Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Kirala: Sushi Satisfaction

I've stated before in this space, and many times to friends, how sushi in the Bay Area never seems to deliver. It's either too expensive for what it is, or the fish/preparation is much weaker than expected. Finally, I think I may have found the sushi that satisfies at Kirala in Berkeley.

I know I'm a little late to the party on this one, as Kirala is well-written-up, and the biggest general complaint about the place is the long waits, but it still warrants a mention. Four of us met out there last night and had an incredible sushi dinner for a very palatable price.

My basic approach to sushi (that I must announce at the start of dinner if at sushi with someone who's never been with me) is that sharing is great, and rice is a waste of time and space. What I mean by rice being a waste is that I prefer to go with either sashimi or aggressive rolls that use rice as a binder only. Filling up on rice is a terrible idea as far as I'm concerned, and this goes for pretty much all Asian cuisine in my book. In it's most basic form this means that I would never order a California roll and keep it to myself.

The net effect of this approach is that I end up with pretty high standards for quality of fish and preparation. However, I'm somehow not willing to pay for sushi the way I would for other high-end cuisine. Yep, sounds like I'm generally screwed.

Not at Kirala! We started with some Robata-grilled baby lobster tails in a cream sauce, and then moved onto the sashimi and the rolls. The lobster tails were the best part of the meal, with a succulent flavor and that good shellfish texture where they're firm but with the juiciness locked inside. "Cream sauce" is one of those terms used in Asian cuisine where they know that white people will generally freak out if they said "mayonnaise-like" - think Walnut Prawns. I say just go with it.

The sashimi was great, with the fish very fresh and the cuts nice and thick. The rolls, while the menu selection was small and unimaginative, all delivered the goods. We finished with an order of Tonkatsu, which is pork breaded and fried. My own description, while accurate, sounds gross, but trust me that this is incredibly good and tastes lighter than it sounds.

The ambiance and the service in the place was very straight-forward. There were no whistles and bells, no characters amongst the waitstaff and bartenders that we could see, and the utilitarian set-up was perfect for concentrating on the food. Everything held together well.

One general note on sushi that held true at this place is that I love the unfiltered sake - called Nigori at most places. Best yet, it's usually among the cheapest sake on the menu. The bottle that I most often get (including last night) is in the picture to the right. At Kirala, the bottle was $11 and two bottles took care of three of us for the evening.

I recommend Kirala, even with the wait and the drive. Finally, it's Bay Area sushi that all adds up.


Anonymous said...

i agree with no rice. rice is just filler and gets in the way. and on that note, i dont want rice in my burritos either

suckafree said...

I'm a little better with rice in a burrito, only because that rice adds flavor. It's tasteless, doughy white rice that I have a problem with.

Anonymous said...

Well-cooked rice is not "doughy." You must be referring to the way many Americans cook rice, or overcook I should say. Kind of like what they often do with vegetables.

Anonymous said...

Why is this restaurant on frisco food? Isn't it in Berkeley? Why don't you review PF Changs in Walnut Creek while you're at it?