Friends visiting from the East Coast stayed at the Hotel Majestic last week. One is a sushi lover, and the other is not so enamored with raw fish. Just two blocks away, Kiss was the perfect compromise and a great opportunity for me to try it for the first time.
We each ordered the $42 omakase ($60 per person is also offered) plus one of the abalone special from the daily menu to share. Soon the first taste, an amuse-bouche of hijiki salad blended with edamame and mountain vegetables appeared for a mix of crunchy, soft and creamy textures. Daikon greens added a peppery bite. The haunting, slightly smoky seasoning was a subtle introduction to the nuanced use of dashi here.
The special abalone, served in the shell, had raw cubes of the gastropod swathed in an earthy, briny-tasting sauce made of its liver. These were topped with snipped chives and garnished with aromatic purple and green leaves of dewy fresh shiso. Though the taste was of the sea, it was remarkably unsalty. I noticed the pile of fluffy "salt" supporting the abalone shell and added a dab of it to my next bite. It enhanced the taste quite a bit making the abalone sweeter and brightening the flavor of the liver sauce. We joked that the salt must be ajinomoto. Whatever it was, it lifted this dish from merely good to outstanding.
The first dish of the tasting menu was my favorite of the night, a mound of cold tofu paste binding together salty and crunchy kazunoko (herring roe), juicy batons of sweet Asian pear, and slightly bitter Japanese mustard greens. It looked like frozen yogurt with mix-ins. The grainy and creamy texture of the tofu paste reminded me a lot of fresh ricotta. I loved the interplay of the textures with salty, sweet, and bitter flavors against the blankness of the fresh tofu.
The sashimi sampler featured madai (with the red-toned skin on), ika, mirugai, maguro, and young suzuki. This was my first taste of madai, which I'd never heard of until KK mentioned it on this site a few weeks ago. The mirugai was exceptional, cut perfectly for a tender crunch and almost candy sweet. These were arranged beautifully with shiso and daikon threads. I appreciated the fresh grated wasabi, and the seasoned soy sauce had a bit of sweetness.
A mix of ground smoked salmon and a more delicate white fish encased in a chewy wrapper of browned tofu skin was our first hot dish. It was scorching hot, in fact, as were the other hot courses that followed. The pool of delicately flavored dashi was too mild, as this dish needed more flavor punch. Again, I felt it was underseasoned and would have benefited from more salt. I didn't finish my portion of this dish.
The chawan-mushi, presented in a cute lidded cocotte along with a wooden spoon, was excellent and brimming with a variety of mushrooms, gingko nuts, a snow pea pod, and delicate white fish filets. One quibble is that I would have preferred more of the silky and ultra-tender egg custard and less of the distractions. This was a wet version with savory dashi flowing over top and became sloshy and almost soup-like as one spooned out the solids. The mushrooms and fish were unsalted and quite bland, only taking on character when combined in the mouth with a good amount of the dashi.
The nigiri sushi sampler included hamachi, marinated maguro, salmon, and hirame. The hamachi was fabulous, but the other fishes didn't stand out. The rice was on the firm side and rather granular. With an almost lemony tartness, the non-sweet marinade accented the fish well. The rice was molded nicely and proportioned well.
The last dish was a thick red miso soup chockful of enoki, shitake, buna shimeji, and hiratake. This was very flavorful, but I found myself wanting a bit more salt to bring out more depth. Oddly though, after I finished my serving, I had that parched feeling in my mouth of having eaten something highly seasoned. So perhaps there was more salt in this dish than I felt initially.
Our meal ended with a slice of honeydew melon. It was better than expected for this time of year, quite ripe and flavorful.
We ordered a couple sakes from the extensive list of junmais. Our server had recommended the Essyu ($9.50) and the Jyuyondai ($14.50) when I asked for something on the dry side. I didn't care for either of them and found the Essyu quite sweet.
The intimate setting with the standards playing in the background and the service are standouts at Kiss. The sense of serenity is a welcome change from lively izakaya or noisy sushi bars. We liked the pacing and the cooking here very much. And when price is taken into account, Kiss is one of the best values around.