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Restaurants & Bars 5

revisiting kaimuki grill, san mateo (long)

brad kaplan | Jan 30, 200210:34 PM

it had been a while since my wife and i last ate at kaimuki (which has been mentioned previously as a good stop in san mateo), and we had a hankerin for their tuna poki tonight. we got there around 6:30, which was good because about 15 minutes later there was a line out the door. kaimuki is a small place with a friendly atmosphere - the decor a mixture of japanese and hawaiian. it's the kind of place i wish i went to more frequently, just to get to know the friendly staff better, as well as for the comforting food.

we ordered the poki and the goma-ae (spinach with sesame sauce), both of which we had enjoyed before. and we also checked out the specials, and recognized very few of them. the waitress took the time to explain each one, and we decided on a couple that sounded good - namely a negi toro handroll, and a grilled maguro kama, which was translated as tuna collar.

the tuna poki arrived and i noticed that it has evolved a bit - previously square chunks of the maguro marinated with a whole lot of sliced onion, now it was almost a salad, quite a bit of lettuce, less onion, and a combo of chunks and thin slices of the pinker paler cuts of fish (don't know what that's called). it was still great, i enjoyed the lettuce as opposed to all onion complementing the texture of the tuna, but there was less fish for the money. still a good deal though at $7 i think. they said people had complained that there were too many onions, thus the changes.

the goma-ae is a fabulous dish, served cold, the spinach has just the right amount of chewiness to it, and the sauce is a great combination of sweet and twangy (is that a word?). we wished we had ordered two, and next time we probably will.

i'm usually not a fan of handrolls, but this negi toro hit the spot - the nori was crisp, the toro chopped without being mushy, and the rice perfectly cooked. it was a simple combination done right.

and finally, the dish that was a real unusual one, for us at least, was the maguro kama. this was served on the bone (and you don't often see thick bones like this when you order fish), most of the meat on one side, charred a bit on the edges. served with lemon slices, a light dipping sauce like you get with tempura, and chopped white and red japanese radish (again, sorry, don't know the name). the meat was very tender, fatty enough but not to the point of being TOO fatty, and had a nice smokey flavor throughout. it was fun digging around the bone, which has a strange shape to it, seeking out the meat, and this looks like it could be a piece of lamb if you didn't know better. as with the other dishes, this was simply prepared, perfectly cooked, and totally pleasing. the squeezed lemon and the dipping sauce worked well with the fish and the radish all together.

so, suffice it to say we really enjoyed kaimuki grill and hope to get back there much more frequently. you can probably find more pristine fish, especially if you want straight sashimi, but if you are looking for some expertly done comfort food at good prices and in a friendly casual environment, this is the place for you. aloha!

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