Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sushi @ Kiji Sushi

It has been a while since I've had sushi, and I was really craving something on the lighter side tonight, after so much foie gras and red meat last week.  After failing to get reservations at a few other places I've been wanting to try, we were finally able to get a reservation at Kiji Sushi in the Mission.  It comes in at a lower price point than I usually frequent for sushi, but was a recommendation from a friend, so its been sitting on my list for places to try for a while.

Unfortunately, as somewhat expected, there was a reason we were able to get a reservation - it was pretty mediocre.  For two nights in a row I've tried to do more casual, cheaper dining, but it turns out, there is a reason I don't usually pick places like this!  Do you have any recommendations for tasty, cheaper eats?  I don't actually want to be eating at fancy restaurants all of the time.  It is nice to have a more casual relaxed meal.  It is nice to not spend as much.  It is nice to have a meal be quick.  But, I still want it to be good!  On the way to Kiji, we did walk by Papalote and Big Mouth, both of which I used to frequent, and really need to remember to go back to sometime.  I'm never just in the Mission these days, and it feels silly to go out of my way for a simple burrito or burger (Roam in the Marina is another one I'd definitely be at more if it were local).  I wish my neighborhood had some (any?) casual options other than The Melt (which I've been very unimpressed by).  We have a lot of middle to mid-high end, and not much else.

Anyway, back to Kiji.  It was large for a sushi restaurant, with a sushi counter and a bunch of tables in several rooms.  Decor was pretty standard, wooden tables and chairs, nondescript place settings, fairly harsh lighting.  We were able to easily get a reservation on opentable 30 minutes before we wanted to dine.  The menu was extensive, spanning hot appetizers, cold appetizers, rolls, nigiri, carpaccios, and lots of specials.  It reminded me a lot of Koo and Kabuto. We ordered some of it all, to really get a good overview of the place.

Once food started arriving, it came at a pretty frantic pace.  It was clear that different parts of the kitchen were preparing different dishes, and they all just made them whenever, so our table got loaded up with dishes really quickly.  There were a few points where we had trouble fitting everything on the table.  Waitstaff weren't the best about clearing finished dishes away, which exacerbated the problem.  I did appreciate a few things about out waiter though - for one dish, we asked how big it was since we all wanted to share it, and when he brought it he let us know that he selected one of the biggest ones for us so we'd all get some.  And one other dish was supposed to be a single seared scallop that two of us were going to split, and he instead was able to bring us two smaller scallops instead.  I appreciated his looking out for us!
Ahi Carpaccio: thinly sliced red tuna with wasabi pesto, chopped wasabi and sea salt. $15.
From the "House Specialties" section.  The wasabi pesto and chopped wasabi had a decent spice to them and were better than typical wasabi paste.  The sea salt was very flavorful and a good accent to the dish.  Fish was nicely cut, very thin, but tasted a little fishy, not very fresh, and wasn't particularly flavorful.  (I was also surprised to realize that for the same price I can get a much better ahi tartar at Prospect or Boulevard, for a slightly smaller portion, but ridiculously higher quality).  Meh.
Live Scallop, part 1.  Sashimi.  $18.
From the "Daily Specials" section. This was actually really, really good, better than the live scallop dish we had at Kabuto (although that was a highlight there was well, served as nigiri).  The scallop was ridiculously tender.  Sweet.  Perfect texture.  Sashimi preparation was the perfect way to highlight the freshness, certainly no rice was needed here. The light sauce to dip it in added even more flavor.  I would order again in a heartbeat.
Live Scallop, part 2. Tendon cooked in sake.
This was the other part of our live scallop, chopped up pieces of the tendon, cooked in a sake broth.  It was not good.  The tendon was very, very chewy.  I actually gave up on chewing through it and just ate a chunk whole.  The sake broth had a decent flavor, but the tendon was just too chewy and gross.

Hard to say if this was better or worse than the part 2 from Kabuto, where the tendon was cooked and served in a chowder, as we didn't like that either.
Stuffed Jalapenos : jalapeno halves stuffed with spicy tuna and grilled. $6.50.
From the "Hot Dishes" section. I order this everywhere I see it, because I always want it to be Sushi Zone's stuffed jalapeno with albacore.  I LOVE this dish at Sushi Zone.  This wasn't nearly as good as Sushi Zone's, but it was better than the similar dish we had at Koo.

The jalapeno itself wasn't very spicy.  It was cooked ok, still keeping a crunch to it, which I appreciated.  The tuna filling inside was really bland and flavorless, even though it was mixed up with some spicy sauce.  The mayo based sauce on top likewise didn't really have any flavor.  Meh.
Seared Scallop with bacon bits, truffle oil, wasabi.   $8.  
From the "Daily Specials" section.  This sounded too interesting to pass up.  I love a good seared scallop.  And bacon makes everything better (particularly scallops!).  And truffle oil?  I was intrigued. I also should have realized I was at a sushi restaurant, not exactly the sort of place specializing in truffles, bacon, and seared scallops (and, I'd tried the whole seared scallop thing at Kabuto too).

The most prominent thing about this dish was the wasabi.  It had a serious kick, completely dominating the other flavors.  The result was that the bacon was totally lost, I barely tasted it at all.  The truffle oil added a nice subtle truffle flavor, that would have been very enjoyable, had the wasabi been more in check.  I think with less wasabi, these flavors really could have worked well together.

The scallop itself was pretty mediocre.  It was seared on the outside, but cooked all the way through, far more than I like.  For $4 a scallop though, not too bad.
Kiji Ceviche: various fish marinated in yuzu ponzu and spices with onions, olives and tomatoes.  Served with fried lotus chips.  $11.
Another "House Specialty".  This was a generous serving of assorted seafood, chopped up pretty small.  There was salmon, octopus, crab, and at least one white fish, that I think was halibut.  Everyone else commented on the octopus being really chewy and not good, so I didn't try it, but the other fish was all mediocre.  None of it was particularly flavorful, but it was somewhere quality wise in between sushi grade and what you normally find in ceviche.  The others at my table really didn't like this, but I didn't think it was that bad.  The top layers were very forgettable, without much flavor at all, but pieces I ate later on that had been marinating longer were much better and did have a nice flavor to them from the yuzu, ponzu, and lime.  I think that was the biggest issue with the dish, it didn't seem like it was really marinated in advance at all, so the flavor wasn't there, and the fish wasn't really "cooked".  The jalapeno and onion added a nice freshness as well, but the tomato was unripe and really not good.  The lotus chips were fine, but there weren't really enough of them to do much with.
Kiji Shooter: fresh oyster, uni, quail egg, spicy sauce, scallions, tobiko and ponzu.  $5.
And another "House Specialty", which was of course the dish that Yelpers all rave about.  One person at our table didn't order one of these, perhaps on principle since the Yelpers are so often leading us astray!  We have tried a lot of similar dishes to this lately.

The oyster was chewy and not very fresh tasting at all.  There was barely any uni, I didn't taste it at all.  The quail egg was rich.  The ponzu based broth was enjoyable for the first second, but quickly became unbearable.  Incredibly salty and totally blew out my palette.  It was all I could taste for the rest of the night, even after cleansing with a lot of ginger!  I wish I hadn't taken this as a shot, as I would have certainly not finished all that sauce.  Way, way too overpowering.

This was very similar concept wise to the "Spoonful of Happiness" from Koo (theirs was quail egg, uni, tobiko, ponzu served in a little spoon), but Koo's was much, much better, as the components were in better blaance.  At Koo, the portion of uni was much larger and it was the star of the show, with the quail egg adding a nice richness and the sauces adding some flavor, but not overpowering.

It was even more similar to the "1849 Oyster" from Kabuto (theirs was oyster, uni, quail egg, 3 types of roe, gold leaf).  It suffered in several of the same ways too, with the poor quality oyster and the too small proportion of uni.

Meh.
Miso Black Cod: black cod marinated in miso and sake and grilled with asparagus.  $9.
I didn't actually have this, but the person who did said that it was too salty, didn't have enough miso flavor, and that the fish wasn't flaky enough.  He said we get this dish better at work.
Aji, Toro sashimi.
From the "Daily Specials".

The aji was served skin on, was nice and firm, but too fishy for me.  I don't actually think this was a bad piece of fish, I usually feel that way about aji.

I didn't have the toro, but everyone else said that it was ok, but not nearly as good as toro should be.
Kiji Roll:  snow crab and asparagus roll topped with tuna, spicy sauce and tobiko. $14.
Black Spider Roll: deep-fried soft shell crab, unagi, pine nuts and black tobiko. $9.50.
The Kiji Roll was a "House Specialty" (like everything else we ordered named Kiji).  It was entirely flavorless.  The crab could easily have been crab stick, although it said it was snow crab.  The tuna on top had absolutely no flavor, and was a thin pathetic cut.  Even the spicy sauce had no flavor.  The asparagus did add a nice crunch.

I didn't have the Black Spider Roll, but the people who did said it was better than the Kiji Roll.
Nigiri: Maine Uni ($8), ??, Wild Salmon ($6), Hamachi ($5)
These were off the "Daily Specials" menu as well.  I only had the uni, which wasn't particularly good.  It did have a strong flavor, but wasn't creamy.
Tamago nigiri.  $2.
If you've read my other sushi posts, you know I always finish with tamago as my "dessert".  (Hey, what is a dessert loving girl supposed to do when places don't have dessert!!!)

This was not good.  Very eggy, just a basic egg omelet, completely lacking in the sweetness that makes tamago tasty (and dessert-worthy).  The texture was also off and it tasted kinda old.

Any recommendations on where to get good tamago?  I've been so disappointed with it everywhere!
Kiji Japanese Restaurant & Sushi on Urbanspoon
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