I am lucky to have a good friend who is fluent in Japanese. Not only does he ply me with hard to find Japanese Whiskey on his frequent trips overseas, he brings me to his favorite ramen, sushi and other restaurants in town. I don't know if his chatting with the sushi chef gets us better food, but hey, it can't hurt.
His latest favorite for sushi is Kiriko in West LA, which lies at the southern tip of Sawatelle's Japanese commercial strip. Recently, he took me there and we enjoyed an appetizer/sushi omakase (tasting menu) sitting at the sushi bar.
I like sushi, but I'm all about the big, bold and complex, and fine sushi is a subtle undertaking. I can get excited about monk fish liver, roe and uni, with their richness and deep flavors, but I have to admit, the mere presence of raw fish on rice, even a fine toro, while good, doesn't really get me that excited. That all changed at Kiriko, but we'll get there.
The appetizers were non-sushi dishes. I loved the salted ginko nuts, soft, warm bright yellow nuts topped with sea salt, which we washed down with sake. These were the perfect bar snack, warm, nutty, salty...the flavor was similar to a chestnut but without the sweetness. I could get really addicted to these.
The nuts were accompanied by a piece of mango wrapped in a home-smoked salmon topped with caviar. The salmon was wonderful, having a real smoky taste; the taste of the char was in it, like a good Islay Scotch. The mango was a great counterpoint...a simple but well executed dish.
In terms of the sushi courses, all of it was very good, and I especially liked the toro (fatty tuna) and the uni. I'm a big uni fan, and Kiriko served us fresh uni caught at Catalina Island and dabbed with a drop of lemon juice...near perfect.
But what really got me going was kinmedai, or golden eye snapper sushi. This was the first time I'd had this red-tinged white fish. The taste was transcendent...it was so much more than raw fish. It had some of the fattiness of toro but also, a deep creaminess, a smoothness that was countered well by both rice and soy sauce.
The flavor was subtle but inherently attractive and magically enticing. We asked for another piece after our entire omakase was done.
I am, finally, a fish and rice convert.
11301 W Olympic Blvd # 102*
Los Angeles, CA 90064
*While the address is Olympic, Kiriko is actually on the west side of Sawtelle, just north of Olympic. Parking is available and validated at the Banquet Center parking on the northwest corner of Olympic and Sawtelle.