Ask me what my favorite restaurant is and I’ll probably hesitate a bit, then launch into a long-winded and inconclusive answer. Ask me what my favorite cuisine is (other than Vietnamese, of course!) and without pause I will answer Japanese. I find sushi sensational, ramen rockin’, and bentos bomb. I could eat this stuff all day, every day.
I attended a blogger dinner at Kabuki last week to sample some of the restaurant’s classic offerings and a smattering of new menu additions. Media dinners are almost always a treat, but the ones that serve my favorite cuisine are definitely extra special.
Kabuki, a chain of Japanese restaurants serving both traditional and contemporary fare, has been serving Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada for the past 19 years. There are currently 13 locations in all with more openings on the horizon (as long as the economy allows).
The restaurant’s niche is affordable Japanese cuisine served in a hip atmosphere with congenial service. Whereas diners spending only $20 at most sushi joints leave hungry, that is the norm at Kabuki, and most go home more than satisfied.
Joining our blogger dinner was Kabuki’s sake sommelier, Yuji Matsumoto. He paired various sakes with our meal throughout the evening. Logistically, Mr. Matsumoto isn’t able to service all 13 locations personally, but he assured us that every one of Kabuki’s waiters is trained to pair libations masterfully.
Dinner began with one of the newest menu additions—tuna poke with avocado and spicy ponzu sauce ($7.95). The salad was well portioned and extremely fresh. There was an adequate amount of tuna to balance out the heap of daikon and seaweed.
Next to arrive was a yellowtail carpaccio with jalapenos and tomatoes ($8.95). This was also a new menu addition. I was indifferent to the slightly spicy puddle of citrus sauce, but quite enjoyed the thin slivers of fish paired with chilis. I remember enjoying a very similar dish at Nobu in Las Vegas circa 2005.
Following the two light starters was a trio of funky sushi rolls. Of the three, I enjoyed the Baja Roll ($6.95) the most. It consisted of a spicy crab roll topped with a spicy mayonnaise sauce and pico de gallo. I was really surprised by how well the traditional Mexican salsa paired with the spicy crab roll. Score one for Mexican-Japanese-Californian fusion.
The Vegas Roll with cream cheese and salmon fried in a light Tempura batter ($9.95) was a mouthful of richness. The fresh and clean flavors normally associated with sushi were completely absent in this creation.
My least favorite was the Lasagna Roll, which consisted of a thick layer of Parmesan, mozzarella, and cream cheese seared atop a traditional California roll ($7.95). With three cheeses weighing heavily on its back, the roll tasted overwhelmingly dense and all-in-all a bit much. Although this roll wasn’t for me, a few of my dining companions were taken by it.
For the next part of our meal, we ordered entrees straight off the menu. Prior to my main course arriving, I sipped a warm and comforting bowl of mushroom miso soup. The soup contained lots of fresh enoki and shitake mushrooms and plenty of deep miso flavor.
For my entree, I chose one of the restaurant’s specialties—grilled shrimp risotto with brown rice and shitake mushrooms ($14.95). I should’ve listened to my instincts and avoided ordering an Italian dish, because the entree turned out to be a total flop. The rice was tasteless and gluey, while the shrimps were dry and overcooked. I had it boxed up after just one bite.
Thankfully, my tablemates and I ordered a selection of nigiri to supplement our entrees. Clockwise from top left—mackerel ($3.50), fresh water eel ($4.95), fatty tuna ($9.95), and sea urchin ($6.95). Each pair of nigiri met our expectations, although Fiona of Gourmet Pigs found the rice to be too cold and dense. Kubuki’s fishes aren’t earth-shatteringly good, but at these prices, they were more than palatable. I also indulged in an order of inari ($3.25), which was fish-less but still great.
To finish, I ordered a hazelnut craquant ($6.95) with bittersweet chocolate sponge cake layered with chocolate praline craquant and hazelnut mousse. A sweet and pleasant ending.
Kabuki Pasadena, I’m coming by soon!
1545 Vine Street
Los Angeles, CA 90028