Izakaya Kikufuji Birthday Dinner

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I was down with the flu the week leading up to my birthday, so I didn’t really do anything special to celebrate. Plus, I’m hoping to hold another celebration soon enough, fingers crossed. That said, I had a quiet dinner with my family at Izakaya Kikufuji in Little Tokyo, Pasong Tamo. No booze aside from a couple of mugs of nama (draft) beer. The food was excellent, though, as it always is at Kikufuji.

The first dish to arrive was basashi. I’d previously tried this at Seryna around the corner. Kikufuji’s seemed a bit less fresh than what I had at Seryna. The meat was softer, almost mushy, and not as well-marbled. Nevertheless, this was still quite good. It was almost beef-like, not gamey at all, and still tender despite being leaner. There was some initial apprehension when my family found out what I had ordered for them, especially on the part of my mom, as this was her favorite animal. After they had a taste though, they didn’t mind at all.

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Luckily, Kikufuji also had some o-toro available. Last time I had toro was at a Japanese restaurant in Rockwell which served the fish with powdered wasabi. Needless to say, the whole experience was ruined. Luckily, Kikufuji is always there to save the day, with fresh, grated wasabi, lightly dabbed onto the fish instead of mixed with the soy sauce – brightening up the gloriously fatty prime tuna belly.

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More raw seafood arrived in the form of a sashimi platter of hotate, hamachi, shake, sanma, maguro, ika and unagi (fine, the unagi was grilled). Everything was firm, fresh and full of flavor. You pay a bit more in restaurants like this, but the quality is definitely there.

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Next up, fifteen pieces of assorted nigiri, ikura gunkan, and a six-pack (I’m clearly missing my beer here) of negitoro maki. The flavors were excellent, but when I did the requisite flip to dip the fish in the soy sauce by hand (as is one of the accepted customs, but only for nigiri), the fish would more often than not separate from the rice.

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Of course, tempura is always a must-order at a Japanese restaurant. As is chahan, which I forgot to take a photo of. Kikufuji doesn’t prepare its own fried rice, but they can order it for you from one of the adjacent Little Tokyo restaurants.

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The unagi kabayaki, grilled freshwater eel with a sweet soy sauce marinade was excellent. If you’re used to the unagi preparations at buffets or inferior Japanese restaurants, then the real thing done well will definitely blow you away.

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“Cubic” steak was one of the yakiniku recommended by the waitress. This was grilled perfectly, with a nice char on the outside, still pink in the center and very juicy. Minimally seasoned with some salt, this is a great way to get a cheap steak fix without feeling deprived.

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Enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon also arrived. One can never go wrong with bacon, and the added bite from the mushrooms balanced the fattiness and saltiness of the bacon, making the entire roll seem much lighter than it really is and therefore that much easier to eat tons of.

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Another highlight was the grilled hamachi buri head. Fish head and collar is a family favorite, and when it comes to grilled fish, it doesn’t get much better than hamachi. Salmon and tuna tend to be a bit dry and bland, which was not the problem with this fish. An additional sprinkling of calamansi was all the additional seasoning needed for this dish, which I gratefully polished off as almost everyone was full to bursting already.

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Because of that meal, I have around a dozen free nama beer stubs good for the next few visits. While I’d prefer a good craft beer to go with a nice Japanese meal, who can say no to free San Miguel Pale Pilsen? I’d always go for our local brew than advocate a cheap “premium” industrial lager from another country. I’m definitely looking forward to my next meal at Kikufuji, especially because I’ll only be paying for my food.

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