REVIEW: Hiko Sushi

11275 National Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 473-7688

Since finding Hiko years ago, I’ve gone once or twice every week. Oh – and I’m 100% Japanese by ethnicity. What does that tell you?

First of all, for those of you who’ve never been here, they serve traditional nigiri only. Omakase only at the bar. 4 dishes min per person. No verbal cell phone usage in the restaurant. Prepare for Chef Shinji to HALT the restaurant if you make/answer a call. If you persist, one of the Murata clan will throw you out.

Here’s the tale of the tape for the real foodies that want details: (Then again, this might possibly be Nigiri 101 for those of you still reviewing Japanese restaurants based on “your feelings”/“the experience” & don’t actually know dick about sushi)

WASABI:
The first thing that you’ll notice on the geta (the wooden tray in front of you upon which sushi is served) is REAL, grated Japanese wasabi root. It’s lightly sea green-tinted, sweet, milky, & with a light heat, (selling for ~$15 per 4”root) unlike the cheap, dark green playdoh-looking, flaming horseradish substitute that’s normally dumped onto idiot patrons at lower quality restaurants. For the unaware, real wasabi is not meant to be mixed with shoyu (soy sauce) but to be gingerly placed on top of your sushi & consumed directly. (Please note: Ginger is not a dish – it’s a palate cleanser. So try to restrain yourself & not hork down 5 servings of the stuff, huh?)

RICE:
All sushi restaurants have a “recipe” for their sushi rice which helps provide character to a chef’s servings. This is one of the reasons why many sushi restaurants prohibit ordering rice in a bowl: They often simply don’t have any rice other than the sushi pot & that’s not ‘pure table rice’. (This may be a revelation to those of you who have tried making your own sushi but noticed it “didn’t taste right”.) Some chefs add beer or sake, most add vinegar, maybe a little sugar & some other magical ingredients. With regard to Hiko, without going into the details of what I believe their rice preparation contains (since it’s generally a house secret) the rice is served hot, loosely packed & a very well-balanced complement to the fish.

SAKE:
They have a reasonably good sake list here with about 10 high quality brews. I’d recommend the Jozen Mizonogotoshi – a Junmai Ginjoshu, (Premium Pure Rice Sake) which is smooth and floral with hints of strawberry. Or if you prefer very dry sake, you can’t beat Shichiken – another Junmai Ginjoshu. Both are excellent pairings with all of what is served from the sushi bar and will at the very least demonstrate that you know something about sake to the chef.

SUSHI:
Chef Shinji is a traditionalist and is very serious about the speed & quality of the fish he serves. Most dishes are served 2 pieces each except for items like hand rolls.

  • Baby Tuna Sashimi in Ponzu & Sesame – A good fresh appetizer of sorts to settle hungry stomachs. Large and well balanced, this dish has a the purpose of filling up customers with good fish and sating people’s hunger a little to allow them to appreciate the other nigiri.
  • Yellowtail – Melt in mouth soft indicating good freshness, selection & cut; subtle taste especially pairs well with rice accents
  • Toro – Was soft, well textured but not quite as flavorful as some other top tier places; best with wasabi atop to bring out the fattiness
  • Red Snapper with Yuzu & Rock salt – One of the specially prepared dishes at Hiko; very well balanced with salt
  • Albacore in Ponzu – Another melt in mouth soft dish
  • Mackerel – Lightly seared in Ponzu; a preparation of Aji I had not had before varying the textures of fish served… very nice.
  • Blue Crab Roll – Larger, deliciously fresh, pure & sweet and LACKING IN MAYONNAISE unlike certain other Tustin-based restaurants (Yes, Sushi Wasabi – I’m talking to you, you posers.)
  • Lobster Roll – A large, unique serving for the Westside. Specialty roll for Hiko. A little sweeter than blue crab.
  • Sea Urchin – Hands down, the best uni in Los Angeles. Always firm, sweet, creamy and brightly orange. Nuff said.
  • Salmon Roe – Again, hands down the best Ikura in Los Angeles. Plump, taut, delightfully salty and fresh.

(Normally, I would score every dish based on a 5 pt scale but there’s no point. Everything served was basically a 5.)

EXTRAS:
A tasty albacore won ton amuse bouche dipping in ponzu is oddly served toward the end of the meal as well as a complimentary after dinner palette cleanser of two skinless Japanese apple slices which as always cold and sweet.

CONCLUSION:
Expect a $50-$60 bill for unextended omakase but there’s no question that this meal is ‘Best of LA’ quality. And there’s very few restaurants that offer this quality for this value in LA. So if you’re a foodie, and like me, you could give a damn whether or not the Barbie twins are eating down the bar from you with Hugh Hefner (ala Koi… yecch) this should be a destination restaurant for you.

5-Stars.

—————
WHY SHOULD YOU BE ON GOOD TERMS WITH THE SUSHI CHEF?
The reason you need to make sure you’re on good terms with any sushi chef is very simple: Not all sushi dishes are served equally.

One of the 2 primary dimensions of good sushi are the SELECTION and the CUT. The selection is the area of the fish that is served while the cut is the manner & size in which the fish is cut. Both of these elements are completely under the chef’s control. If the chef likes you – big surprise – your serving is going to be larger, sweeter, softer, and tastier than the next guy’s.

And the disparity is DRAMATIC. It can be the difference between a 3-Star & a 5-Star experience. My wife and I may walk in, bow, and get seated at the bar. We might quietly say hello to chef, and he’ll serve us Yellowtail belly, cut long and thin. For other servings he might break out the fresh Ikura/Salmon Roe and the brand new Uni for the day.

The retard that walks in for the first time, loudly plops herself down barking things at the chef and shouting at her dinner-mate might find herself getting tougher lateral, less fatty cuts of the same fish I was just served. She might get a dish with Chutoro-quality tuna, a lesser grade of fish. And she might discover her crab roll is not quite as fresh, sweet, or pronounced as mine… because she got served the blue crab from the back of the tray, which is likely older.

Get the picture?

A NOTE ON CERTAIN OTHER REVIEWS:
My reviews are virtually always about food quality. Except in extreme cases, I can give a damn about ambiance, price, and even service so you’re obviously going to see a disparity between this review and… oh… I dunno. The moron that downgrades a restaurant based on their petulant whining about how they don’t like the attitude of the chef… or they don’t like the restaurant rules about omakase at the sushi bar. Folks – are you eating or are you planning a gotdamned wedding? Sit down, shut up, or go to Todai.

I was at Hiko on their first week of opening. To the ludicrous Yelper that said that the food quality has "dwindled"… you’re so f-cking wrong it’s positively criminal.  My god, you should have your Yelp account revoked because I live near here and IT HASN’T CHANGED AT ALL. Perhaps you’ve just become ridiculously jaded. I mean, 3-stars… what exactly are you comparing this to? In fact, here’s a challenge if you’ve got the chops:

"Name a sushi restaurant that’s undeniably better than Hiko."

Sure there’s places that rate: But indisputably better? HELL NO. There are so few weak spots in a Hiko sushi meal, that it’s frankly easy to lose sight of how extraordinary this restaurant is… from sushi freshness, to skill, to sake selection, to the availability of fish, to all the ancillary elements that make the meal great… very little is left to criticize.

EVENT: Joy of Sake, San Francisco, Oct 23rd 6:30PM-8:30PM

San Francisco’s annual sake celebration returns on October 23 to a new venue at Galleria Design Center. The line-up this year features 327 labels, including 118 not available in the United States, as well as gold and silver award winners from the 2008 U.S. National Sake Appraisal.

Now in its sixth year, The Joy of Sake is the largest sake tasting held outside Japan and provides a rare chance to sample outstanding sakes in peak condition. Sake appetizers will be served by Ame, Betelnut, Delica rf-1, Hana, Hime, Kirala, Kyo-ya, Live Sushi Bar, Memphis Minnie’s Barbeque, Namu, Ozumo, Sanraku, Sushi Ran, Yoshi’s and Yuzu.

Tickets are $75 ($85 at the door) and can be ordered at www.joyofsake.com or by calling the Joy of Sake hotline at (888) 799-7242.

The Joy of Sake San Francisco Ticket Store
View map | View as web page

EVENT: Sushi & Sake Festival – Queen Mary, Long Beach, June 14th

The 2008 Sushi and Sake Festival is being held on Saturday, June 14 at the beautiful Seawalk Village at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA.

Festival hours are 10AM – 8PM. The event features music, food,  sushi making demonstrations, sake and beer tasting, tea ceremony, sumo demonstration, taiko and much more!

Event information:
http://www.queenmaryfestivals.com/sushi.html

Tickets need to be purchased from:
https://www.ticketleap.com/Member/event.aspx?event_id=EAFA439F-A4C4-4FD3-9DC3-79F17C4183E

Royal/T – Japanese Maid Cafe in Culver City

<taken from Urban Daddy – April 8, 2008>

Ready Maid
Japanese Maid Cafe in Culver City

What this city has been missing, clearly, is a Japanese cafe filled with waitresses done up in maid uniforms.

Here to address the baffling oversight: Royal/T, previewing this weekend in Culver City.

LA’s first real cosplay (yes, that’s short for "costume play") cafe to our knowledge, Royal/T is modeled after the menus (and hemlines) of Tokyo’s Akihabara district, with concrete floors, walls of glass and the occasional incongruous chandelier that make it all feel like a contemporary Asian art gallery gone wild—which it is. The cafe melts into an adjoining shop and gallery currently featuring the rather demanding new exhibit "Just Love Me." But your attention will be focused on the Japanese comfort food as interpreted for California diners—think shrimp and avocado salads, flank steak sandwiches and green tea mousse cakes—and delivered by the maid serving you for the duration of your stay.

The cafe debuts in conjunction with the inaugural Los Angeles Art Weekend, so you should expect an elite opening crowd of patrons like yourself who appreciate the subtle nuances of…a black dress and a white apron.

Sometimes life really is as simple as black and white.

Royal/T, 8910 Washington Blvd (W. of National), Culver City, 310-559-6300; RSVP for preview party Apr 12, 8-10pm at rsvp at fyaworld dot com

EVENT: “Afternoon Sake’ & Sushi” – Balboa Bay Club, 5th ANNUAL FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL

The Balboa Bay Club & Resort (BBC&R) will once again host its memorable Fifth Annual international celebration of food and wine. This event will be held over Memorial Day Weekend – Friday evening, May 23rd through Sunday evening, May 25th, 2008 in Newport Beach, CA.

  • Afternoon Sake’ & Sushi 2:30PM  $80*
    Sake Sommelier Louis de Santos, M.S. will lead guests through an education on the new world of hot and cold Sake pairings. Chef Abe of Bluefin fame (Crystal Cove) will be the sushi Chef.

    Saturday, May 24th, 2008
    Please Call (949) 630- 4146 To Book Reservations For These Events.

MORE INFO:
http://www.hitimewine.net/balboa_bay_club.asp

EVENT: Evening of Sake Sampling at the Winehouse, April 11th

On April 11 from 5:00PM – 7:00PM there will be a sake tasting for $10.00 at the Winehouse.  John Gaunter of Sake-World.com and the toji (brewmaster) from Rihaku will be on hand.

From 7:30PM-9:30PM, there will also be a dinner and seminar with John.  The cost will be $95.00.  (Payment in advance will be needed for dinner)

Winehouse
2311 Cotner Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90064
800-626-9463

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