It started with a list. My five picks for the Top L.A. Japanese restaurants appeared on NBC’s bygone Feast website in March, 2011, and included places like Urasawa, Torihei and Otafuku. Tokyo-born Tomo Kurokawa e-mailed, implying that it was time to dig deeper. And dig we did, along with fellow friend Bill Esparza. Our initial meal was at Kiriko, a sushi-focused restaurant that Tokyo-born chef Ken Namba opened to end the 20th Century. After moving to L.A., Tomo started taking bi-monthly trips to Kiriko, a small establishment on the Sawtelle side of the Olympic Collection.
Tomo said that the name Kiriko refers to the style of decorative etchings on sake glasses. We sat at the pine bar, lit by mismatched lanterns, and enjoyed a good meal (and of course sake).
Tomo brought back prized ingredients from her travels home, including sea cucumber ovaries, which arrived in a packet, formed into a red triangle. Chef Namba toasted them over an open flame until they became charred, chewy, and jerky like. This could become a bar snack. Well, maybe not.
Tiny mushrooms appeared with okra and fresh shaved wasabi, which isn’t as spicy as the standard horseradish substitute. Tomo said they like to layer slimy on slimy in Japan, and this was a good example.
Hakkasan junmai daiginjo, a food friendly sake from northeastern Japan, arrived in a bamboo vessel. Daiginjo means that they polish up to 50% of the contributing rice grains, resulting in a smooth sip.
One of my favorite courses featured salmon two ways. Silky, buttery salmon ($6) appeared with a dab of wasabi and received a quick dip in soy. Cherry wood smoked salmon ($7), smoked the day before, had more sweetness, and of course a hint of smoke.