The second most frequent question I am asked as a restaurant critic, after "How do you stay so thin?", to which I always facetiously reply, "I don't swallow", is Where do you go for sushi? And for many years I give the standard answer, Matsuhisa (129 N. La Cienega, Bev. Hills), one of the best Japanese restaurant in the city and the first to become world-famous. As Nobu Matsuhisa always credits me, I wrote the first of several favorable articles about it after dining there on opening day (and the next day) in 1987. Of late, with Nobu-san mostly away, it is not quite the same. Recently I have been revealing the real place where I go whenever I need a Japanese seafood fix. Selfishly, I didn't want it to become too popular so I would have trouble getting a seat. But lately I feel an obligation to tell the world at large the truth....so here's the skinny. (The fact that it is located just a block from my Beverly Hills home is nice but immaterial.) Sushi Dokoro KI RA LA (9777 South Santa Monica Blvd., Bev Hills (310) 275-9003) has valet parking in the evening, and during the day you enter the city lot at Roxbury and walk over to the eatery. It is next to the Budget Rent-a-car lot, in the next building to the venerable La Dolce Vita. It was some 8 years ago that a delightful woman named Pat Yoshida and her son Yoshi moved into the small room and set up shop with two sushi chefs from Matsuhisa. They quickly prospered as the word got out among the many businesses on the street. Pat once told me that she had worked at several Japanese restaurants in town before the two decided to go out on their own, with Taro "Yoshi" taking the night shift while she works days. (Yoshi told me that coincidentally he had grown up with Nobu's daughters.) "We felt that there was room for a really upscale boutique serving the very best quality fish at reasonable prices." With just 30 seats and 10 at the counter, the restaurant is noted for its omakase and also its blue crab hand rolls. I have noted a change even for the better of late as new sushi chefs took charge. They are making many dishes that are more 'modern' and combining authentic Washoku style with some Western touches. More exciting cooked food, a few dishes of which have become my passions.
'Sushi Dokoro' means 'special place to eat sushi' and then Ki ra la means 'sparkling' like a gemstone, a perfect description for this gemlike place. In advance of DineLA, which takes place from July14th to Sunday, July 27th, they are offering an amazing special menu. At lunch, for $20 (not including tax and tip), you can start with edamame (those steamed green soy beans endemic at all Japanese places, somewhat better here) and fresh tofu with spicy sauce, followed by a first course of miso soup and house mixed green salad. Then comes a second course of Chirashi Donburi: tuna, albacore, salmon, zuke salmon, yellowtail, spicy tuna, spicy salmon and halibut over sushi rice. Alternately you can get six pieces of sushi: tuna, yellowtail, albacore, salmon, zuke salmon (marinated) and halibut. And then you will get a Sushi Roll: a choice of spicy tuna, spicy albacore, spicy yellowtail, spicy salmon, California or Negi Hama (yellowtail and scallion). There will be a biscotti for dessert. That's all for $20! At dinner, for $35 a person (not including tax and tip) you will get edamame, fresh tofu with spicy sauce, and a cucumber-seaweed salad. The second course will be a Spicy Tuna Canape on crispy rice and the famous roll of Blue Crab wrapped in smoked salmon. The Third Course will be six pieces of sushi and a sushi roll, followed by a biscotti. Yes, that's all for $35 at the DineLA dinner.
Yesterday I stood with Pat and pointed across the avenue, to the stunning new building of The Gores Financial Group, just opened on Spalding, and said that they will provide a solid assist to her business. She smiled and pointed to a group of women lunching at the corner table and said the tall one was the accounts manager at the Gores Technical Group and had already told her that many of them will be coming here. Lucky them.
When I dine there, I will usually start with a Sashimi selection of 5-6 pieces of pristine fish, which will cost anywhere from $16 to $23. I may go to the Oyster Tempura with Truffle, 2 pieces for $12. This is a Kumamoto oyster lightly fried sprinkled with sea salt and a shaving of black truffle. Occasionally, I will order the signature Dynamite, which is giant clam, scallop and mushroom, grilled with Masago mayo, $12. I have mentioned their legendary Blue Crab Roll, wrapped in smoked salmon, with sour cream and tobiko on top, 2 pieces for $18 and well worth it. They have a selection of ten carpaccios, from Albacore to Tuna Cajun style, all running about $18, and there are original sushi numbers, about a dozen selections, from Seared Salmon Belly at $8 to Poached Live Sweet Shrimp for $12. I happen to love the 'collar' of fish, and here they have Yellowtail Collar ($12), grilled and served with ponzu sauce, and Salmon Collar ($12), grilled and served with scallion and bonita flakes. Try some of the awesome original rolls ($9-18) for the ultimate over-the-top excess.
Omakase, of course, the sushi chef's ultimate tribute to gourmet gluttony, here to be ordered in advance when making your reservation. At lunch it's $65 and up for the sushi one and at dinner it's $95 and up. This will feature Toro, Wagyu beef and uni, all splendid surprises. Often I will lunch on Beef Sukiyaki ($14), thinly-sliced beef with tofu, green onion, cooked in a sweet soy sukiyaki sauce. The Black Cod is marinated in soy sauce, mirin and sake....and at $10 is about half of what Matsuhisa charges for the same dish., Now is Soft Shell Crab season, so the Fried Soft Shell Crab served with ponzu sauce at $10 is another wonder. So many other surprises to be had: Miso Nasu ($7), fried Japanese eggplant with miso sauce. New here are vegetable ($1.50) and shrimp/pork dumplings ($2.50)
For offices in the area, they have a To Go Order Form which can be faxed in (310-275-9004) with a $20 minimum for credit card purchases. Call-in to (310) 275-9003 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am getting hungry as I write this and think I will stroll over for a bite. Chicken Kushi Age, deep-fried tenderloin (3) and thigh (3) with rice for $9.75,or $16 with choice of one roll. To be followed by some Mochi ice cream (2 for $4) or a Home-made Kobochu Crème Brulee ($7). It is very unusual for any Asiatic restaurant to have outstanding desserts, but Pat is unique....she bakes fresh biscotti every day in an assortment of flavors, and they are sold by the piece and in packages. The Cranberry Chocolate and Walnut Biscotti ($2.50) is incredible.
Ki ra la is quite simply my choice as the best, most exciting, most satisfyingly awesome Japanese restaurant in Los Angles today! Period. It just doesn't get better. The fish is supremely fresh and delicious, the prices are decent, the service is perfection (especially if the lovely new wait person, Saki, happens to be waiting on you.) Look forward to seeing you there.
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for twelve monthly issues) email him at email@example.com