After reading a few of the solid reviews from Chowhounds already posted, a friend and I tried out the elegant new K-Zo in downtown Culver City (serving Japanese-French fusion)last night. It's only been open for three weeks and since it was half-full on a weeknight, it appears it's well on its way to becoming a local favorite.
First impression walking in the door (after the VERY enthusiastic traditional Japanese greeting from the staff) was that the space is lovely. While I'm not usually a fan of contemporary decor because I find it a bit cold and uninviting, this was very pleasing on the eye. Concrete and white walls with teak accents, clean lines overall, well-placed exotic flowers, a Kurosawa film playing in the bar in the background, and modern lighting created a relaxing, soft effect. It would be a good place to take business clients because it looks fancy but is actually pretty casual, and the service is friendly yet efficient. Also, they seem to have an interesting variety of sakes which we didn't try, which could make a business dinner a little more interesting!
The menu: although they do serve sushi (which has been discussed already on this board), my friend and I decided to try their small bites/small plates. There were lists for both cold and hot small plates, as well as a list of daily specials. The waitress was very helpful and friendly, but her recommendations were a little on the safe side (I'm Asian and used to eating weird stuff), so we ventured out on our own. For the cold bites, we settled on sunomono (cucumber salad) with eel, and steamed monkfish liver which they called 'foie gras from the sea' both from the regular menu, and a crab and avocado salad, and oysters on the half shell with uni and osetra caviar from the daily specials menu.
For hot bites, we chose deep-fried softshell crab with ponzu,
black cod with sweet miso, marinated japanese eggplant, and hotate dynamite which was broiled scallops and mushrooms in a mayonnaise sauce.
Presentation for everything was elegant, but because the dishes for each plate were rather large, the waitress had to pull up another table to accomodate all our goodies. Oink! My friend wished that the server brought out all the cold things first so that the hot things stayed hot, but this was really a minor complaint. Most of the dishes were good to very good. Interestingly, the two items from the special menu were our least favorite! The crab salad was made with fresh crab but was a little dull, even with the two sauces brought to serve with them (one a balsamic reduction). The oysters were a little too briny, so adding the also-briny uni on top was a bit overwhelming...a sweeter oyster like a Malpeque would have worked better. Luckily I tasted the osetra first before tipping the whole lot into my mouth so that I got a taste, because its subtlety was lost in all that brine.
Our suprise favorite was the sunomono, which was served along with both dark purple and green seaweed, giving a lovely combination of textures and colors. My friend loved the eggplant and hotate dynamite, while I favored the monkfish liver, also served with seaweed, that was a little too strong for her. The softshell crab and black cod were good, just, um, average...we've had both better at other places. The crab could have been a bit hotter and crispier, which is the best part of the whole softshell crab experience. And the cod, while pretty and tasty, was room temperature so that initially I couldn't remember if it was supposed to be a cold or hot dish.
We were both full at the end, but not unpleasantly so. If we were extra hungry, we planned to order sushi as well, but didn't need it. However, we were disappointed to not have room for the red bean, sesame or green tea ice cream or the ubiquitous creme brulee that our waitress offered for dessert.
For all the above, with one beer and one bottle of sparkling water, $85 before tip. My friend and I both are adding K-Zo to our list of good restaurants because there were other small plates and the prix fixe that we would like to try. And we'll definitely bring clients for business dinners. Once they get some of the little things like timing and temperature fixed, K-Zo will be a small sparkling little gem in downtown Culver City.