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Kiriko's $40 Lunch Sushi Omakase (Review and Pics)

After reading and talking about it with various people on CH the last few days, I found myself on the 405 around lunchtime today after finishing an errand and decided on a whim to try Kiriko for the first time. The sushi bar was about half-full, as were the tables, when I entered. I opted to sit at the bar and was seated in front of Chef Tomo, I believe. I ordered the $40 sushi omakase (10 pieces of sushi, soup, and salad) and away I went.

1. Tomo-san placed a piece of bluefin chutoro nigiri on my geta and instructed me to eat it with shoyu. I had gotten so used to not using shoyu when having sushi at Shunji that I was momentarily nonplussed, but I got over that quickly. The first thing I noticed upon eating it was that the shari was warmer than I'm used to at other places, but that was quickly overshadowed by the flavor and texture of the chutoro. It didn't so much melt in my mouth as it just instantly incorporated itself into the rice. The combination of the warmth and tang of the rice with the coolness and, uh, toro-ness of the chutoro was sublime.

(I'm not sure if I was supposed to get it before the sushi or not, but I was served my salad at this point. Simple greens and a vinaigrette dressing of some kind, it was good and not what I expected from a sushi restaurant, which I suppose would have been something like mizuna with a sesame oil or miso-based dressing. I ate it between the next couple pieces of nigiri.)

2. To follow the chutoro, I was served a piece of "regular" (akami/akamai?) bluefin tuna nigiri, probably from the same fish. It was quite delicious, but I think I like Shunji's hon maguro nigiri better. It also had an incredibly hard act to follow after the chutoro. (Unfortunately, this was the only piece I forgot to take a picture of.)

(The miso soup was brought out at this point, while I still had not finished my salad. Again, not sure how the timing of these things are supposed to come out, but it seemed a little chaotic juggling soup, salad, and sushi simultaneously.)

3. & 4. Next I got yellowtail and red snapper nigiri, served together.

I asked Tomo-san what kind of yellowtail it was, having just had inada at Shunji the night before. He said it was “regular yellowtail, hamachi” but explained that it was very high quality. It tasted very good, but not especially different from the quality hamachi that I’ve had before.

On the other hand, the tai nigiri was amazing. It had either “lemon salt” or ‘lemon and salt” topping it (the restaurant was pretty noisy, so I couldn’t hear Tomo-san that well), and it was so refreshing and accentuated the tai, and made it one of the better pieces of the omakase.

5. & 6. Tomo-san then served me a small plate with two pieces of nigiri on it, aji and bonito. Since both were sauced, I thought it was a nice touch, and great attention to detail, to serve them on the plate rather than on the geta.

I’ve had aji sushi many times before, and this was very good, but like the hamachi above, it was not especially different from the high quality aji I’ve had before. One thing that made it stand out a little more, interestingly, was the kizami negi. Actually, I’m not sure that it was scallions, as the diameter seemed rather small. Maybe it was asatsuki or nira or some other chive-like plant.

I’ve had bonito sushi less often, but I have had it before. However, I can’t remember the last time I had it, so I can’t compare Kiriko’s katsuo nigiri to anything else. It was delicious, more tart than I expected, like it was marinated before it was seared, but it was definitely the fish itself and not the ponzu that was the source of the extra tang.

7. Next I got a piece of the homemade smoked salmon nigiri with caviar. I was hoping to be served this as I had read about it and was very curious. It was unlike any salmon sushi I’ve had. The smoke was very subtle, definitely not like the smoked salmon one has on bagels. Does anyone know what kind of wood is used? It adds a really interesting flavor, and it was probably the best salmon sushi I’ve ever had.

8. I was hoping for a mollusk of some sort during the omakase, and I was not disappointed, as Tomo-san put down a piece of hotate nigiri on my geta. It had the same sea salt and lemon that topped the tai, which again elevated what it was sprinkled on. The scallop was plump and sweet and went perfectly with the salt and citrus.

9. The last piece of nigiri was I think kinmedai, wild golden eye snapper (again, it was noisy, and I couldn’t hear exactly what Tomo-san said, but it was definitely “[something]-snapper” and was reddish like kinmedai). This was a very interesting piece of sushi. I was not expecting the seared skin to be as salty as it was, but it was very salty, almost too much so. Fortunately, when I began to incorporate the piece in my maw, it mixed with the very plump and mild flesh and the rice, which balanced things out. I would definitely order this again.

10. Last, but certainly not least, was the blue crab handroll. I’ve had my share of this at other sushi restaurants, and it is almost always too mayonnaise-y. With Kiriko’s, you could barely taste the mayo, but something was holding the generous serving of crab meat together. A really really great way to end the meal.

By the time I left, the restaurant was nearly full. I have to say Tomo-san did a fantastic job. He somehow simultaneously made me feel like I had his attention the whole time, carefully preparing my individual pieces while he cranked out at least a half dozen "Sawtelle Sushi moriwase" ("2pcs of yellowtail, 3pcs of albacore, 2pcs of salmon and spicy tuna roll") for the regular lunch crowd. He also timed the courses well, so I was not rushed nor did I have to wait very long for the next piece.

To wrap up, I was very impressed, and for straight sushi I’ll definitely have to come back to Kiriko (I know they have interesting cooked dishes and desserts too), at least until I save up enough to try Mori. Actually, after going to both Shunji and Kiriko in less than 24 hours, I think I have to switch to my Tung-I Instant Rice Noodles (Chinese Onion Flavor) consumption mode for a while to be able to afford to go to any of these places again in the near future.

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  1. I am glad you enjoyed yourself. That omakase lunch has saved me from many larger and more expensive dinners.

    It is worth noting that sashimi is really their forte. One of these days I'll sprint for the sashimi omakase.

    1 Reply
    1. re: JudiAU

      I do love sashimi. Of course, ounce for ounce, having more fish is almost always better than having less. However, since sashimi is generally more expensive, and since good shari can and should enhance the neta that lays over it, I generally end up having sushi over sashimi.

      I did pause for a moment to consider Kiriko's $50 sashimi and sushi omakase, which has assorted sashimi, but only 5 pieces of sushi (likely 4 pieces nigiri and the temaki), but went with my gut (and my wallet) and started off with the more affordable option for my first time there.

      Coincidentally, it's the first time that a sushi restaurant has really made a lasting positive impression for its shari (still pondering it now), so I'm glad I got the extra pieces of nigiri rather than sashimi. I have a feeling that Mori, whenever I get around to trying it, will also impress me with its rice, as Mori-san grew his own and I believe Maru-san continues to use it.

    2. Fair warning: A good night at Kiriko will cost you almost as much as Mori.

      15 Replies
      1. re: J.L.

        I'm sure if I let Ken-san or one of his chefs just keep feeding me (I've got that bottomless pit of a stomach too, especially for sushi) when having the eponymous Kiriko omakase, I could potentially go into Urasawa territory even, but at least Kiriko's range is $80-$120 for its best-of-the-best omakase, whereas my understanding is that Mori's omakase starts at around the $120 mark.

        Another omakase amateur question for you (and anyone else who wants to answer), I know as a customer and sentient human being I always have the ability to ask if the itamae can do an omakase at such-and-such a price or price range, and as proprietor and fellow sentient human being, the itamae has the ability to say "No!", but I'm just wondering how receptive most sushi places are to those requests generally?

        I know there's not a monolithic answer--I could imagine it being a no-no at Zo or Sasabune, but I could see Kiriko be more accommodating, and of course an itamae could do it for a regular but not for a newcomer--but if anyone happen to know which of the places you all frequent are open to being flexible on their omakase price ranges, I'd be grateful to know.

        And likewise on time constraint. I had less than an hour, closer to 45 minutes before I had to be back at work today, so I knew the Kiriko omakase was out of the question. But say I only had an hour and a half, not three hours, I'm just wondering how amenable various chefs may be to, say, doing 75% of their omakase at 75% the time and cost.

        (I have no idea if that made any sense.)

        1. re: PeterCC

          They use apple wood for the smoking.

          That is definitely golden eye snapper, and it was probably salty from the yuzukosho, that dab of green on top.

          1. re: prawn

            Thanks prawn. Mmm, prawn. Ahem, sorry. That must be it, but it was so strong, it really took me by surprise.

          2. re: PeterCC

            I would say most are going to be receptive so long as they don't have a bass price set, and you're not ridiculously low. Though I can't claim to have ever set my own price before hand.

            Thanks for sharing your experience, everything looks and sounded great.

            1. re: Rodzilla

              "...bass price set,"

              Did you mean "base price set"? Or does this refer to bass, the fish?

              1. re: Tripeler

                Don't most sushi restaurants have a hidden shrine in the back with a talking big mouth billy bass setting the pricing of their omakase?

                  1. re: Rodzilla

                    And if they add in a little extra that they shouldn't would that be a "base fiddle?" (and if it was for bass you didn't get would that be a "base-bass-fiddle?")

                1. re: Rodzilla

                  Thanks, Rodzilla. That's my problem too, not having tried to set my own price before, and being potentially too intimidated to ask.

                  1. re: Rodzilla

                    I know Kiriko is receptive to setting a price. I once was planning on treating someone to omakase dinner and they brought along a friend without telling me. Afraid of getting hit with a huge bill, I quietly asked Ken-san if they would do the omakase for a set price. They did it without a problem.

                  2. re: PeterCC

                    If naming a price/time constraint makes you uncomfortable you can always limit by how many pieces or courses you want. That is effective in limiting the price and give you a rough idea of the price.

                      1. re: JudiAU

                        sometimes when i go to Zo, i'm hungrier than at other times.
                        i've always been able to say "i'm full now, that is enough food for me."
                        when i've stopped the meal sooner, and consumed less food, the price has been lower.
                        i've never directly asked, though.

                    1. re: J.L.

                      To echo JL a good night at Kiriko will run as much as Mori. Not an excessive, indulgent night, just a good night. In fact, I haven't been back since running consistent $120+ tabs over 3 years ago. Might as well go to Mori, and I did.

                      1. re: Porthos

                        Have any of you gone to Mori sInce the changeover ?

                    2. That's weird, the picture of the aji and katsuo is in the wrong orientation in the OP. Here it is again, hopefully in the right orientation.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: PeterCC

                        Oops, it got cropped this last time. Third time's the charm?

                        1. re: PeterCC

                          I think most places would be ok with that that. But at Zo, I'm pretty sure you won't be able to set the limit at say the $50 price point before tax and tip for the omakase.

                          Though usually at Zo you will have a tuna sashim course, about 20 or more single pieces of sushi (each piece is prolly the tiniest of tr top sushi bars) plus the squid w uni sauce and a crab handroll. And that will probably run at least $125 based on my last experience there a couple years ago so prices have probably crept up appreciably in the ensuing years.

                      2. Wow. You got two pieces of toro sushi and the golden eyes snapper withy the crab roll among a half dozen other pieces for tr 40 buck lunch?

                        That's not bad at all since they gave you some of the pricier sushi suspects in your meal.

                        I'll have to try it out. The same thing at a Nozawa style place would have at least run you 60 bucks per person.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: kevin

                          I didn't get two pieces of toro... If I did, someone stole one from me! :-)

                          (Did you mean two pieces of bluefin?)

                          Yeah, I thought it was a good deal for great quality too.

                          1. re: PeterCC

                            My bad. Oh, one piece bluefin tuna and then one piece bluefin toro.

                        2. The "lemon" was almost certainly yuzu. They often top the snapper and scallop with yuzu and salt, giving the instruction not to use soy.

                          Glad you enjoyed the omakase. It is a great deal for what you get. Sometimes, btw, they do give two pieces of toro, one raw and one seared in the fashion of the golden snapper.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Jwsel

                            It could have been yuzu, but yuzu's not exactly an obscure citrus these days (like Buddha's hand), so there's no reason for Tomo-san to obscure the name and call it "lemon" for the sake of simplicity. Also, the yellow citrus I saw him use behind the bar was definitely lemon, as yuzu is generally more spherical and bumpy, and what he was using was more smooth and oval like a lemon.

                            Thanks! Must feel like winning a prize when getting served two pieces of toro during the omakase. :-)

                            1. re: PeterCC

                              It was probably Meyer lemon, I've heard the chefs mention it before. It's a bit sweeter and has more of a mellow tartness to it than other lemons.

                                1. re: J.L.

                                  Sorry, it was not round or green.

                            2. Thanks to everyone for their comments. I'm going to try to go back tomorrow for another lunch omakase, maybe the sashimi and sushi one so I can compare it to the sushi-only one. I don't have the time to do the true Kiriko omakase--despite various comments stating that Ken-san would be open to changing the number of courses to fit a certain timeframe or price range, I have at most 45 minutes of actual eating time (which the sushi omakase worked out to perfectly), and I don't want to insult Ken-san by requesting his best omakase compressed into half (or less) of the normal timeframe.

                              This is assuming the "typical" full Kiriko omakase takes no less than 1.5 hours, and likely 2+ hours. Please correct me if I'm wrong. My sample size for omakase length is the 10-piece 45-minute lunch sushi omakase, and the omakase at Shunji, which took about 2+ hours.

                              If I do make it tomorrow, it will actually be my third visit, as I had snuck in a visit Friday evening, taking my younger daughter, who quite enjoyed her edamame and blue crab california roll, but was a bit boisterous and made it hard for me to concentrate on the food.

                              Speaking of which, I had the $30 assorted sashimi platter (with kanpachi, sheared tai, hirame, and house-smoked salmon), a salmon skin handroll, and a negitoro handroll. Oh, and the chai milk tea ice cream. Everything was good, but I was more focused on the kid than the food, so I can't critique the food as well as I did my first visit.

                              I will quickly say the tai sashimi was excellent, again topped with lemon and salt like the nigiri. House-smoked salmon continued to impress. Surprisingly, the salmon skin temaki was probably the best thing I had that night (the negitoro temaki wasn't anything special) as the salmon skin actually had a bit of meat on it and it tasted like the same house-smoked salmon. Really good. Ice cream was good as well, but I was hoping for the truffle flavor, after reading J.L. rave about it so much. Maybe next time.

                              (Sorry, didn't get a pic of the edamame, california roll, or salmon skin hand roll.)

                              11 Replies
                              1. re: PeterCC

                                I believe the truffle ice cream is a seasonal item, and that season is fall-winter... I could be wrong, though.

                                1. re: PeterCC

                                  I had Kiriko's full dinner omakase last Friday for the very first time (first time omakase ever, not just at Kiriko) and it took just over two hours to complete. Great experience.

                                  1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

                                    Thanks, that's how long I figured it would be. Hey, we might have been in there at the same time. I was there from 7 to 8 that evening.

                                    1. re: PeterCC

                                      I was at the bar with my girlfriend in front of Tomo-san from 630-830ish.

                                      1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

                                        Ah, I think we were sitting behind you at one of the table for two.

                                        If you don't mind me asking, was the omakase closer to the $80 end or the $120 end of the price range? If the latter, what accounted for the higher price (more courses, more expensive pieces), if you can tell? (I know it was your first omakase so you may not have a point of reference.) What cooked dishes did you have, and desserts?

                                        1. re: PeterCC

                                          I should post a review but here's the run of it.

                                          The omakase portion of the evening was $219 for the two of us before drinks and dessert. I think it was on the higher end since we did the "full" omakase when asked by Tomo-san with a few additional sushi pieces following Tomo-san asking how full we were. The courses were as such:
                                          1) Tomato jelly in uni sauce
                                          2) Quad platter of the mango wrapped in smoked salmon and topped with caviar, herring roe topped with bonito flakes, baby squid with yuzu pepper sauce and monkfish liver with ponzu
                                          3) Trio sashimi platter of kanpachi with jalapeno and a jelly that I forgot to write down, seared bluefin with garlic chips and halibut with ponzu
                                          4) Half a soft shell crab tempura and a vegetable tempura
                                          5) Tai
                                          6) Duo of bluefin- akami and toro
                                          7) Shima aji (very good)
                                          8) Amae-ebi with heads deep fried following the sushi
                                          9) Seared ocean trout
                                          10) Uni (from San Diego; after this piece Tomo-san asked if we were full but the both of us said we wanted to continue for a bit more)
                                          11) Anago
                                          12) Spanish mackerel (probably my favorite of the night)
                                          13) King Snapper (kinmedai? also very good)
                                          14) Blue crab handroll (perhaps the best blue crab handroll I've ever eaten)

                                          We finished with a single serving of their brown sugar and ginger ice cream which a server recommended. I'm generally not a fan of ginger but this was very delicious ice cream. Tomo-san did ask us a second time if we wanted more but we were both pretty stuffed after the additional sushi. All in all, a great experience. Tomo-san was very kind and accommodating. Will definitely be back sometime in the future, most likely doing just a sushi omakase. As a sidenote, I do remember a young girl behind us at one point (my girlfriend remarked at how cute she was!).

                                          1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

                                            Yup, that was us!

                                            That quad platter sounds amazing. Their blue crab hand roll is definitely the best I've had as well. Hmm, I didn't see that flavor of ice cream on the menu, otherwise I would have gotten that instead of the chai, which was still very good.

                                            Thanks for the quick rundown, and I hope you write a full review!

                                            1. re: PeterCC

                                              I'm surprised you didn't see that ice cream flavor. It and the black sesame are almost always on the dessert menu.

                                              14 top-quality nigiri (including toro, sweet shrimp, smoked salmon with caviar, and uni), one blue crab roll, three types of sashimi, and a half of a soft shell crab for $110 doesn't sound that bad.

                                              1. re: Jwsel

                                                Actually, it was 14 "courses" total and 10 pieces of nigiri.

                                                1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

                                                  So was the second course sashimi, not nigiri? I had counted those items as nigiri. But even if they were not, your 14 courses would have included 10 nigiri, seven sashimi preparations, a blue crab roll, and a half of a soft shell crab. That still seems reasonable for the price, considering the types of fish you had.

                                                  1. re: Jwsel

                                                    The second course was not nigiri, but rather a collection of individual items on a long plate. The third course was sashimi. But to your point, I definitely agree it all seemed reasonable at the end. I highly enjoyed the food and the service as well. The whole experience was very comfortable and relaxing despite it being a first-ever omakase dinner. Tomo-san and the servers made us feel very welcome.

                                2. Update on my Kiriko experience:

                                  I tried the $24 Deluxe Jou Sushi moriawase at lunch yesterday, which comes with 7 pieces of nigiri (tuna, toro, yellowtail, albacore, house-smoked salmon, red snapper, fresh water eel) and a tuna roll or spicy tuna roll. I was having lunch with my wife, who didn't want one of the lunch omakase, and I didn't want her to have to sit there after she finished her meal and wait for me.

                                  There's absolutely no comparison. The fish in common between the moriawase and my omakase last week (tuna, toro, hamachi, tai, house-smoked salmon) were just simply mediocre in the moriwase. Maybe it's because they cut all the fish at once and serve it together, so each piece of nigiri wasn't eaten within a minute of being served, or maybe they really save the best cuts of fish for the omakase and use the rest for the cheaper lunch combos. I was shocked.

                                  I would say the quality of the fish in the moriawase I had was worse than what I've had at Hide, Irori, even Ninjin, and barely better than what I could find at Nijiya across the street. One example was the signature house-smoked salmon. The piece I had with my lunch omakase had a very delicate, subtle smokiness, really cool and clean in a way. The flesh tasted like really good sake sushi, and not like the cured smoked salmon you get with bagels. But the piece of house-smoked salmon I had in my moriwase was just like what you'd get on a bagel, with no delicateness at all.

                                  My wife thought I was losing my touch for picking great new sushi restaurants to try, so I'm going to have to bring her back for one of the still-relatively-affordable lunch omakases at Kiriko.

                                  13 Replies
                                    1. re: kevin

                                      I don't want you to think I'm being overly harsh. I specifically used "mediocre" to describe it, because it wasn't awful, really, it just wasn't remarkable at all. In hindsight it probably wasn't worse than those other places I named above. And to be clear, I don't think those places are bad at all, they just don't serve sushi at the quality that I've been having recently (excluding the moriwase).

                                      When I left Kiriko after the moriwase, I had a feeling I hadn't had since I started going to places like Shunji, Kiriko (the first time), and Mori, which was that my stomach was full yet I was wholly unsatisfied. I'd hate to think that someone ordering one of those at Kiriko to test if they want to spring for the omakase would be discouraged from trying their omakase because of it. I've heard the same thing about Mori's lunch specials, that they're not very good and not indicative of the quality of the omakase.

                                      I'm curious in both case what the quality would be like if I just ordered a bunch of stuff a la carte. Technically, since each order is being made individually, I'd think it'd be better quality, but perhaps just by ordering "omakase" (even the cheaper fixed-price lunch ones) it indicates to the itamae that customers are at least somewhat serious about their sushi.

                                      (I just remembered that I have an extra data point to compare the smoked salmon, as it was served as part of the $30 assorted sashimi platter on my second visit, and it was just as good as it was in the lunch omakase, so a difference clearly exists between the cuts I had the first two times and the cut I had with my moriwase.)

                                      1. re: PeterCC

                                        Completely agree on the itamae "saving" the better fish for omakase orders in general. I've never NOT ordered omakase at Kiriko before (once you go omakase you can't go back), so I've always been satisfied with the quality and variety of fish there. But thanks for sharing!

                                        1. re: chrishei

                                          Oh, this is weird, I think I just read your review of your latest visit to Kiriko on your blog. Is it oheithere.wordpress.com?

                                          I will try their full omakase some time in the future, but I'm okay right now with their lunch omakase, just not with their other lunch specials.

                                        2. re: PeterCC

                                          When it comes to sushi, I suggest saving up for those sure-to-satisfy dinner experiences instead of flirting with possible mediocrity on the cheaper lunch specials.

                                            1. re: J.L.

                                              I'm learning that. :-) I was just really surprised that the same place could serve fish of such disparate quality. I mean, in a way it's good that Kiriko can offer the lunch specials to non-discriminating crowds stopping in for a quick bite while also offering the really good stuff to the people who care enough to order it, but I guess I was just expecting a "rising tide raises all boats" effect on the quality of all fish that they serve.

                                              1. re: PeterCC

                                                You'll hear the same complaints about Mori's lunch special or omakase experience at the tables instead of omakase at the bar.

                                                1. re: Porthos

                                                  Yeah, I've had Mori's lunch special. It wasn't bad at all - but if you've had Mori serve you omakase at the bar for dinner, there would be no comparison, you'd feel sorely disappointed.

                                                2. re: PeterCC

                                                  Rent is not cheap. Also, seafood prices have risen all over the world dramatically in the past 18 months. My suspicion is that they must open for lunch to pay the overhead, even if they'd really rather not. The world's not perfect. Most high end sushi-yas prefer to stake their reputations on dinners only, but opening for dinner only ain't gonna pay the bills. So, the alternative is to open for lunch, and serve middle grade sushi.

                                                  Actually, I'm pretty sure they make a lot of money on the "non-discriminating crowd" yelp-types who can only afford time and/or funds to stop in for lunch, based on the strength of the sushi-ya's excellent dinner reputation.

                                                  Again, if you really wanna be hardcore about good sushi, prepare to pay at dinner (at the sushi bar, not tables). I hardly ever eat sushi for lunch in this town, unless business etiquette & circumstances demand it.

                                                  1. re: J.L.

                                                    And hence to that I would say that Shunji is only open at dinner time.

                                              2. re: PeterCC

                                                Mid-budget options are usually a bad option about most good sushi options. Also kind of boring. I never order anything that has the fish preselected.

                                                I either like the omakase option or an inexpensive option like the three hand roll lunch (yellowtail and scallion, eel, and crab) which includes miso and salad. I actually find it more satisfying and it is light on the stomach.