Went to Restaurant Kikuchi on La Cienega last night for a friend's birthday. I had eaten there previously when it was Bistro 21, and remember having a very pleasant experience. I'm not sure exactly what has changed in this new incarnation -- it's the same chef/owner, the same hostess/wife, the same tiny space, and the same lovingly prepared, meticulous Franco-Japanese cuisine -- but in any case last night's meal measured up to and perhaps even surpassed my previous one.
The menu at Kikuchi is very simple, and allegedly changes every day. You choose between a 3-course prix fixe for $40, a 5-course omakase for $55 and, if you call in advance, a 7-course omakase for $80. No a la carte whatsoever. The prix fixe looked pretty tempting -- especially the 5-hour braised pig's feet in a Syrah reduction -- but we went with the 5-course omakase.
Hors d'oeuvres were excellent. Up first was a veal pate. Meaty, rich with flavor, but surprisingly light. Alaskan King Crab was next. Tender and succelent meat from the leg and claw, artfully presented, in a light white wine reduction.
Main courses were even better. Poached New Zealand snapper, served with bok choi in a scallop sauce. The fish was cooked perfectly, soft yet supple inside, contrasting very nicely with the mealier slivers of scallop. Then chicken in a port wine reduction. After I got over my initial disappointment at not being served something a little more exotic, I was blown away by this. The meat fell from the bone at a single prod, and then melted on the tongue, impossibly tender. The port sauce was the richest and most complex of the evening.
For dessert, we were served an impossibly light flourless chocolate cake, with a bittersweet orange maramalade, and whipped cream that was as airy as foam.
Wine list is adequate and reasonably priced, but there's nothing transcendental. As my friend no longer drinks, I opted for three wines by the glass, each between $7-10. Only one, a nice 2000 Cotes de Nuit, stood out.
This was one of my favorite recent dining experiences, along with visits to R23 and Mako. Most impressive was the simplicity of the dishes. Even though there was foie gras and Kobe-style beef on the prix fixe menu, everything we had was actually very straightforward in theory. However, the quality of the ingredients, and the subtle textures of the meat, fish and produce gave each dish a rare complexity and subtlety. Moreover, I was impressed that the sauces were so complementary and sparingly utilized -- nothing worse than oversaucing to destroy the balance of delicate flavors.
What I enjoyed most about Kikuchi is that it's like having a renowned chef cook you a meal in his home. From pretty much any table in the restaurant (there are only about eight) you can peer into the kitchen and watch him work (incidentally, he works alone -- I didn't notice a sous-chef or even a helper). Service is attentive, and the food comes out at perfect intervals -- not too fast, not too slow.
Damage, after tax and tip, was $175 for two. Not cheap, but not outrageous. The prix fixe at $40 seems like a real steal, though, especially with this kind of rare quality. I will be returning.