Kurisaki Sushi, Redondo Beach: An elite sushi restaurant attracts a fanatical local following
An elite yet modest sushi restaurant attracts a fanatical local following
by Richard Foss
My wife has gone to the same coffee shop every Saturday morning for so long that the staff knows her order by heart. They ask “The usual?” when she gets to the counter, but the speed at which it is delivered suggests that they started making it while she was still in line. It’s a good feeling to have a place like that in your life, but it’s not something that can happen everywhere.
Traditional sushi bars are an example – if their menu never changes, they’re not very good at what they do. It’s a cuisine based on fresh ingredients, and the best places will change their offerings frequently based on what’s in season. Even if you do have favorite items there, you should study that chalkboard menu very carefully to avoid missing some delicacy that is only offered for a short time.
I was reminded of this at Kurisaki Sushi, the elite Redondo restaurant owned by a chef with an impressive resume. He worked first in Japan and then spent nineteen years at Nobu, the Beverly Hills landmark where the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian ideas was invented. Kuri-san opened this restaurant in the former Naka Sushi in April of 2015, and since then has developed a fanatical following among locals.
Feel free to look at the regular menu, because there are gems there, but make sure to spend some quality time with the daily special list before making any decisions. Unless you speak Japanese you’ll probably need to ask your server about some items, because rare vegetables and seafood are named without explanation. Some patience may be required, because the staff is small, but the rewards are considerable.
I visited with a party of five, and we decided to order many small plates to start and share everything. We began with fried baby sardines, roasted eggplant, and crispy rice with spicy tuna, which we had tried elsewhere, and mozuku seaweed, stone-cooked matsutake mushroom, and spicy octopus carpaccio in yuzu sauce, which we hadn’t.
When most people are served fried baby sardine it takes them a minute to figure out what they are seeing. Our plate held four lacy brown chips with black spots, and it looked like a lattice of tangled string had been fried and cut into squares. It isn’t until you realize that the tiny black spots are eyes that you realize you are about to eat forty or fifty tiny whole fish in each chip. One person compared the taste to fish-flavor popcorn, and I really can’t improve on that description.
The crispy rice with spicy tuna was a bit of a change from the usual presentation, with deep-fried cubes of rice topped with finely minced fish and a bit of scallion. Making the rice into a cube instead of the usual thin disc means the middle remains moist so there’s something more to the rice than crunch. It was well done but fairly standard, and given all the unique items that are available here it’s not something I’d get again. I would get the eggplant, because the sweet eel sauce that topped it elevated it beyond the ordinary.
When I had asked our server about the mozuku seaweed, she tried to steer me toward the kelp, warning me that mozuku is slimy and non-Japanese often don’t like it. Slimy is indeed a turn-off word for many Americans, but we all liked the moist crunch of the mozuku. The seaweed has a slightly more robust flavor than the kelp used in seaweed salads, and a slight funky saltiness that contrasted well with the sweet vinegar and ginger dressing. The matsutake mushroom was a bit more divisive, with some at the table enjoying the heavy, musky flavor and dense texture. The mushrooms arrived sizzling on a hot clay tray with asparagus and topped with saffron threads, a pretty presentation. Matsutakes are rare and harvested wild, and prices fluctuate; check before ordering. On the day we dined the dish was twenty dollars, but at times it’s considerably higher.
The show-stopping item of our meal was the octopus chili carpaccio, a delicious item with an amazingly ornate presentation. Discs of the octopus body and tentacles were presented in a yuzu sauce with dots of very spicy hot sauce. The body and tentacles had different textures and flavors, a fact noticeable in this presentation. This dish is a special, and if it is offered when you are there it’s a must-try.
After an order of vegetable tempura as a palate cleanser after the parade of unusual items, we shared four sushi rolls: the house special roll, sweet gourd shavings roll, yellowtail and scallion, and a crab roll. I had never tried the sweet gourd shavings by themselves, though I have had them in other dishes. Calabash gourds are naturally bitter, so they’re cooked in sweet mirin sake to create a mild but balanced vegetable flavor. It was interesting to learn the flavor of an ingredient that is usually a component of something else.
We ordered the house special roll just to see what such an accomplished sushi master would decide was special. The combination of four fish with avocado, scallion, and rice was wrapped twice, once with nori seaweed and once with thinly shaved cucumber. It was excellent but not served with any particular flash or style, a reminder that this is at its heart a cuisine of simplicity. I left our table to talk with Kuri-san and watch him work, and when I asked about the rack of wicked-looking knives behind the bar he courteously explained what each one was used for. This time we had a table; next time I’ll be at the counter to watch his artistry.
The yellowtail roll was all about the flavor of fresh fish minimally accented, the crab a bit more complex. It was served warm with a dash of sauce and scallion and also some toasted black sesame seeds in the rice, a successful combination.
Our final items were ikura, the salmon roe that is often served with a quail egg, and grilled fish in an herbed slightly sweet sauce. Our server suggested that we not have the quail egg on the ikura because it wouldn’t be needed; this ikura was very fresh and minimally salted, unlike that served most places. She was right, and the mild, rich flavor needed no enhancement. As for the grilled fish, the sauce was more strongly herbal than most Japanese seafood preparations, and whether this was a Peruvian influence or the chef’s own idea it was a good one.
There is a short list of sakes, wines, beers, and shochus, and we got a bottle of Dassai sake. It was fruity, floral, and a fine companion to the food.
Our diner for five with two small bottles of sake ran $212, which is very reasonable for sushi of this caliber. We could have spent more if we had romped through the sake list or ordered some of the more arcane fish, but we were very happy with our choices. Kurisaki Sushi is a world class sushi restaurant, as fine as anything in Los Angeles at a fraction of the price you’d pay in Beverly Hills.
Kurisaki Sushi is at 1414 South PCH in Redondo. Open daily except Monday 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m., parking in rear (complimentary valet). Wheelchair access good, alcohol served, corkage $15. No online menu, phone 310-540-5555. ER
by Richard Foss