Sushi Ike in Hollywood used to be my favorite spot in all of Los Angeles, ahead of other sushi darlings whose names rhyme with 'ori' or 'ozawa'. Any bar-fly can tell you that a bartender's job is not just to pour a good drink, but to also connect with the customer on a personal level, if ever so briefly. Ike-san was that kind of itamae, and so it was with great sadness that I heard that he had sold Sushi Ike.
With little fanfare, then, Sushi Kimagure emerged in Pasadena. It was Ike-san again, opening his dream sushi-ya, one that was reservations only at the bar. This is an account of my trip to Sushi Kimagure, and let there be no mistake, Ike-san is still the best.
Things start off with a pair of fatty belly. Most sushi rookies will dive headlong into the maguro, the bluefin tuna (depicted in the background of the picture above), but I prefer the buri or yellowtail belly. While both toro will be soft and supple and delicate, I find that buri toro goes that extra step and imparts a little sweetness, a little creaminess too. It's akin to how I prefer blue crab to Dungeness.
The Sushi Kimagure space is open and slightly austere, a stark contrast to the dark wood of his Hollywood location. Sushi Kimagure is in the retail portion of the Pasadena Gold Line station at Del Mar, in a space formerly inhabited by a Philly cheesesteak place. The pizza place across the walkway was slammed that Tuesday night. I was, on the other hand, in the attendance of sublime mastery. And sake.
Next up was hiramasa, or yellowtail amberjack. I have no video to prove it, but here's one story from the evening: a young couple sit next to me and Ike-san is about to serve them yellowtail. He's unhappy with the slices of nigiri, so he begins to break down a whole fish. Granted, it's a whole side, but the skin was still on as well and the bloodlines and belly were still in tact. Ike-san was a blur, and within a few minutes, the young couple received freshly carved yellowtail.
The evening wasn't all just fish slices, though. Ike-san had a crew of other chefs that not just handled sushi for the tables, but also served other preparations, including the two photos below.
Above are two small slices from a layered terrine of sorts that stacked potato with salmon. It was a flavor combination that was familiar (to my Pacific Northwest palate, perhaps) but at the same time a bit off-kilter, especially through the lens of a normal American sushi bar (even a very good one). It was then that I knew that Sushi Kimagure was something different. Ike-san is as charming as ever, chatting it up with customers and creating an air of real conviviality. This dish reflected his human side, an expression of warmth, humility, and grace.
And then there were a pair of Kumamoto oysters, dressed with a house mignonette sauce. This nice bit of brine and acidity wakes the palate up from the big rich flavors of the first portion of dinner. An intermezzo if you will. Also around this time, Ike-san handed me a nigiri of salmon tataki, which I did not photograph. Some things are better left to the imagination. That piece of tataki is one of the best renditions of cooked fish you'll ever have, ever. It's reason enough to go visit Sushi Kimagure. That fish prep, that one. Do it.
Let the nigiri resume!
Above: red snapper. Below: crab leg.
Above: halibut (one of Ike-san's signature dishes). Below: sweet shrimp
Let me take this moment to comment on the rice at Sushi Kimagure. The rice is perfect. That is all.
Above: two gunkanmaki, the foreground with uni (sea urchin roe), the background with ikura (salmon roe). While these two are ubiquitous, there's just enough wasabi to go with the rice to bring out interesting flavors.
Below: remember the sweet shrimp from a few photos ago? Well, Ike-san's prep cooks grilled the head, then pried it out of the shell and served it with shredded daikon radish. Just for you. Of course I popped that sucker into my mouth so fast. Everyone likes receiving head.
Above: a handroll made with tobiko (flying fish roe) and yamaimo (Japanese mountain yam). Below: mackerel
The next couple of items go pretty by Ike-san's playbook as I remembered it from Sushi Ike. He closes out dinner with big rich items like anago (freshwater eel, above).
I signaled to Ike-san that I wanted to finish off with a little miso soup. Call me crazy, I want the soup at the end. The earthy, clean broth is more like a savory tea that helps in digestion. I'd order Fernet if I could.
Ike-san normally closes out with a kani temaki (crab handroll) pictured above. The evident difference is that Ike-san uses crab leg meat as opposed to the lump crab. I think there's a time and place for both, but I definitely love whole crab leg in the handroll.
I had been sitting there a little bit when I all of a sudden asked Ike-san for tamago (egg). He paused a little and hesitated, before finally saying, "For you, yes!" Ike-san went into the back and emerged with a mixing bowl, eggs, and a square saute pan. That's right folks, Ike-san made short order tamago. 99.99% of the sushi-going population will live their whole lives without ever seeing a sushi chef make this right in the middle of dinner service.
Once again, it was a showcase of Ike-san's dedication and craftsmanship. After he was done, cooking ladle-by-ladle, layer-by-layer of scrambled egg, he produced a beautiful block of egg that was familiar but at the same time had the slightest touch of sweetness. The picture above belies how awesome it was.
I'm so thrilled that Sushi Kimagure is around and that Ike-san has the sushi-ya he's always wanted to open. At $60/pp for omakase it isn't cheap but it's far from the prices common among the high-end sushi shops around town. "Ike-san ichiban!" I exclaimed during dinner. He's the best.
Sushi bar is reservation only