Last week Mr. K and I were invited for an omakase feast at Kinjo, a new upscale sushi house which opened in Russian Hill earlier this year. The plain curtain gently swaying in the breeze caught my eye, which is a good thing because the signage is so subtle, just an unobtrusive logo on the center panel… There is a spacious foyer with a wraparound counter that is all about understated elegance and prepares you for the beautiful meal to come.
Kinjo serves an omakase menu where you pay a flat rate of $120 for a tasting menu that is designed daily by the chef. Most of the fish is flown in twice a week and is said to be from the oldest fish company in Tokyo. The menu is based on the edomae style and technique which dates back to 17th century Japan (picture samurai and shogun in old Tokyo), where simplicity was paramount and refrigeration didn’t exist. We were presented with seafood of immaculate and pristine quality which the Chef’ prepared with such mastery as to make the simple sublime. The restaurant has room for 42 people which includes seating at the sushi bar. It is spacious but has an intimate feel and in the background plays rhythmic and flowy jazz. The sushi counter is very low profile and looks into an open kitchen where the team of chefs stand at the ready.
The first course was Caviar and we began with a miyagi oyster from British Columbia topped with caviar from sturgeon that is farm raised near Sacramento, which added a rich depth of flavor to the sweet creamy flesh of the oyster, there was a tiny bit of fresh wasabi tucked under the roe, and rice under the oyster!
Sitting at the counter gives you a front row view to watch all of the action and talk with the chef. The fish is kept in wooden boxes that they store under the counter, rather than in a big glass display filled with ice. Apparently with edomae style sushi the fish is meant to be be served at room temperature, the rice is al dente and less sweet. We felt so pampered being served by Chef Toshi, who took first place in the World Sushi Cup in 2014, and third place in the 2015 Global Sushi Challenge, in addition to earning a Michelin star during his 10 years at Sushi Ran. He was masterful and meticulous, here he arranges uni from Hokkaido onto the rice using chopsticks, not tweezers.
The nigiri is small, at least half the amount of rice that we are used to, which I actually like because it is easy to pop the entire thing into your mouth. Most of the time when I try to cram sushi into my mouth, it is too much and I can’t really appreciate the texture and flavor of the sushi. The uni is delicate and a beautiful golden orange which creates a perfect contrast for the green of the wasabi, the roe is buttery and sweet and creamy…
Ensui uni refers to the process where it goes straight into salt water with the same salinity as the ocean after cleaning. This method retains the most natural taste and texture of Uni without any preservatives and is as close as you can get to cracking it open by the seaside!
Next we were treated to seasonal pieces of nigiri beginning with tiny firefly squid (hotaru ika), which are found in the shallow waters of Toyama Bay in the spring (click here for a photo of their stunning bioluminescence). The squid are very tender and delicate, topped with miso aioli and held together by a crisp strip of roasted seaweed.
Then a delicious silvery gizzard shad (kohada) from Saga prefecture in Japan, that was lightly marinated and so tender.
Then chef placed slices of fish onto a salt plank then cooked the skin under the blaze of a butane torch
The skin of the beltfish (tachiuo) from Nagasaki became crisped and charred making for an exquisite sensation when we bit into the juicy tender flesh, which was rich and fatty. He brushed on some sauce and topped it with a bit of freshly grated ginger.
We savored a steaming bowl of Sumashi-jiru, a clear dashi based soup with manila clam and mussel from British Columbia, fresh mitsuba and crispy rice, which added a wonderful toasted rice flavor and sticky-crunchy texture that I loved.
Chef Toshi formed the seasoned rice balls which he topped with slices of several types of fish. I tried to capture the drama when he used the torch to fire up a bowl filled with cherrywood charcoal until it began to glow and emit smoke, then covered it with a dome to cold smoke everything.
Cold smoked nigiri, from the bottom up: golden eye snapper from Chiba, spanish mackerel from Kagoshima, white soy cured king salmon from New Zealand. White soy is made primarily from wheat which results in an amber colored liquid that infuses flavor without darkening the color of foods. A beautiful, dramatic presentation that dazzled our tastebuds.
The next course was shellfish, an intricately constructed dungeness crab chirashi in an exquisite gilded bowl. At the bottom was seasoned rice, then paper thin slices of cucumber topped with a generous mound of local crab that sported a fragrant mound of finely shredded shiso leaf.
Then he butterflied a big fat sea scallop from Hokkaido that was sweet and succulent, and brushed it with a savory sweet sauce.
The next course was Steamed and Katsu. The first dish came covered from a steamer and contained salt cured salmon caviar from Hokkaido topped with fresh grated wasabi and a slice of black truffle. An earthy fragrance rose from the dish when he removed the cover and the warm liquid from the roe was like a rich soothing broth.
Next was a fresh white shrimp Katsu from Kauai that had been butterflied then breaded and fried then cut into two pieces, a whimsical departure. One piece was served on shari (sushi rice), affixed with a strip of roasted seaweed and topped with miso aioli and an edible spring leaf, the other half was left plain to enjoy on its own.
Then came the Oma Maguro, which is considered to be the black diamond of the sea from Aomori prefecture, real bluefin tuna. The akami is from the backside, a lean red meat that is supposed to be best during the cold season. The color is a clear dark red, and it has a clean taste and tender creamy texture with a delicate touch of acidity.
The Zuke Akami is cured in a soy and red wine marinade and then seared on one side. I loved the complexity of flavor and the charred crispy edges.
The last sushi was Temaki, made from fresh water eel from Aichi prefecture that the chef crisped with the blowtorch. The rich fatty flesh was juicy and tender, the proportions were perfect between the rice and fish and the slightly sweet marinade enclosed in the lightly toasted seaweed wrap. The pictures doesn’t do it justice…
At this point, you can order additional dishes if you want from the ala carte menu, otherwise, onto dessert, an Amazake panna cotta sprinkled with candied sesame seeds and sake gelee. Amazake is a sweet, fragrant, and nourishing drink made from malted (fermented) rice and sometimes it is made by mixing sake kasu (the lees left over after sake has been extracted) with steamed rice and water. The panna cotta had a rich creamy texture that was slightly sweet and savory, but the candied sesame seeds, slices of asian pear and sake gelee added a heady texture and flavor. It was served with gyoku, an organic egg custard flavored with local spot prawn.
We ended the feast in reverent appreciation, although I think we both wanted to do a standing ovation, and we later agreed that was probably one of the best meals ever… Thanks Chef Toshi and Kinjo for such a marvelous time, we are ruined now and sushi snobs forever!
Open Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. with specific seating times at 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., and then 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.