Uphill Alert at Kitsho in Cupertino
I was very impressed by Kitsho on my initial visit. The kitchen excels at dishes such as the housemade 3-flavor tofu (1 made with soybean, 1 with greenbean, 1 with black bean) the tempura udon, the chicken karaage, and the hamachi kama. The fish was pretty good in quality (8 out of 10) and they do have a very interesting selection (tonight they had kinmedai, kibinago, iwashi, kawahagi, and shima aji) but the sushi rice was horrible on my initial visit (3, maybe).
Since then, I've tried their nigiri in moderation for fear of the oddly tastless rice. And each time, I was surprised that the rice was more flavorful than I remembered. At first, I chalked it up to some of the pre-sauced shoyu affecting the rice (as was the case with the hamo eel nigiri). But tonight, the rice was well vinegared and seasoned. The kawahagi was the most impressive piece of the night. The flesh was firm and it was served with its own liver. It was not presauced and it allowed me to confirm that the sushi rice at Kitsho had indeed improved dramatically since the last visit. The kibinago was a touch fishy but it had a great texture. The iwashi was very fatty and creamy but there were very fine bones that distracted from the experience. Both the iwashi and the kibinago were sauced with a miso based sauce.
Overall, I'd have to up my Kitsho rating to a solid 8.0. The quality of the fish is probably just shy of an 8.0 but they get extra points for bringing in the exotic stuff. My updated rankings:
10- Sushi Yasuda (NYC). Perfect rice (his own mix), 40 types of fish, 5 types of fatty toro, 5 types of fatty hamachi, and multiple types of fresh grilled eel. The gold standard. Plus, he’s crazy and you have to love him.
9.5- Kurumazushi (NYC). Great quality, nice variety. But nothing like the variety Yasuda gets.
9.5- Jewel Bako (NYC). Again, great quality, and great variety, but the size is a little precious and the chef's skill is nowhere near Yasuda's.
9- Mori Sushi (LA). Great quality and knife-work. The rice is wonderful. The selection is limited though. Only about 15 types.
8.0 to 8.25-Kiriko (LA). The quality at times can be excellent but at times it can be slightly off (especially their kohada, aji, saba). The rice is a solid 8. On occasion, they do have fresh wasabi. The house-smoked salmon is excellent. The fresh matsutake soup is a must when in season. Not too much in terms of exciting variety although I did have live japanese mantis prawn and pristine baby bluefin tuna here.
8.0- Kaygetsu and Kappa (SF). Both have excellent fish quality, but limited selection. Kappa’s ranking is only for the quality of the sashimi since they don’t serve nigiri. Kaygetsu's fish may be upwards of a 8.5 if Toshi hides the good stuff behind the counter.
8.0- Nishimura (LA). Great quality, limited selection. Horrible attitude by the waitstaff. A very unpleasant dining experience. A 6 if you take the entire experience into account.
8.0- Kitsho (Cupertino). The fish is great and the variety is excellent, especially for the southbay. However, the cuts are a little bigger and less refined. The rice has greatly improved.
7.0- R23 (LA). Good quality, often times has live abalone but limited variety.
7.0- Ino (SF). Great Ankimo. He has a small imported variety from Japan. Pikefish was memorable. Way too much wasabi.
7.0- Zushi Puzzle (SF). I want to like Roger but his fish was too warm for my taste. He does get some very interesting fish (like his pencilfish) but he may be more of a "interesting rolls" type guy vs. pure nigiri specialist. Roger did introduce me to japanese uni though.
6.5- Sushi Tomi (MV). Good quality fish, and they import some stuff like shimaaji but about on par with Ino. Ino gets the edge with his ankimo and knifework.
5- Sasabune (LA). Good crab hand roll. Otherwise, watch out for the precut fish and don't be surprised if the skin is left on the mirugai. The hot rice is horrible and even worse when doused in sauce.
While Porthos has included his/her national sushi favourites, please keep discussion on this board focused on SF Bay Area restaurants. If you'd like to discuss the out of town choices on the list, please start a new thread on the appropriate board, and provide a heads up link here so people know to go check it out.
This is a radical idea: I am down on Kitsho for poor relative value. KK, whose opinion I trust more than anyone else's, is incredibly sweet on the place. While we often line up in total agreement (Akane, Sakae, Higuma, etc etc) we could not disagree more on this one place. If the four of us could somehow arrange lunch in front of Howard-san, we could settle it once and for all -- and have a GRAND time debating it in the process. Being a mere student of sushi, I can't think of anything nicer than being in the company of three sushi monsters, comparing notes bite-for-bite. Too bad Chowhound doesn't exactly facilitate user-to-user connections. Porthos, we have your e-mail. Humbucker? What do you three think? Is it something you feel would be worth doing -- considering the drive?
By the way, for those keeping score (and nobody is but me) I have only three more bottom-of-the-barrel picks in RWC to go before declaring Burlingame through Mountain View to be totally devoured ....
re: Sushi Monster
Sounds like the disagreement is more philosophical. Everyone thinks the fish quality is pretty good and the imported fish exciting. Sushi Monster, I think you dislike the fact that it's pricier. Most of the pieces I get there are around $5-$5.50 for 2 pieces which is reasonable for the kind of fish that they're bringing in. I will say that I think his toro is overpriced. He's charging o-toro prices for levels well below chu-toro.
Can't wait to see your final list.
Glad you are liking them again for their sushi rice. I remember my first visit to Kitsho was around 2002 and I was not impressed at all, but luckily I gave them another chance 2 years or so later and now practically near the top of my list.
Kawahagi (filefish) is the closest you will get in the Bay Area taste and texture wise to fugu, although I'm sure they are different in other ways. But yes that is a sweet and at times a bit firm piece of delicious white fish and that liver is supreme. At least you walk out alive :-)
Speaking of liver, I'm not a fan of Kitsho's ankimo...for some reason it doesn't hit the spot. Ditto for anago, especially for those who love this stuff.
I've had kibinago pre-sauced the same way (the sweet miso sauce) and ditto for sanma when it was in season a few months ago. That miso sauce is not as good as the one at Sushi Sam's or Sushi Tomi's when they use it to pre-sauce baby squid (hotaru ika) which appears to be in season during the summer.
Too bad Howard didn't have turbot (white fish from France), suzuki (seabass), and grouper on your visit; he had them the last 2 weeks of December and it made for quite a lavish white fish themed omakase (including hamachi, shimaaji, kanpachi of course).
Thank you for the scholarly and very thorough report. My main complaint, based on only a single visit to Kitsho, was value (the price per nigiri plate was astronomical). I left $78 lighter for lunch convinced it was undeniably high-quality fish but still a very poor value overall. I'll have to get around to giving them another chance sometime.
Porthos, what's your take on a head-to-head comparison between Kitsho and its semi-neighbor Kuni? If I recall, you had a lot of Kuni experience under your belt ....
re: Sushi Monster
Sushi Monster, I have not been to Kuni. My southbay experience is less extensive than yours. You risk multiple bad meals to find that one gem...which is true dedication. The way I see it, 2 or 3 bad meals at subpar sushi restaurants at approx $40 each is one fine meal I can have at a premier sushi establishment. Even Yasuda's omakase starts at $75 per person.
I'm still waiting for you to try Kaygetsu to see how you like that compared to Sakae or even Sebo to see if it displaces Sakae as your top sushi restaurant.