Friday, August 01, 2008

Kabuki Sets the Stage for Sake-and-Sushi Pairings

Kabuki is a dramatic form of Japanese theatre. Although it has been around for centuries, it is still thought of as being an avant-garde entertainment. Something out of the ordinary. I wondered if the restaurant hold up to its name...

Let’s face it - there is no shortage of sushi restaurants
in Los Angeles, which – for a sushi-a-holic such as myself - is totally fine by me. I could eat sushi for breakfast, lunch and dinner for about 4 months in a row and not get tired of it. If I were getting a jolt in the “electric chair,” sushi would be my last meal request. Finding sushi in L.A. is not difficult. Wading through the tides of mediocre restaurants is the hard part.

I went with an open mind – and rumbling tummy – to Kabuki Japanese Restaurant’s Hollywood location. Fair or not, when a reasonably priced restaurant has 12 locations, it is sometimes easy to let one’s mind slip into thinking that it is some kind of fast food chain. This, however, is not the case with Kabuki.

The sushi is good. Have I had “better?” Yeah. Have I had sushi in a more “exclusive” environment? Sure. But, what I like about Kabuki is that it does not merely rest on its ever-expanding laurels. The doors only recently opened to its latest Las Vegas venue, but the restaurant group continues to strive to give guests better and more intriguing choices. However, there was one element that really took Kabuki from “very adequate” to “outstanding,” for me, and that is Yuji Matsumoto, the Sake Sommelier.

Matsumoto oversees the sake list and creates Asian-inspired cocktails employing both Japanese sake (rice wine) and Korean soju (distilled rice wine) for all of the restaurants across Southern California, Arizona and Nevada. And, what I enjoyed the most was trying his suggestions for pairing Executive Chef Masa Kurihara’s newest creations with selected flights from the sake menu.

For example,Yuji suggested tasting Chef Kurihara’s spicy new “Lotus on Fire Roll” (Spicy Tuna, Lotus Root, and JalapeƱo) with a slightly floral sake. The innate sweetness of the Japanese elixir cooled the tongue, balancing the chili’s “heat.” I also particularly liked the unfiltered (cloudy looking) sake alongside another new roll, the “Hamachi Sake Box Sushi.” The dish gets its name from its square shape and made from layers of rice, salmon, crab and yellowtail, and the sake rounded out each tasty bite.

The cocktails were quite nice, as well, although I prefer them either before the food or after. I find that even sake cocktails overpower the delicate taste of raw fish because of the various juices and other sugary ingredients. When dining and drinking at Kabuki, my suggestions are as follows:

Before dinner: The Lychee Tokyo Mojito, made with both sake and soju, is a refreshing apetite opener.

During dinner: if you are lucky enough to have Yuji in the house, ask his suggestions for pairing sake with the food. If he is not there, try a flight of three and let your tastebuds help you discover which combinations you like.

For dessert: Indulge in a Creamy Peach Saketini. It is like an alcoholic Asian creamsicle in a glass.

I am definitely heading back to Kabuki – particularly if I know that Yuji will be present. I found the idea of a sake sommelier a rather cutting edge even here in Tinsel Town, which has everything one could wish for. And, like watching a Kabuki theatre performance, isn’t a little razzle dazzle what we seek when dining out?

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