Friday, December 23, 2011

Kiriko Sushi - Making Its Mark at the Olympic Collection

Olympic Collection brings back many memories - that complex on the corner of Olympic and Sawtelle with its boutique shops, restaurants and bakeries anchored around an event space - was the answer, back in college, whenever anyone asked where we wanted to eat. There was the college kid wallet friendly udon place, Mishima - that wasn't too rough on the palate either (back then). Same goes for Hong Kong Cafe (decent offering of authentic Chinese without long drive to SGV). And a laid back bar on the first floor, if we wanted to drink and hang out a bit afterwards.

Now, 'all grown up' - even if just on a cellular level, not so much mental/ emotional - I still love to visit the area to indulge cravings for quirky/tasty snacks like chocolate filled koala shaped cookies, and chips so spicy the bag features an image of a grandma breathing unseen fire into the air, at Nijiya Market across the street. Recently the much buzzed about Tsujita, with its Tsukemen (cooled noodles you dip into fish/pork broth slow cooked for hours!) just opened a lil ways down as well - and I cant wait to try it. But on a rather hot day, I decided to go with Kiriko Sushi, on the 1st floor of Olympic Collection.

Kiriko may not always come up on lists of Top Sushi Places in LA, but perhaps only because it's not a place that's big on self-promotion nor takes an 'of the moment' approach - but rather inauspiciously serves up high quality sea creatures and their own modern take on sushi in their cozy space with a handful of tables around a featured bar.

At first I was drawn to the blackboard featuring a lunch special that seemed to have a LOT of stuff offered for $15 (4 courses?!)...

But I had heard great things about Kiriko's specialty sushi / sashimi and decided that should be my first experience of the place...

So I swung all the way to the other extreme and went for the Omakase - Sashimi & Sushi ($46) which touts "Today's best selection of fish picked by chef (assorted sashimi, 5pcs of sushi, soup and salad). This ended up being quite a bit more food than I expected!

First up: Miso soup and salad - these were classics, well executed. Both tasted incredibly fresh and a nice way to kick off the meal.
Kiriko doesn't waste any time with making a great impression - the first dish (sashimi/Japanese tapas plate #1) was beautifully plated, and had me at hello.

I LOVED that they don't play it safe with standard slices of fish first, but dive straight into service of more exciting sea creatures / sea creature parts.

Monkfish Liver with fermented soybean sauce - I was so excited to see this 'foie gras of the sea' on the platter! Apparently this comes from one of the ugliest fish in the sea, but its liver at least is beautiful and full of vitamins and minerals that are good for you. This was the freshest monkfish liver I've ever had (ok, so from a big sample size of two) - texture that's silky smooth, lush and somewhere between butter and firm tofu, rich but subtle flavor that is to me like a nutty and less bold version of lobster tomalley.

The topping of fermented soybean sauce makes it more like a Japanese tapas item and gives it extra flavor without overwhelming the natural richness of what I'm just gonna call 'monkfish foie'. Loved this.
Octopus a classic, well prepared - not sure if they massaged these tentacles, played Mozart to it, whispered sweet nothings etc. but whatever their method, these pieces were tEnDeR as heck! Loved that it was served up in pristine form with just a gentle dab of fresh wasabi.

Surf Clam with fresh seaweed - I loved the presentation of the third item on the plate - served up in a lovely pearlized ceramic clam-shaped dish, with fresh tendrils and folds of seaweed strewn over the clam, as if it had literally just washed up on shore this way.

Clam can be tough if not cooked right, but Kiriko's preparation was perfect, soft yet slightly chewy, juicy and tasting of fresh ocean water.

As almost sort of like a palate cleanser in between plates, next up was an item from their appetizer section - Mango Wrapped in Smoked Salmon with caviar. The salty, soft and yieldy slice of salmon was an interesting pairing with the tart/tangy crunchy cut of fruit -punctuated by the brine of the black caviar spheres.

Next up was a Sashimi plate #2. Starting on the far left: Kampachi-carpaccio (amberjack), served with rounds of jalapenos and a vinegar fish roe gelee. I loved the vinegar fish roe gelee for its different twist on the usual brush of vinegar in liquid form over sushi. However, I did find that the combination of acute acidity and heat from the jalapenos did somewhat overwhelm the carpaccio instead of letting its natural, pure flavors shine or giving it an assist to let it shine first.

In the middle atop a shiso leaf are Albacore Tuna slices with fried shallots and tobiko- this would probably tie for my favorite of the plate - albacore tuna doesn't have much star power on its own, and in contrast to other fish that I would want to taste in a clean, pure way - when put in unusual combination with fried shallots (for crunchy explosions of pungent flavor) and tobiko (lovely bursts of subtle salinity), and unique taste of the shiso leaf, was elevated to bites of beauty.

Lastly, to the far right, my other tie for favorite item on the plate: Tako Sakurani (tender Japanese octopus slices) with a thin line of ponzu sauce. Loved the unusual cut of octopus, which almost took on a squid like appearance and textural quality. The ponzu sauce also cut through nicely with bit of tartness.

Then came a series of sushi rolls, starting with Toro sushi - a nice, fatty and perfectly sized piece of tuna over a well-formed and just barely perceptibly warm rice roll.
Red Snapper sushi - another lovely slice sprinkled with tiny bits of seaweed.

Ok I should know what this one is but I didn't write it down so if you know what it is, please tell me!

Goldeneye Red Snapper sushi - this was my favorite of the sushi rolls, yes, I'm predictable by now about my love for the unusual. So yes, I loved this one - haven't seen it in many sushi places - maybe just Kiriko and Asanebo

The color, texture (lightly pan-fried so that the skin has an exquisite, slight, salty smokiness, and the outside is just barely cooked while the inside is still tender and raw), taste are all beautiful. Top it off with a dab of yuzu kosho ( A fermented paste made of yuzu rind, chili peppers, and salt) for tart/bitter/heat and it's perfection in a roll.

For the grand finale - a Crab Hand Roll that gave the meal a sweet, satisfying finish with the softest, freshest, sweetest crab balanced with sesame for fragrant crunch, and perky rice all wrapped in a crisp sheet of fresh toasted nori.
All in all, I definitely enjoyed the unusual offerings more, but also preferred the ones that let the clean flavors of the sea creatures shine.

Though $46 is much more than I would normally spend on lunch, I found the omakase at Kiriko worth the splurge - if nothing else, as a defiant reaffirmation of this phase of my life (yes, I've long graduated from the Mishimas of the world - I make my own money and this is how I choose to enjoy it...cue Destiny's Child song?).

On the flip side, when I do get back to the realities of my regular budget, I will have their $15 lunch deal to look forward to checking out as well.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%

Kiriko Sushi
11301 Olympic Blvd #102, West Los Angeles, CA 90064
Ph: 310.478.7769

Kiriko on Urbanspoon


  1. Great post. I've had many great meals at Kiriko. I believe the one you didn't write down was buri?

  2. Hey Chris, thanks for stopping by. Buri sounds right for that unidentified piece, thanks! What are your favorites at Kiriko?

  3. That's a good question. I've gotten the omakase at dinner on each of my visits, and they've mixed it up pretty well each time. I suggest doing that to get the full Kiriko experience :)



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