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No Reservations Columbus

michael kimura kihachi columbus

Columbus made a brief appearance in Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations ‘Heartland’ episode this evening. The fly-by visit was great exposure for two of our local talents but caused much consternation in the twitter-facebook-CU sphere, mostly due to Michael Ruhlman’s comments about Applebee’s and his apparent surprise that good food was to be found in Columbus. (he should know better, he’s from Cleveland)

mike kimura sushi columbus

The two local talents featured were Chef Michael Kimura of Kihachi, and Gary Robinette “the MacGyver of Pizza” from Clever Crow.

kihachi columbus no reservations

Kihachi, far from being in the middle of nowhere, Mr Bourdain, is found very close to 270 and Sawmill, tucked in a strip mall at Federated Boulevard. Anyone who reads alt.eats, knows that I am a fan of obscure restaurants in strip malls and Kihachi is one of many that are worth seeking out. Kihachi is one of the most authentic Japanese restaurants in Columbus. It is also one of the best restaurants in Columbus and so it was no surprise that Bourdain gushed about the food. Coincidentally I went to Kihachi for dinner later on the very same evening that Bourdain was there. You can read about that dinner, and several previous Kihachi dinners on this blog. The photos in this post are from my most recent meal there, and one that I have thus far neglected to blog about. On that visit we ordered from the menu, choosing mostly from the exceptional daily specials.

clever crow, gary robinette, circus bar, pizza

Clever Crow, working out of the kitchen at the Circus Bar, had only been open a few weeks before Bourdain’s crew came to town, but it has received accolades from day one. It’s pizza but not as you know it, so put your pizza preconceptions aside before you try it. Its distinctions include the crispy yet thick cornmeal and 200-year-old sourdough base, the housemade sausage and pepperoni, the unusual and creative flavor combinations and the sheer weight of toppings. It amazes me how the crust manages to stay crisp and firm even when loaded down with cheese and sausage. Gary places an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients and offers weekly specials such as the Greek: Mozzarella, Roasted Red Pepper, Kalamata Olive Tapenade, Feta and Fresh Rosemary.

My current favorite (pictured above) is the corn pizza with lots of cheese, sweetcorn, purple (yes, purple) potatoes and caramelized onions. You can order full or half pizzas or just a slice, or you can get two different halves in the same pan, which is what we usually do. Half a pizza is really filling. The only downside of this great-artisinal-made-to-order-thick-crusted pizza, is that it isn’t quick to make. Luckily it’s located in a bar, so take some friends and plan on drinking a couple of beers while you wait. This is definitely not fast food.

clever crow, pizza, circus bar, Columbus, no reservations

Contact:

Kihachi, Federated Boulevard,  2667 Federated Boulevard, (614) 764-9040 (closed Sunday)

Clever Crow, Circus Bar, 1227 N. High Street 614.421.2998 Tue-Sat 4-10pm

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Kihachi…. again!

I make no apology for posting about Kihachi again. I started writing this blog to record and share food experiences that excited me and every time I go to Kihachi I experience something new and wonderful. The food is so beautiful that I can’t resist taking photos and blogging allows me to remember and relive the meal. I love putting myself in Chef Mike’s hands, not knowing what will appear, but having the confidence that it will be at worst (rare) an interesting experience and at best (often) mind-blowingly delicious.

Kihachi is my first choice for special occasion dinners and as this was such an occasion, we treated ourselves to omakase and took up our favorite seats at the bar where you can watch the food being prepared and gaze in wonder at the knife skills and calm attention to detail.

The first course was a trio of dishes. From left to right: flaked salmon with grated daikon radish, greens and salmon roe and a ponzu dressing; grilled pork cheeks; Sea urchin (uni) poached in sake and mirin and served with lemon rind. The salmon dish was very refreshing, almost palate cleansing. The uni had was delicate in texture and flavor. I have never had it cooked before. I loved the citrus accent and it was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

Next was a sampler plate with many Kihachi favorites: salted fried burdock root, bamboo root, pumpkin, potato, shrimp, ginkgo nuts, duck breast, seaweed and a baby octopus. As with the trio, it was hard to know what to eat first. Front and center is a piece of kazunoko (pickled herring roe) which has a pungent salty, fishy flavor. Bottom right is some dressed spinach with a sesame sauce that tasted almost like peanut butter. I would have liked a jar to take home.

Next was a soup course. A delicate extremely clear broth with grilled toro (tuna), grilled scallions  and silky tofu.

The salad that followed was lightly grilled amberjack with shiso leaf, marinated daikon, ginger, garlic chips, micro-greens and a nori garnish. Visually stunning and an interesting but not completely compelling combination of strong flavors. I found the garlic chips slightly overpowering but I enjoyed the ginger and shiso pairing on the fish.

The next dish had a much more subdued flavor. This was tilefish with a stew of vegetables and mushrooms. The fish was rich and buttery especially contrasted with the vegetables and broth which were light and mild. Some of the enoki mushrooms were tiny.

Next was a grilled crab leg served with a dipping sauce. The shell was already broken on the underside so it was easy to pick out the flesh.

Next was one of the highlights of the meal. Shrimp wrapped in shiso leaf, wrapped in nori and fried in tempura batter. It was served with salt and dipping sauce. Having tempura elsewhere the week before the contrast was notable. Kihachi’s tempura batter was so much lighter and crisper, almost transparent. The flavors worked wonderfully together and this is a dish that I will crave.

I never tire of watching the action in the kitchen. We watched Chef Mike carefully select and slice some otoro tuna, form them into nigiri and then reach for his blow torch.

We were served two pieces of otoro nigiri sushi, one raw and the other slightly charred. Chef Mike explained that this was just to render a little of the fat. You can see how fatty and marbled this tuna was. Melt in the mouth. He asked us which we preferred – we both said raw, although both were sensational.

As always, the meal ended with a dessert. On this occasion a large chestnut encased in a chilled, rich sweet potato puree.

I should note that it is also possible to order a la carte. Most of the dishes on the omakase are also found on the menu so you don’t have to commit to 9 courses. The quality of the ingredients and the skill and care in their preparation puts Kihachi into the top echelon of Columbus restaurants. I cannot recommend it enough.

Previous meals at Kihachi:

My first visit to Kihachi
Omakase at Kihachi

Reservations at Kihachi

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Reservations at Kihachi

I have followed in Anthony Bourdain’s footsteps before but never as closely as I did last night. This time it was unintended. When I planned an omakase dinner at Kihachi for my parents visit from England, I had no idea that we would be visiting the restaurant on the same day as Mr Bourdain would be there filming for his travel food show No Reservations. You would never guess from Chef Mike Kimura and this staff that this was a special day. It was all calm efficiency as usual. We learned about it initially from our neighbors at the bar. Of course we couldn’t resist asking Chef Mike what he had prepared for his special guest and what his impressions had been.

I knew that Bourdain was in town speaking last night and I had heard a lot of speculation about where he would be eating and filming. I am pleased that he chose to showcase one of Columbus’s finest restaurants. Often when I watch No Reservations I jealously wish that I could sample the amazing and intriguing concoctions. This time I could. We had 9 courses ( a couple short on Bourdain but more than enough) and almost everything was different to my last omakase there.

The first course was a trio of small tastes. The first was an instant home run. Wafer thin sea bream wrapped around lotus flowers with ponzu sauce. I instantly wanted more. The center dish was herring roe with lightly dressed spinach and bonito flakes. The herring was a challenging flavor so the mild spinach was a good contrast. The third dish was a Japanese herb chilled and dressed and served with mushrooms. Autumnal matsutake mushrooms were a feature in many of the dishes in this meal.

The second course was an assortment of appetizers with salted gingko nuts, deep fried burdock root (gobo), a fresh water shrimp, a slice of steamed duck breast, bamboo shoot, a citrusy marinated sweet potato and slow cooked baby octopus. Sitting at the bar we had fun watching the ginkgo nuts being tossed in a large skillet of salt. Chef Mike answered a lot of questions about how each was prepared, patiently listing the ingredients in each marinade. The freshwater shrimp, eaten whole, is as light and crispy as popcorn and like popcorn you could eat a whole bowl.

Our next course was a clay pot soup with mushrooms, ginkgo nuts, fresh water eel, mitsuba and shrimp. The broth was extremely well balanced without any dominant flavor and was perfectly seasoned. You pour the broth into a tiny cup and use your chopsticks to delve for the delicacies inside the pot. The pots are steamed before serving and so the soup remains hot much longer than it would in a bowl. The misuba and a squeeze of lime are added just before serving.

The sashimi course was a beautiful array of tuna, jack fish, fluke, sea bream and sea urchin (uni) accompanied by fresh wasabi, seaweed and an aromatic shiso leaf. Both the tuna and sea urchin were among the best I have had – melting buttery mouthfuls that need no accompaniment.

This dish was a fried dumpling containing chopped lotus root and fresh water eel topped with wasabi in a dashi broth. We were told to break the ball with our chopsticks and mix the wasabi into the broth. With hindsight it might have been better to be a little more conservative with the wasabi. The dish was an interesting combination of textures with the crunchy lotus root, liquid broth and dissolving dumpling.

It was at this stage that my parents nervously started asking how many courses were left. Already beyond sated there were fears that they would not be able to finish or adequately enjoy the rest of the food. Course number six was a succulent piece of grilled fish (I believe sea perch) with more of the precious matsutake mushrooms and some pickled ginger. Matustake mushrooms are found under old Japanese red pine trees – which explains the garnish.

This was followed by shrimp stuffed shitake mushrooms with deep fried green chilis and a delicate dipping sauce. The crunchy bubbly coating, which looks like tiny beads, is created by rice flour.

The penultimate course was a classic crowd pleaser: tuna rolls with the same mouth watering sushi that had featured in the sashimi.

I love to to admire the talented chefs in action, their knife skills never fail to amaze me. The food is always beautiful but the artistry of their compositions in no way detracts from the taste. Styling never takes precedence over substance. The flavors may range from challenging to comforting to revelatory but are they always well balanced and the pride in ingredients is evident. Despite the precision and painstaking attention to detail the passion of the chefs is still evident.

Our meal finished with kuri kinton, a dessert of mashed sweet potatoes with chestnuts served chilled. Sweet, creamy, earthy and nutty, none of us had trouble finding room for this delicious finale.

I gather that the No Reservations episode featuring Kihachi will air sometime in the spring. I hope Bourdain enjoyed his meal as much as we did.

Kihachi can be found at 2667 Federated Blvd, Columbus, Ohio. 614 764 9040.
Omakase dinners need to be booked at least 24 hours ahead.

While I was looking up a couple of ingredients for this post I found a great Japanese food glossary.

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Columbus appreciation

Sign at Jeni's Ice Cream - Short North

Sign at Jeni’s Ice Cream – Short North

As the cliche goes, sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder, and sometimes returning somewhere makes you appreciate it even more. I enjoy living in Columbus. I love my neighborhood and being able to walk to countless great restaurants and bars in the Short North, Goodale park, the North Market and downtown. I like the ease, the convenience and that there is enough variety, without overwhelming choice. There are obviously some stand-out places and you can hear about some of these in the latest Columbus Foodcast – how to eat your way through 48 hours in Columbus. Brainstorming with the other contributors made me appreciate Columbus. As you can tell, there are way more places than you can fit into 48 hours, (even for someone with the appetite of CMH Gourmand) but hopefully it will inspire Columbus residents to try somewhere new in 2009 and entice some others to come and visit us!

One of the places that was at the top of my list to try in 2009 was Kihachi, a Japanese restaurant that is acclaimed as the best in Columbus but is hidden out in the burbs. I went last week as a belated birthday treat and it really was a treat. It is certainly not your average sushi bar and the food and presentation are exquisite. The sushi was superlative and my other favorite dish was the blazed eel. As well as the excellent food, the patience of our server as she translated all of the specials (written in Japanese) was wonderful, as was her enthusiasm as she waxed lyrical about the persimmon that had been soaking in sake for a week. Of course we had to try it.

Sushi fragrant with shiso and lime.

Sushi fragrant with shiso and lime.

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All of the beautiful serving bowls

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Sake soaked persimmon

One of the things that I am really appreciating about Columbus at the moment is the fact that I can buy local Ohio foods even in January. It is easy in the summer to buy local foods when there is abundant local produce but in the winter it is much more harder to find local foods, and more exciting when you do. Luckily the Greener Grocer makes finding local foods much easier. Over the last couple of weeks, I have noticed the following local Ohio foods: carnival squash (Northridge Farm), potatoes (Wayward Seed), apples (Eschleman Fruit Farm), sprouts (Sunsprout farm) mushrooms & greens (Green Edge), maple syrup (Bonhomie Acres), honey (Honey Run Farm), milk & cream (Snowville Creamery) and eggs (Two Silos) as well as wheat flour, spelt flour and corn meal from the Flying J Farm.

This is in addition to being able to buy freshly baked artisan breads from Omega at the North Market or Eleni Christina at Tasi, as well as Jeni’s splendid ice creams, proudly made in Columbus. As well as countless restaurants and a few food shops I want to try or revisit, something else on my list for 2009 is to visit the Krema nut factory, where they have been making peanut butter since 1898. Anyone else want to come?

Yesterday I attended a Slow Food Columbus planning meeting and heard the wealth of ideas people have for Slow Food events in 2009. It is exciting that Columbus has such a dynamic food culture and I am excited for the culinary delights and discoveries that 2009 holds in store.

Lunch today: Leek, Potato and thyme frittata made with Green Mountain russet potatoes from Wayward Seed and Two Silos eggs both purchased at the Greener Grocer. The thyme was frozen from my summer herb bonanza. Recipe from Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast, which continues to be one of my favorite cookbooks. This is one of the best frittatas I have made to date (and you may have noticed I make them quite a lot!) – Leek and Potato is a winning combination, not just in soups!

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