Kinjiro Izakaya in Little Tokyo

sakeandcremebruleeKinjiro is carrying the torch passed on by BOS, which was a beef centric restaurant in the same space. The layout is about the same, but the open kitchen is now surrounded by clear plexiglass. Jun is still at the helm of this updated, modern To-kyo- style contemporary Izakaya.

To-kyo- is the new capital of Japan, and is the center of an international cosmopolitan scene. So its cooking is ever evolving and changing rapidly to follow whatever international wave washes up on the shores of To-kyo- Bay. Kinjiro- is named after Ninomiya Kinjiro (family name 1st), who was the Horatio Alger of Japan. He had a humble beginning, but through diligence, hard work and study, he rose to become a statesman who improved the lives of farmers, thus ensuring  food for the nation.

Kinjiro’s Ceviche is composed of good quality, fresh Tako/octopus with firm, supple, clean tasting flesh; Hotate Gai/scallops which are soft, velvety, and melt-in-your-mouth with a sweet sea minerality; Tai/snapper is soft yet textured white fish with a light meaty Umami; Ebi/shrimp which has a “snap” in the outer skin, and firm, fresh meatiness inside. The 4 tortilla chips are fried in-house just before serving are are not over fried which makes them taste bitter.  The curing juice is made up of lemon, lime, Japanese Dashi/broth made from Kombu/kelp and Katsuo/bonito with accents of tomato, cilantro, and purple onions for a complex melange of acidicy, light sourness, citrus aromatics, with a mellowing and deeper Umami from the Dashi.

The Anko/monkfish Tatsuta Age (ah-geh) has a lobster-like texture: chewy, soft, sweet and oceanic. The Anko was possibly covered in rice flour, which tends to get gooey and absorb the fresh Tempura coooking oil, making it oily to the point it leaves a large oil mark on the underlying paper. I loved the taste of the Anko, but for me, the gooey, sticky, gummy coating detracted from the inherent goodness of the Anko-.

Kikusui Junmai Ginjo was a good pairing, since it was clean, neutral in bouquet, lightly sweet & acidic to act as a good palate cleanser for more bites of the ceviche & Anko.

Their Free Range Duck Breast and Eggplant Saute was an exercise in Japanese cooking terminology called Ankake, involving a sauce that is thickened, much like the French Sauce Veloute.  The breast seems lightly grilled and the eggplant seems deep fried to soften it into a velvety texture.  Then the Ankake sauce is poured over the the duck and eggplant.  This duck is rather non-gamey while the Nasu/Japanese eggplant still retains a faint bitter earthiness that is a good foil to the smooth velvety Miso-like sauce and meaty breast.

Jun, my inimitable culinary savvy waiter/owner, suggested the Prime Beef Tongue when I was stuck on what to get as the main meat dish.   It is a special cut at the base of the tongue which, as Jun explained is the fattiest cut. It’s served medium rare in match-stick style cuts stacked in an architectural manner.  The texture is near crispy/crunchy as though it were cartilage, but with soft, beefy meatiness & flavour including beefy fat that seeps out every time you chew into the tongue. A bit of friseed green onions doused with Yuzu juice and sea salt married well with the excellent fatty meat.

Barbara Uni Pasta: house made Tagliatelle/Fettucine, wide flat ribbons that were a little softer than al dente, slippery with Koshi/stretchiness tossed in a mixture of Uni, Sake, Dashi, and possibly Mirin/sweetened Sake. The dish has sweet-earthy, slightly funky sea minerality, and finely julienned Nori/Japanese seaweed paper added more sea scents.  Nice way to end the main meal with a hearty starch as is customary at an Izakaya.

Jun suggested a stronger Sake that would stand up to the meatiness, Tengumai Yamahai Junmai class. It’s a bit like Koshu- which is aged Sake and has a woody Sugi no Ki bouquet and flavor, faint leather bouquet, with sharper, stronger, fermented taste due to the use of wild yeast that falls into the Sake vat. This is truly Jizake/regional Sake.

Sake Kasu/lees Creme Brulee was outstanding reminding me of Crema Catalana, which is a more creamy, eggy, thicker version. Lees are the solid portion of the Sake which leaves a faint yeasty, beery, or Miso-like fermented Umami upping the eggy flavour. Kinjiro’s cook is a genius in being able to imagine marrying two ingredients that are not even from the same culinary realm, and know that the result would be greater than its parts. Because of its alcohol content, the creme brulee is 21+ only.

Ho-ji Cha/roasted tea leaf is made extra strong like an expresso equivalent with strong tannins that cut through the sweetness.  It paired well with the Sake Kasu Creme Brulee.

To sum it up, excellent food.  Well modulated, well thought out, well executed. Jun, the owner and server, is informative, helpful, understated, yet extremely competent in service. Definitely a four star food experience, but the atmosphere, quietness, great service, good minimalist ambiance makes me up it to five stars.

PS  For Wagyu- freaks, there is A5 Wagyu-


Gary Idama

About Gary Idama

A gourmet since the mid 1970s, Gary Idama has an extensive knowledge of a variety of cuisines, but is partial to Japanese food. When Gary reviews restaurants, he looks for good food and drink, good bang for the bucks, a clean eatery and kitchen, plus knowledgeable and enthusiastic service. He is a member of Yelp's Elite and spends his time at restaurant and cultural events, hanging out with friends, and attending Sake/Wine tastings. His last meal on earth would be Omakase with premium Sake at Mako Sushi in Little Tokyo and maybe a little salted, preserved Fugu ovary with a Napa Pinot Noir.
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