Saturday, September 6, 2008

Kihachi, Columbus Ohio

In a city typically considered to be lacking in diversity and dominated by chains, one often must go out of their way to look for a great experience and great food....sometimes one even has to look for a strip mall off of Sawmill where the owner answers his own phones, has to respell your name five times due to his thick accent, and specifically states "if you have never eaten not a sushi bar, is traditional Japanese cooking" on the phone. Welcome to Kihachi, welcome to something you'd NEVER expect in "Cowtown."

Seated at a reserved table for two near the wide-open kitchen manned by chef Ryuji Kimura and one other chef, the menu (all Japanese with short translations of some dishes) was described to us in full detail by one of two wonderful female servers. One menu included a set list of meals from Soba to Udon to Tempura to Rice dishes while the second entailed a list of sushi options and daily inspired appetizers gathered at local markets. Some of the options ranged from ultra-high-end such as Bluefin Oh-toro and brined Berkshire Pork cheeks while others such as eel stuffed
with diced lotus and arrow root simply reminded me of the sorts of dishes described by those who've dined at Masa Or Ursawa. After much debate we made our selections and began a rollercoaster tasting at a perfect pace while marveling at dishes brought to other diners.

Course one consisted of six perfectly poached whole baby octopus in a lemon ginger dressing. While the appearance alone was off-putting to my mother, the flavors were a perfect combination of brine and sweet with a fleshy yet smooth texture that dazzled.

Course two, included with my mother's dinner, was a relatively standard miso soup and sweet salad with creamy miso dressing. While both dishes were relatively 'standard' for a Japanese meal, both were excellent in quality and presentation.

Course three, from the daily inspiration menu was Mirugai muta, or Geoduck clam with sweet pea pods in cream sauce. While pricey, this dish was absolutely sublime in presenting a flawlessly fleshy clam contrast against crisp peapods in a decadent sauce. Having only had Geoduck once prior (and significantly more expensive) I can state that I'd certainly opt for Kihachi's presentation on future visits.

Course four consisted of Ebi Tukariage, an enormous sweet shrimp which was flash fried and meant to be consumed head-to-tail along with tempura lotus root and arrow root and a ginger soy sauce. Crispy yet smooth, sweet yet meaty, this dish was as fun to look at as it was to eat. Certainly not for the faint of heart I must say the head and carapace certainly had a different taste and texture from the body or tail, but like everything else I'd strongly recommend the experience if it were available.

Our mains arrived next. For myself I opted for the warm duck soba which paired thin buckwheat noodles in a salty broth with fatty duck breast and thin scallions. Definitely better than any soba I've experienced in Columbus and on par with the versions at Nobu SoHo or Lily Toronto....knowing the quality of everyting, next visit I'll certainly opt for the mixed Soba with Japanese Eggplant and Hot-Yam.

My mother chose the tempura platter with Shrimp, lotus, sweet potato, onion, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini as her main and for $17 I must say the portion was enormous. While everything was certainly fresh, well done, and good I guess I'm just not that big on tempura and this dish seemed pretty "standard" to me. Certainly not bad and I guess it is good to have a safe option for those not so keen on eating whole crustacean's or cephalopods.

Dessert, like the rest of the meal, was truly unique. Though multiple options from Japanese grapes to green tea icecrea to a peach boiled in red wine were available, we opted for the Azuki Shiratam - Glutinous Rice flour dumplings with anko sweet beans and the Sasadango - sticky red bean filled rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves. While definitely not YOUR traditional desserts, these options are apparently very traditional in Japan and both were unique and equally pleasing to the eyes and the palate with the Shiratam unlike anything I'd ever experienced....something like the flavor of Boston Baked Beans combined with fluffy jello balls and the Sasadango like a fruit roll-up perfected.

All told, I was extremely impressed by every aspect of Kihachi and absolutely astounded that I'd missed out on going for so long. When the owner states that this is not a sushi restaurant it is the truth....sure they have some stellar looking sushi....but there is so much more and you owe it to yourself to check it out. Blink and you might miss it, the place isn't easy to find, yet from the
moment you enter the door to the moment you leave (for us, 2 hours and 20 minutes) the experience is challening yet simplified, complex yet refined, formal yet fun, and all-in-all wonderful. If this were "a sushi bar," it'd be the best I'd ever been to.....alas, it will just have to settle for best Japanese place that also happens to serve sushi. Fantastic.

1 comment:

Caroline said...
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