Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kiyokawa Sushi in Beverly Hills: Precision with Warmth

Imagine entering the sushi bar where all is quiet after leaving the noise of the street behind.  Where a sushi master is waiting to prepare a meal for you from the freshest fish.  A private restaurant that is yours for the night.  The chef sending out dish after dish of pristine fish as you sit in front of him and happily eat, with the whole restaurant dedicated to you.  That is what I experienced on Monday night.  Did I buy this meal at a benefit?  Was I dining at Urusawa?  No, I walked in off the street at Kiyokawa and had the rare luxury of literally having the talented chef and restaurant at my disposal as there were no other customers.  Chef Sato (above) created a wonderful shellfish-free meal that I will be thinking about for some time.

Following some miso soup, which was served in a cup, the meal began with four kinds of sushi.  Each one was lightly sauced by Chef Sato, so no additional soy sauce was needed.  The halibut (top left) was particularly noteworthy.  The journey had begun and I knew I was in capable hands.

Dramatically presented on a plate with a Spanish Mackerel were five pieces of sushi, including one with caviar and gold, onion with cooked onions (middle right) and two with freshly grated wasabi.  Sato spoke about the importance of using all ingredients of high quality - why put commercial wasabi paste on pristine fish?  So the rice was at just the right temperature and he uses a sharkskin grater to make fresh wasabi paste for his sushi.  The Spanish Mackerel was only exceeded by the yellowtail.

The nigiri portion of the meal concluded with toro and salmon belly sushi.  The toro was unctuous and had that melt in your mouth quality that comes from its sheer fattiness.  The wasabi enriched the marbled fish and brought out more of the deep flavor and wonderful mouthfeel.  The salmon did not dissapoint either, although the toro was more exceptional.

I had asked for ikura as part of my meal and so at this point in my meal I was presented with a small bowl of salmon roe on top of a bed of rice.  The salmon roe had been marinated for over six hours in soy sauce and several other ingredients in the chef's secret recipe and each egg had the great pop you get from the best roe. When I was done, there was not a grain of rice or an egg of roe left in the small bowl.  I could have eaten a large bowl of this ikura don.

I added in a foie gras course, having noticed it on the menu when I came in.  The foie was pan cooked and then draped over rice, nigiri style, and wrapped with a small piece of nori.  Thinly sliced black truffle completed the dish.  This was rich and sweet, a luxurious dessert.

The final savory component of the meal was a negitoro handroll, chopped up toro with scallions and rice wrapped up in seaweed.  Much preferable to an ice cream cone.  This course was surprisingly just ok, not as amazing as the previous.

The final course of the evening was dessert: yuzu sorbet.  The sorbet was presented in a champagne flute, and the acidity of the yuzu was a pleasant way to conclude the meal.  It was hard to leave after such a luxurious and delicious meal.  Chef Sato was gracious during the meal, happily speaking about the fish, the restaurant and his philosophy.  This was omakase tailored to the customer, not the assembly line style that so many sushi restaurants in LA, even highly regarded ones have.  Those spots give everyone the same thing, most commonly ending with a blue crab hand roll.  Here not only was ikura built into my meal, and shellfish left out, but my reactions to the individual fish determined the next course's contents.  Also, the chef was personable, and felt no need to play the brusque sushi master "role" so often see in Los Angeles.

Having the restaurant to myself was an unexpected delight not likely to be repeated, although I know I will be back soon for another meal at the sushi bar, even if I have to share the restaurant (and the chef) with other customers.  I reluctantly relinquished my seat at the bar and stepped out into the night, full, happy and relaxed.

Kiyokawa: 265 S. Robertson, just South of Wilshire, Beverly Hills. Phone: (310) 358-1900. Website:

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