn't love the tricks at Benihana.
I generally like ebi more than amaebi raw shrimp, but the one I had today was clearly very fresh, thereby incredibly sweet. It even tasted almost like lobster. Of course, the waitress later brought my the fried shrimp head, something I've never figured out quite how to eat.
Tempura shrimp head served with ponzu
Shinji served me wild king salmon with caviar next. I never had wild salmon sushi before, though I had heard that some people refuse to eat farmed salmon because it was terrible in comparison. Now I know exactly how those people feel. As with game animals, wild salmon had much higher concentrations of the flavors that make salmon what it is. Too often have I had buttery salmon that is indistinguishable from any other heavily marbled fish. The mirugai geoduck had a few drops of lemon to mask the ocean flavor. I had both aji jack mackerel and saba blue mackerel. Though saba tends to have a heavier vinegar flavor due to the preparation process, I found this saba to be almost as subtle sweetness as the aji.
I'm not usually a fan of ikura salmon roe, but this one was juicy and not at all briny. Too often it suffers from an overwhelming fishiness, but this ikura lacked it completely. It probably was a function of freshness. A good fish market should never smell like fish! I felt pretty full at this point and asked for one last piece. Shinji pulled out a tub of thick, brown sauce and stirred gently as it warmed. This was unagi freshwater eel sauce, not to be confused with the separate sauce they use for anago saltwater eel. I'm usually turned off by the sweetness of the eel, but there was none of that this time. Still, eel just didn't appeal to me as a sushi. I wouldn't mind it as part of a donburi instead.
Ikura salmon roe
With the sushi portion of the meal over, I asked for a dessert menu. I had heard that Kiriko prepared homemade ice cream that was amazing. Unfortunately, they do not allow customers to have dessert only, according to a Yelp review. The bark menu listed wild honey vanilla, honey sesame, bitter green tea, and brown sugar and ginger flavors. Upon recommendation by Shinji, I chose the brown sugar ginger. Turns out that the sushi chefs know their desserts too, otherwise every one of their ice creams is top notch. Be sure to try one on your own visit.
Physically and spiritually content, I rose from my chair and bid farewell to my chef, who had been the most important person in my life for the last hour. I reached to shake his hand, but realizing that it would probably have been a health code violation, he gave me an appropriate fist bump instead. I regret not chatting him up more, though I can rest assured there will definitely be another trip. Even better, I got out of there for less than $90.
11301 W Olympic Boulevard
West LA (Sawtelle), 90064
I had omakase for around $70 with the above listed items