In my last post I said that April was a month packed with wonderful food experiences. It ended on a high note too, with an omakase dinner at Kihachi. It is always nice to have an excuse for dinner at Kihachi, arguably the best Japanese restaurant in Columbus and one of the best restaurants in town period. A birthday provided all the excuse we needed.
Omakase means that you don’t order a la carte, but you get a set tasting style menu. At Kihachi this is around 9 courses. It is a gamble and may not be a wise choice if you are a picky eater but if you are game to try anything or have trouble choosing dishes it is a perfect choice. At Kihachi you are likely to have something you have not tried before as they use an array of unusual ingredients.
I love watching the chefs in action with their calmness, precision and artistry so it is fun to sit at the counter where you can watch them preparing each dish.
We started with ankimo (monkfish liver) wrapped in fluke with some microgreens and ponzu sauce. The ankimo was incredibly creamy with a distinctive musky flavor that tastes as much of animal as fish. We had previously had ankimo in the tasting menu at Details. The refreshing citrusy ponzu sauce was a good contrast.
This was followed by a sampler of small bites with kelp and fish roe, sake soaked duck breast, fried burdock, fresh water shrimp, edamame, spinach with a sesame dressing and a deep fried white bait (shirasu). I think of burdock as a drink ingredient (dandelion and burdock) so eating the crispy, salty and chewy stalk was new to me but it was delicious. It is hard to pick a favorite item, but it was certainly one of the best spinach dishes I have ever eaten.
On my last visit to Kihachi we had the chawanmushi (egg custard) hot, with soft fish roe. This time the chawanmushi was served cold and contained shrimp mushroom, kamaboko, ginko and chicken. Both hot and cold the custard has a silky texture and a delicate flavor.
The presentation at Kihachi is beautiful and nowhere is this more evident than in the sashimi. Even the non-bloggers seated near us couldn’t resist taking a photo of this course.
My photo does not do it justice and neither can my description. It was superlative and comprised of melt in the mouth toro (fatty tuna), aji (Japanese jackfish), uni (sea urchin) with freshly grated wasabi, all served on a bed of ice. I had heard about the freshly grated wasabi but was not prepared for how different it was to the usual bright green paste.We watched the chef grate it in front of us under cold running water. It was light and fresh tasting and despite the heat had a more subtle flavor than store bought wasabi. The heat was almost a flicker disappearing as quickly as it struck. I was also converted to the briny and delicate sea urchin, having previously thought that I didn’t care for them.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better…. it did. The next dish was my favorite of the evening. It was a tempura fried soft shell crab with daikon (japanese radish), the tiniest mushrooms (nameko) I have ever seen and mitsuba (Japanese wild parsley) in a light and flavorful broth. The crab was crunchy, the broth warming and despite its lightness it felt like comfort food .
Next was the grilled course which was pork cheeks served with cherry tomatoes and celery curls. Yes those wisp like curls really are celery. The pork had a slightly tangy marinade that could have been ponzu and was succulent.
I love tempura when it is well done and have fond memories of eating excellent tempura in Japan. The angelica shoot tempura was exceptional and again an unaccustomed use of the plant (I am used to it crystalized as a cake decoration or as a flavor in gin and chartreuse). This dish is only available in the spring as it has a limited season. It was served renkon no hasamiage which is shrimp pate sandwiched between two slices of lotus root then dipped in tempura batter and deep fried. The lotus root is really crunchy and the dish which is served cold is not at all greasy.
The penultimate course was sushi – tuna tartare rolls. Having had some recent practice trying to make sushi rolls myself I appreciated more than even the skill of the chef. He cut the wrapper to the exact size needed to avoid overlap and thereby making the rolls more tender to bite into. The rolls were smaller and more compact than I have ever achieved and it was fascinating to watch his knife work. More of the fresh wasabi – what joy.
Dessert was slices of marinaded asian pear with a sake soaked apricot and blackberry garnish and after eight courses was about all I could manage, well maybe some green tea.
The service was a model of efficiency, yet unobtrusive and pleasant and we never waited more than a few minutes between courses. Each dish was explained to the best of the servers English ability, although some of the more obscure ingredients were hard to translate.
If you like Japanese food and find yourself in Columbus I would definitely recommend a trip to Kihachi, whether or not you try the omakase. I think it is without parallel in the city and despite its strip mall location offers an first class dining experience.
Kihachi: 2667 Federated Blvd, Columbus, Ohio 43235. 614 764 9040. Mon-Sat 6-10pm