March 28

sake and food pairing at kihachi.columbus oh.

Japanese cuisine in a strip mall?Kihachi Sake ListKihachi specials for the nightOnigoroshi (Shizuoka) at KihachiRed Crab salad with Mizuna+Onkoroshi SakeRed Crab salad with Mizuna #2
Maguro (tuna) Nuta with Suishin  SakeAssistant chef at KihachiJust wood and light.Sake Steamed DuckLotus root/shrimp paste and shiso - fried.Traditional seasonings - perfectly simple
Yaki Onigiri - grilled rice ball with shoyu

Kihachi – Columbus OH, a set on Flickr.

Sometimes as Americans, who are busy and constantly connected to friends all over the world via devices in our pockets, we need reminding of just how large and diverse our country is. As someone who used to live in Japan, I sometimes need reminding that large coastal cities are not the only places with Japanese populations in the U.S. Nothing illustrates both of these points more than Kihachi in Columbus OH.

On a business trip in Columbus this week, I was informed by several folks that there was a traditional Japanese restaurant in town that catered to the plethora of Japanese nationals who were here working for Honda of America. Although none of these people had ever been and had no details about Kihachi (besides the fact that they didn’t serve sushi) I was suitably intrigued. Using my iPhone and rental car, I found Kihachi quite easily but I admit to being a bit skeptical as I pulled up outside of a strip mall. It was early on Monday evening and a few cars were parked outside. The exterior is quite simple; a small sign and clean widows partially obscured by paper screens. I caught the glimpse of a washitsu, or traditional Japanese room with tatami mat floor, not a bad sign. As I walked inside I was properly greeted in Japanese and as I sat at the counter the place felt “right”; I knew that this was going to a nice evening. This is what a Japanese restaurant should be: a small and focused menu, stunning ingredients, a simple but beautiful interior, and warm and friendly staff. At times during my meal I felt as if I was back in Japan and as more customers arrived and the babble of Japanese conversation increased I knew that this was a true hidden gem; a small piece of Japan in the unlikeliest of places.

I could go on-and-on but I will let the Sake and food pairings and a small slideshow of pictures speak for me. If you live anywhere near Columbus Ohio and are interested in real Japanese food made with seasonal ingredients; you owe it to yourself to go to Kihachi.

The Meal:

Red Crab and Mizuna Salad
paired with
Onikoroshi (Shizuoka)
Delicate and fresh crab on a bed on fresh mizuna. A balanced rice vinegar based dressing mirrors the slight acidity in the Sake. This bold Sake from Shizuoka shines next to this dish, a true blend of sea and field; like Shizuoka herself.

Maguro Nuta (Tuna with Seasoned Miso)
paired with
SuiShin (Hiroshima)
Beautifully fresh raw tuna and scallions in a light, vinegar kissed broth, topped with seasoned yellow miso with a hint of yuzu. The sweet and tart balance of the miso gave way to the soft mineral notes of the Sake; a truly great counterpoint to the complexity of this dish.

Sake Steamed Duck
Lotus Root, Shrimp Paste and Shiso Hakata Age
paired with
OtokoYama (Hokkaido)
Two heavier dishes to pair with this powerful Sake from northern Japan. The cold Sake steamed duck was a perfect medium rare with a balance of gaminess and fattiness that was embraced by the Sake but not washed away. The “sandwiches” of lotus root, shrimp paste and shiso were lovingly fried and served with a simple garnish of salt and lemon. In such a complex dish it was a testament to the chef that you could taste all the components but when you took a sip of Sake the seasonal lotus root shined through. Beautifully executed.

Yaki Onigiri (grilled rice ball with shoyu)
paired with
Kira (Fukushima)
Rice usually marks the end to a meal in Japan. A perfectly slow grilled rice ball is brushed with shoyu and served with some clean pickles. Kira has slight aged flavors of chestnuts, koji and heavier rice notes. This was a perfect pairing; the caramelized notes of grilled shoyu and rice a perfect mate to the Sake.
Assistant chef at Kihachi