In addition to being truthful, I figure it’s also in my best interest to speak highly of this place. In giving Kiko a thumbs-up, as I’m about to do, I have hope it will start to bustle.
A bustling sushi restaurant is what you want. Bustle means busy, and busy means turnover, and when the chief product is fresh fish, turnover is a desirable thing.
My three outings to Kiko have been largely lonely. Just my table, plus a few scattered others, never more than a dozen diners at any of my visits, echoing over a large, modern and smartly understated space.
You will find Kiko in the new Preston Square Building on the re-constructed main drag of Little Italy. Open for about two months, its owners — a family of brothers, sisters and in-laws — come from Vancouver.
Kiko’s menu is too long. Eight pages, more than 200 items, plus combos and specials make for exhausting reading. The menu is divided, as you might expect, into soup and salad and appetizers, plus tataki, sushi and sashimi, a page of the house special rolls, then vegetable rolls, Maki, Temaki, Tempura, Teriyaki, Donburi, Noodles, Desserts, plus combos of various things.
Makes you want to plop yourself at the sushi bar and order omakase (chef’s choice). Which I’ve done, at one solo lunch, and which proved rewarding, but at other visits, I’ve attempted to mine the menu for good eating.
Of the non-sushi/sashimi offerings, the inevitable miso soup is gentle and balanced. It’s available with fresh clams, which makes it more generously salted, but even better. I like the wakame seaweed salad, with its delicate sesame flavour, chewy chomp and garland of beet ribbon. The ebi gyoza, dumplings of whole shrimp and ground pork, are meaty, crunchy treats.
The shrimp and vegetable tempura is a pretty display of delicious things. The shrimp are particularly good, big and juicy, encased in a thin, crisp batter, and the assorted vegetables — zucchini, green bean, eggplant, sweet potato — are perfectly cooked, the coating wispy and just greasy enough to add flavour, while allowing the vegetables to speak clearly on their own. The tempura dipping sauce is weightless and well balanced.
A chef’s selection of sashimi, presented on a snowy base of shredded daikon, features fresh-tasting fish, nicely sized and precision-cut across the grain, such that the flesh has a full, smooth feel in the mouth, before dissolving like butter.
Kiko’s “special rolls” have typically gimmicky names like Mango Tango and Rapture Roll, but the ones I’ve tried have been a toothsome balance of textures and colours, a pleasing contrast of salty and sweet, soft and crunch, the rice lightly packed and nicely seasoned. Some assemblies have added zip from a not-cloying spicy mayonnaise, some are served with a swath of sauce (mustard, lemon, green onion and wasabi). A tasty veneer of beef tataki (just seared, the flesh left raw) over daikon hillocks, arrives surrounding a pond of spicy, gingery ponzu sauce.
I’ve been less taken with some of the hot dishes. The scallop motoyaki came recommended by our server, but I found the assembly of chopped scallop and mushrooms (menu says oyster, these were button) baked in a mayonnaise sauce, cloying, sweet and fishy-tasting. A noodle hot pot is crowned with shrimp tempura but the seafood served with the thick, slippery rice noodles is dull and overdone, while the broth is too sweet for my liking.
There are teriyakis (chicken, beef, salmon, tuna, scallop and combinations of these, which I haven’t tried) and donburi dishes (various things on rice) and we’ve liked the beef don best, though again, I find the sugar level high. In fact, I brought the rest home for my sweet sons — who devoured the leftover beef (tender) and onions (caramelized) on rice, and declared it fabulous — while I ordered another round of ‘Cherry Blossom’ (salmon and avocado wrapped with Red tuna, topped with tobiko, on a bed of seaweed) and ‘Crunch and Munch’ (shrimp tempura, cucumber, unagi, avocado and tobiko with a dash of wasabi and green onion sauce. Yum.)
So here you go: thumbs up to a new sushi restaurant. Kiko strikes me as a cut above, with eager service provided by the young owners, and in need of more raw fish fans keen on enjoying a fresh product that swims regularly in and out of Little Italy.