This is the first of a five-part series, Eating with the EICs, in which Octagon editors-in-chief review local high-end restaurants. Next time, the editors-in-chief will head to local Middle Eastern restaurants.
Fully embracing second-semester-senior bliss, Mehdi Lacombe, Jack Christian and I went to Kru (3135 Folsom Blvd.) and Mikuni (1530 J St.) on Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, respectively.
To avoid comparing apples to oranges — or in this case, “agedashi tofu” to “onigiri” — we ordered similar dishes at both restaurants: a sampling of various sashimi, two or more rolls, Brussels sprouts (Jack’s request, an integral part of any authentic sushi feast) and “tonkotsu” ramen (ramen with a pork-bone broth).
Nicole Wolkov, ’17, once told me, equal parts jeeringly and seriously, that I “live at Kru.”
Likely confirming her hypothesis, we editors entered just as Nicole’s parents were leaving.
“We thought we’d see you here,” Lauren Wolkov told me with a hug and a grin.
Harvey Wolkov told us that unfortunately, the lamb ramen, which neither Mehdi nor Jack had tried but that I’ll never forget, had been discontinued.
Looking into the packed restaurant, I thought, “If they can cancel the lamb ramen, couldn’t they cancel some of these reservations?”
While getting free parking is doable, getting a table is difficult. We didn’t make reservations, so we were at the mercy of the bar area. Luckily, as it was a Wednesday at 7 p.m., we nabbed a small booth in the corner of the bar.
Instead of a table, we had two cylindrical concrete slabs and one piece of petrified wood on which we had to fit courses of food.
I guess that’s why the portions are so small.
Our waiter was charismatic but forgot Mehdi’s order of the “tontoro” ($17). (Kru’s waiters typically don’t write orders down and don’t carry pens or notepads.)
However, that discrepancy didn’t leave a sour taste in our mouths since the order wasn’t put on the bill.
The first things to arrive at the table were our two sashimi plates: the more traditional 15-piece sashimi mix ($40) and the more unorthodox 10-piece sashimi tapas ($24), consisting of five different fish of the chef’s choice, which — in our case — was salmon, “o-toro” (fatty tuna), barbequed albacore, yellowtail and fried fish jaw with a ginger sauce.
The fried dark fish meat was tender, sliding right off the bone; its thick, tangy ginger sauce enlivened other non-fried morsels; the saltiness of one fish was calmed by a soy-based sauce.
The sashimi mix had three pieces each of “o-toro,” salmon, butterfish, yellowtail and mackerel set atop a raised bed of ice with a seaweed salad, sprouts and cherry tomatoes.
“Everything is so fresh,” Jack said with the first bite of the supple and savory yellowtail.
“Even the random cherry tomatoes are good,” Mehdi added.
Accompanying the fish was Kru’s pickled wasabi — not the fake, green-colored, horseradish-and-mustard-grain blend in most restaurants.
But while I thought the butterfish was light and airy, Jack said “the oddly textured fish” didn’t rock his world.
What did, though, were the “aesthetic Brussels” — $9 Brussels sprouts available periodically on the specials menu.
“Oh, yeah, that’s good,” Mehdi said with his first bite of the crisp buds.
The sauce — a refreshingly light aioli topped with savory, spicy, sesame-seed-y “shichimi togarashi” — was even better.
“The sauce gives a whole new dimension to it,” Jack said.
“The light, spicy-creamy sauce adds to the aftertaste,” Mehdi added. “It’s the last thing on your taste buds.”
Unbeatable sauces seemed to be Kru’s thing.
The boys’ rolls — the Kings roll ($18), a combo of lobster tempura, crab, citrus and avocado, and the Spicy B roll ($14), a mix of multiple tempura with spicy tuna, avocado and cucumbers — arrived next, and again, the sauce was boss.
“The eel sauce created a nice medley of flavors and pulled together the crab and lobster tempura,” Jack said about his Kings roll. “It was all very smooth; I just wish there were more crunch.”
While Jack wanted more crispiness, Mehdi said he enjoyed the well-done “crispy breading” of his Spicy B roll.
And even though crispiness isn’t part of the ramen equation, that’s not to say “tonkotsu” ramen can’t have a crunch.
Kru’s $18 take on the go-to ramen classic pairs tender, charred chunks of pork belly with seaweed, green onion, more “shichimi togarashi” (upon request) and a perfectly poached egg.
Seriously, the egg — particularly the delicate and slightly salty white — was so good it could act as another star sauce.
“I got just a tip of yolk on my noodle, but I could definitely taste that powerful flavor,” Mehdi said.
And more so than with his roll, Jack found varied textures with the pork.
“That pork is so tender — it just melts in your mouth,” Jack said with his eyes closed and chopsticks still in the air.
By the time we’d finished scooping out every morsel and lapping up each lick of sauce, we’d spent over an hour and a half at that little bar booth.
Service was a bit slow, but that was OK.
“This is a place where people sit for two hours,” Jack said. “Slow service isn’t that much of a problem.”
Before the tip, the bill for the three of us came out to $133.15.
In retrospect, getting two sashimi was a bit overkill, as the same types of fish were served in both with slight variations; however, the menu is vague and doesn’t list what fish will be served since every day is different.
Kru does better with the unorthodox, so venture out and get the fish jaw instead of a roll — you’ll be glad you did.
I’m vehemently opposed to parking meters, so although I didn’t get a front-row spot like Jack and Mehdi, I had to walk only a block and a half to get to Mikuni.
Although it was a Friday night, we were there at 5:30, so we arrived to plenty of open seats under Mikuni’s ultraviolet and fluorescent lights. As Mehdi said, the environment was “fast-food-like.”
Our waiter — armed with pen, paper and a Naruto-esque headband — promptly took our orders.
The first to come was Jack’s “blessed” Freaky Brussels ($6.95). Although this dish was what compelled him to order the European vegetable at Kru, Jack admitted it wasn’t as good as Kru’s.
“The seasoning is a lot more intense, much more garlicky,” he said.
“Yeah, I prefer the sauce and lighter taste at Kru,” Mehdi agreed.
But unlike Kru, where a waiter forgot a dish, Mikuni gave us an extra two.
“Hey, sorry about this, but when I asked the kitchen to have extra soup bowls to split the ramen, they gave me two extra bowls of miso soup,” our waiter said, bringing two little bowls of salty goodness (usually priced at $2) to the table. “You’ll have to fight over a way to split them.”
Thankfully, along with chocolate and butterfish, Jack doesn’t like miso soup, so Mehdi and I drank ours happily.
Next came Mehdi’s sesame chicken ($9.95). To avoid unfairly weighing restaurants against each other, I didn’t try it. Mehdi didn’t rave about it or viscerally react to it, so you be the judge.
Shortly after, Mehdi spilled his water, but the staff was quick to wipe it up in a polite, professional manner.
Unlike at Kru, everything — from dishes to towels — came out fast.
Platter F was next. Mikuni’s platters are $82 apiece and offer a curated variety of sashimi, nigiri, rolls and even cooked dishes. They provide great value for a wide variety of foods to please anyone at the table.
Our Platter F had a Fair Oaks roll comprised of panko shrimp and avocado; one Bob’s roll made with cream cheese, crab, panko shrimp, avocado and salmon; a tempura lobster roll; four pieces each of tuna and albacore nigiri; edamame; and the chef’s choice of sashimi, which in our case was octopus, albacore tuna, salmon, mackerel and yellowtail.
The presentation wasn’t as fancy as Kru’s, but the fish was just as fresh.
Abhorred by the fluorescent green gunk masquerading as wasabi, I asked the waiter for some “real wasabi.” She replied that they had house-ground as well as pickled — but the pickled was $1 extra.
The house-ground “real wasabi” was as pungent and mellow as Kru’s was. Jack, who’d never had “real wasabi” or octopus sashimi, said he appreciated the “good tang” of the lemon with which the octopus was served.
Mehdi thought the edamame needed more salt, but my taste buds had had their fair share after the Freaky Brussels.
And Jack and Mehdi said Mikuni’s tempura, unlike the rolls at Kru, was sufficiently crunchy.
“I could taste and feel the crunch of the shrimp tempura,” Jack said.
Then came the “tonkotsu” ramen — three thinly sliced sheets of pork belly, fish balls, marinated and soft-boiled egg, corn, black fungus and pink-and-white “menma” root.
Mikuni’s ramen was very traditional; the broth, which Jack and Mehdi preferred to Kru’s, was saltier, thicker and milkier. There was a fairly good balance of flavors, although a bit too much black fungus compared to other ingredients.
However, the meat paled in comparison to Kru’s.
“The meat at Kru was more tender — melty, almost,” Jack said. “This is more on the chewy side. But it’s still very flavorful.”
The noodles were much thinner than expected, almost string-like.
Furthermore, I’m not certain whether it was Mehdi’s or a restaurant worker’s, but there was a thin black piece of hair embedded among the otherwise scrumptious radish.
We left the neon-lit interior after paying $122.76.
Unlike at Kru, we left Mikuni incredibly full. Mehdi apparently had eaten a piece of pizza after going to Kru, but he was stuffed after his Mikuni feast.
However, the consensus was overwhelming adoration for Kru. Although the food was slightly more expensive and the boys preferred Mikuni’s ramen broth, we all agreed that Kru’s food was more flavorful and better textured.
Originally published in the Feb. 12 edition of the print Octagon.