Kiriko- Los Angeles

In a fickle city like Los Angeles where restaurants turn over as quickly as the tides, and chefs shuffle in the blink of an eye, nothing is more valuable than a reliable restaurant where you have a long standing relationship with the staff.  Hype, celebrity status and good PR may fill the tables on opening night, but only quality, character and consistency will keep them coming for years to come.  Consistency, in particular, is a virtue that even the best restaurants in the city fall short of.  How many times have you returned in hopes of reliving the splendor of a certain delicious dish, only to find that it didn’t taste quite as good the second or third time around?  Such disappointments are bound to halt reservations and make that restaurant a thing of the past.

Consistency, quality and most of all respect for the chefs and the respect with which they treat their products, are what has kept me coming back to Kiriko for 12 years since their opening in 1999.  For me Kiriko fulfills my need for いつもの味、いつもの笑顔, which translates to ‘the same flavor, the same smile’, again a tribute to how important consistency is from a diner’s perspective.  I may have cheated on Kiriko a few times over the years to try other sushi restaurants, but I always come back home to Kiriko where I know that I can count on the best food.

Executive chef Ken Namba grew up in Tsukiji, the most famous fish market in the world, while getting inspiration from his parents who run a restaurant there. The sushi here is spectacular, and what I consider to be one of the best in Los Angeles.  At Kiriko you can get it all- traditional dishes are perfectly executed, while modern preparations with a drizzle of truffle oil or a hint of pepper demonstrate his playfulness and creativity.

There is a comfort in being a regular and having your usual chair, your usual spot, the same friendly welcome and the same flawless dishes that become a part of your repertoire.  Red snapper sushi with sprinklings of sea salt and a dash of yuzu rinds is how I always commence my meal, with uni topped with freshly grated wasabi, tender mirugai sashimi, house smoked king salmon, engawa (halibut fin) and seared fatty toro following soon after.  Sushi doesn’t get any better than this even in most places in Japan.

Kiriko has an extensive daily specials menu in both English and Japanese, but many items don’t make it onto the English menu simply because they aren’t translatable.  A winter delicacy called shirako, for one, surely doesn’t sound appetizing in English- cod sperm sac.  Yet Kiriko’s version is elegant, the pearly white sacs of warm milky cream mingling with the tartness of ponzu.

Mekabu salad with okra and grated yamaimo/Japanese yam is also difficult to translate both in concept and in texture.  Mekabu, which are the flowering sprouts of wakame seaweed, have a distinct gooey slimy texture.  At Kiriko these greens get mixed with even slimier companions, sliced okra and grated yamaimo, and spooned over generous chunks of tender tuna.

A traditional Taiwanese dish of century eggs on tofu gets a Kiriko twist when the dark preserved eggs get chopped up and mixed with silken tofu and accented with house made la-yu chili oil.  The preserved duck eggs are also known as 1000 year old eggs, or pitan in Japanese, something that a diner looking for spicy tuna rolls may not necessarily be inclined to order.

Ankimo, or monkfish liver, comes with chopped asatsuki chives, spiced grated daikon radish and the most delightful ponzu gelée.  Jiggly little minced cubes of dark brown gelée, unlike drizzled liquid ponzu, stay put on the succulent slices of savory liver and pack some powerful tartness and concentrated flavor.

Ankimo sautéed with garlic and soy sauce on a recent visit was smokey, buttery and delicious, making the sake flow ever so freely.

Hama hama oysters, when in season, are garnished with a dash of ponzu and a dollop of chili daikon radish to accent the natural brininess of the meaty treasures while Kusshi from British Columbia are best enjoyed with a simple squeeze of citrus.

While Chef Ken, Chef Tomo and Chef Shinji work the front of the house making sushi, sashimi and cold appetizers, Chef Kiyoshi (and sometimes Ken) works wonders in the back kitchen, churning out splendid hot dishes and entrées like crispy deep fried gobo (burdock root) stacked like logs, shrimp stuffed eggplant in daikon radish sauce, soft shell crab tempura and daily specials like kajiki maguro (swordfish) yuan yaki which comes out buttery, tender and divine.

Sushi is the main attraction at Kiriko, but the vegetable platter is not to be missed.  Through the delicately prepared assortment of 5 fresh vegetables that change with the seasons, one can get a taste of traditional Japanese flavors.  Japanese pumpkin amani, sweet and tender like a freshly churned block of butter, spinach and shiitake mushroom ohitashi garnished with shaved bonito flakes, green beans tossed with white sesame dressing in a classic ingen no goma-ae preparation, thinly sliced lotus roots kinpira style and a refreshing salad of mizuna greens and daikon radish in a pickled plum ume vinaigrette are beautiful and delicious.

As if the food isn’t good enough, the desserts at Kiriko are even better.  Everything is made from scratch with the freshest ingredients, like Chef Ken’s tomato gelée, the most dainty cube of delicate fruity savor, bursting with the sweetness and subtle acidity of heirloom tomatoes at its summer peak, served with a drizzle of olive oil and basil ribbons.  I’ve only had the pleasure of having this once, but it left a lasting impression on my palate.

House made ice creams and sorbets are delectable- the green tea ice cream reflects the true bitterness of Japanese matcha, the black sesame ice cream a creamy earthy dark delight, the ginger brown sugar ice cream not skimping on the characteristic medicinal zing of ginger, and the black truffle ice cream, if you’re so lucky to be dining at Kiriko on a day that it’s served, packed full of that unique prized earthiness that we so love.

Unlike certain other sushi restaurants in Los Angeles that scowl at customers who want spicy tuna rolls and California rolls, Kiriko doesn’t discriminate against such diners.  They’re too nice to impose judgement on anybody that walks through their doors.  They will happily make these rolls for you, although you would be missing out on the real delicacies that they’ve flown in from Tsukiji market, like hiramasa, shimaaji, kinmedai, kamasu, kampachi, bincho and tako no sakurani.  Sound unfamiliar to you?  That’s exactly why you have to trust these talented chefs and discover a whole new way to enjoy sushi in the best sushi restaurant in Los Angeles.

Kiriko Sushi

11301 W Olympic Blvd # 102
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 478-7769

Random trivia:  Did you know that according to myth, century eggs were once prepared by soaking eggs in horse urine?   The myth probably comes from the pungent odor of ammonia which is reminiscent of urine.

Todd English P.U.B. – Las Vegas

Boy meets girl.  Boy and girl fall in love.  Boy proposes with a 6-carat diamond ring.  Boy whisks girl away to Croatia, where he surprises her with a private (but not legal) wedding ceremony on a yacht. Boy presents girl with a prenup saying that girl will get nothing upon divorce.  Girl allegedly attacks boy with his Chopard watch and tears up the prenup agreement.  Boy goes to the hospital to get 7 stitches next to his eye.

Boy disappears a week before the $150,000 wedding.  Girl goes crazy.  Boy phones girl a few hours before the wedding to call it off.  Girl later learns that boy had called his friends and family days before the wedding to tell them that it wasn’t happening.  Girl gets slapped with the outstanding bill for the lavish wedding.  Girl goes public and does a tell-all interview, calling boy an animal.  Girl gets charged for assault in the Chopard incident.  Girl is ordered by the court to do community service and attend anger management classes.

This is not a script for Eva Longoria’s character in Desperate Housewives- it’s the true life story of her Beso business partner, Chef Todd English, and the romance-gone-wrong fiasco that unfolded last year.  If you thought that soap opera plots only happened to Hollywood celebrities, then you’re in for a surprise.  The culinary world is packed with jaw dropping drama, from the recent murder charges against Food Network TV Chef Juan-Carlos Cruz for soliciting homeless men in a plot to murder his wife, to Paula Deen being sued for trademark infringements.  We still don’t know who fathered Padma Lakshmi’s baby, and let us not forget the ordeal with America’s criminal sweetheart, Martha Stewart.

Despite headline news of chefs gone bad, it’s hard to resist patronizing their restaurants when their food is good.  I felt intense moral guilt about dining at Todd English’s recent venture in Las Vegas, knowing that I was financially supporting his bad boy behavior, but on that particular late afternoon in Vegas, it sounded like the best option to satiate my appetite.  For a city that never sleeps, there are surprisingly very few options for all-day celebrity chef dining.  Las Vegas has become the new culinary mecca for internationally acclaimed chefs like Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse, but these places are usually only open for dinner.  Some places are open for lunch between 12-2:30pm, but honestly, if you’re up in time for lunch at noon, then you ain’t doing it right in Sin City.

When I stumbled out of bed at 3pm with ringing ears and a voracious appetite, still trying to make sense of the wine stains on my shirt (where did I go and what did I do last night?!), I reviewed my dining options.  Where can we find a decent brewski to numb that pounding headache?  Throwing back oysters at the raw bar at Bouchon in the Venetian seemed like an enticing option, but with a Bouchon back home in Los Angeles now, it wasn’t exciting.  Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay seemed painfully far from the center of the strip.  I wanted much more than dainty charcuterie at Batali’s Enoteca San Marco in the Venetian.  Gastropub fare at Crystals in the new CityCenter complex was the perfect solution.

James Beard Award-winning chef Todd English already had an Olives outpost in the Bellagio, but it was the back to back opening of Beso and adjacent PUB that marked his dynamic success in Vegas.  PUB, which stands for Public Urban Bar, opened 3 months ago with a wild opening party filled with juggling dwarf leprechauns and Vegas celebrities.

I remember seeing his original restaurant Olives, packed every night with enthusiastic patrons, back in the days when I spent my college years in Boston.  Little did I know that he would eventually become a national celebrity, opening numerous restaurants from Seattle to Orlando and even Los Angeles in his joint venture Beso with actress Eva Longoria.  With nearly 20 food establishments in the nation now, it’s an understatement to say that he’s spreading himself a little too thin, making me doubt whether dining at any one of his restaurants actually qualifies for eating Todd English’s cuisine.

Still, this new gastropub offering scrumptious comfort food and beers on tap at an affordable price is a welcome addition to the Vegas strip where the previous dining options meant a cheap bad meal or double down and bust.  The tiny door at the entrance is deceiving- I expected a small dark room crammed with patrons noshing on burgers, but instead I stepped into a surprisingly large and brightly lit industrial space that was split into several sections.  Dart boards decorated the walls of the banquette section on the right, leading to the back section filled with more tables that looked onto the semi-open kitchen.  A communal table accommodated a party of 10 by the raw bar at the edge of the circumferential bar, while smoking patrons basked in the afternoon Vegas sun outside on the patio.  I loved the tall ceilings in this English-pub-meets-Balthazar restaurant where we chose a barside table that looked out onto Julian Serrano’s restaurant next door at Aria.

In classic pub style, Executive Chef Isaac Carter enhances every dish with a generous serving of oil and butter to please all lagerphiles.  He started off  in the original Olives kitchen with Chef English, and continued on in numerous other English adventures like Kingfish Hall, Olives at the Bellagio and Beso at CityCenter.  The menu is upscale pub food, offering classics like fish and chips and sheperd’s pie, and satisfying simple cravings for good meat with tableside sandwich carvings of prime beef and roasted lamb while appealing to finicky gourmands with finger licking selections of duck buns and moules frites.  In addition to the bivalves and crustaceans from the raw bar, the items to get are the sliders, which range from traditional beef burger sliders to chicken parmesan to pastrami with kraut and swiss cheese.  Of course, PUB’s the name, and the entire flip side of the one sheet food menu lists a wealthy selection of malts and hops.

We started, naturally, with a plate of fish and chips to accompany our Stella Artois Pilsner and Pyramid Audacious Apricot Ale.  A half-inch thick layer of crunchy batter encased moist cuts of cod which we happily chased down with the refreshing bell pepper and cabbage cole slaw.  The thick cut fries were divine, and I couldn’t stop eating them, especially when dipped in the tart and wonderful malt vinegar aioli.

Freshly shucked Hama Hama oysters were the perfect hangover cure with a squeeze of lemon and a drop of shallot vinaigrette.

Chicken liver pâté with balsamic, garlic and onions served hot in a small cast iron pot was a gooey mound of intense gameyness.  The chopped egg and sliced scallion garnish did nothing to temper the overwhelming heartiness of the pâté, but the toasted challah bread triangles that it came with were a crunchy and heavenly delight.

The sensational winner at PUB was the brown butter lobster roll dish, made with freshly shucked Maine lobster tossed in a warm brown butter aioli and served with a side of kettle chips and creamy cole slaw.  The buttery and tasty lobster meat was tucked into an even more buttery soft bread, which was then lightly grilled with even more butter.  It was a lobster and butter marriage made in heaven, a sinful crustacean pleasure, and I still dream of going back to Vegas just to have another one of these rolls.

PUB at CityCenter is the perfect answer to those odd hour cravings.  Whether you’re looking for quick eats after emerging from an after hours club, rolling out of bed in your sweats in the late afternoon, or seeking a casual joint for late night cravings, this is a wonderful gastropub that will satisfy your belly without breaking your wallet.  If you’re a star struck fan of Chef Todd English, previously named one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People, then don’t get your hopes up.  You’ll probably never see him at PUB, or any of his other restaurants for that matter.  If you’re hesitant about feeding his business because you’re morally conflicted about chefs gone wild (was it a case of psycho bride-to-be or boy behaving badly?), then take a cab over to Hubert Keller‘s Burger Bar and support the ‘nice chefs’.

Todd English PUB

Crystals, City Center

3720 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 489-8080

Random trivia:  Did you know that the quintessential British dish of ‘fish and chips‘ originated in the 1860′s?  Deep fried fish and crispy potato wedges developed separately- fried potatoes spread south from Scotland while the popularity of fried fish moved north from Southern England, eventually merging in the first official fish and chip shop opened by a Jewish proprietor in London in 1860.