After reading and talking about it with various people on CH the last few days, I found myself on the 405 around lunchtime today after finishing an errand and decided on a whim to try Kiriko for the first time. The sushi bar was about half-full, as were the tables, when I entered. I opted to sit at the bar and was seated in front of Chef Tomo, I believe. I ordered the $40 sushi omakase (10 pieces of sushi, soup, and salad) and away I went.
1. Tomo-san placed a piece of bluefin chutoro nigiri on my geta and instructed me to eat it with shoyu. I had gotten so used to not using shoyu when having sushi at Shunji that I was momentarily nonplussed, but I got over that quickly. The first thing I noticed upon eating it was that the shari was warmer than I'm used to at other places, but that was quickly overshadowed by the flavor and texture of the chutoro. It didn't so much melt in my mouth as it just instantly incorporated itself into the rice. The combination of the warmth and tang of the rice with the coolness and, uh, toro-ness of the chutoro was sublime.
(I'm not sure if I was supposed to get it before the sushi or not, but I was served my salad at this point. Simple greens and a vinaigrette dressing of some kind, it was good and not what I expected from a sushi restaurant, which I suppose would have been something like mizuna with a sesame oil or miso-based dressing. I ate it between the next couple pieces of nigiri.)
2. To follow the chutoro, I was served a piece of "regular" (akami/akamai?) bluefin tuna nigiri, probably from the same fish. It was quite delicious, but I think I like Shunji's hon maguro nigiri better. It also had an incredibly hard act to follow after the chutoro. (Unfortunately, this was the only piece I forgot to take a picture of.)
(The miso soup was brought out at this point, while I still had not finished my salad. Again, not sure how the timing of these things are supposed to come out, but it seemed a little chaotic juggling soup, salad, and sushi simultaneously.)
3. & 4. Next I got yellowtail and red snapper nigiri, served together.
I asked Tomo-san what kind of yellowtail it was, having just had inada at Shunji the night before. He said it was “regular yellowtail, hamachi” but explained that it was very high quality. It tasted very good, but not especially different from the quality hamachi that I’ve had before.
On the other hand, the tai nigiri was amazing. It had either “lemon salt” or ‘lemon and salt” topping it (the restaurant was pretty noisy, so I couldn’t hear Tomo-san that well), and it was so refreshing and accentuated the tai, and made it one of the better pieces of the omakase.
5. & 6. Tomo-san then served me a small plate with two pieces of nigiri on it, aji and bonito. Since both were sauced, I thought it was a nice touch, and great attention to detail, to serve them on the plate rather than on the geta.
I’ve had aji sushi many times before, and this was very good, but like the hamachi above, it was not especially different from the high quality aji I’ve had before. One thing that made it stand out a little more, interestingly, was the kizami negi. Actually, I’m not sure that it was scallions, as the diameter seemed rather small. Maybe it was asatsuki or nira or some other chive-like plant.
I’ve had bonito sushi less often, but I have had it before. However, I can’t remember the last time I had it, so I can’t compare Kiriko’s katsuo nigiri to anything else. It was delicious, more tart than I expected, like it was marinated before it was seared, but it was definitely the fish itself and not the ponzu that was the source of the extra tang.
7. Next I got a piece of the homemade smoked salmon nigiri with caviar. I was hoping to be served this as I had read about it and was very curious. It was unlike any salmon sushi I’ve had. The smoke was very subtle, definitely not like the smoked salmon one has on bagels. Does anyone know what kind of wood is used? It adds a really interesting flavor, and it was probably the best salmon sushi I’ve ever had.
8. I was hoping for a mollusk of some sort during the omakase, and I was not disappointed, as Tomo-san put down a piece of hotate nigiri on my geta. It had the same sea salt and lemon that topped the tai, which again elevated what it was sprinkled on. The scallop was plump and sweet and went perfectly with the salt and citrus.
9. The last piece of nigiri was I think kinmedai, wild golden eye snapper (again, it was noisy, and I couldn’t hear exactly what Tomo-san said, but it was definitely “[something]-snapper” and was reddish like kinmedai). This was a very interesting piece of sushi. I was not expecting the seared skin to be as salty as it was, but it was very salty, almost too much so. Fortunately, when I began to incorporate the piece in my maw, it mixed with the very plump and mild flesh and the rice, which balanced things out. I would definitely order this again.
10. Last, but certainly not least, was the blue crab handroll. I’ve had my share of this at other sushi restaurants, and it is almost always too mayonnaise-y. With Kiriko’s, you could barely taste the mayo, but something was holding the generous serving of crab meat together. A really really great way to end the meal.
By the time I left, the restaurant was nearly full. I have to say Tomo-san did a fantastic job. He somehow simultaneously made me feel like I had his attention the whole time, carefully preparing my individual pieces while he cranked out at least a half dozen "Sawtelle Sushi moriwase" ("2pcs of yellowtail, 3pcs of albacore, 2pcs of salmon and spicy tuna roll") for the regular lunch crowd. He also timed the courses well, so I was not rushed nor did I have to wait very long for the next piece.
To wrap up, I was very impressed, and for straight sushi I’ll definitely have to come back to Kiriko (I know they have interesting cooked dishes and desserts too), at least until I save up enough to try Mori. Actually, after going to both Shunji and Kiriko in less than 24 hours, I think I have to switch to my Tung-I Instant Rice Noodles (Chinese Onion Flavor) consumption mode for a while to be able to afford to go to any of these places again in the near future.