Sushi Ike in Hollywood had a voracious following for years thanks to its legendary sushi chef, Ike. That restaurant recently changed ownership and we Eastsiders are the luckier for it. Ike-san brings his considerable talent to a brand new eatery in the Del Mar train station center called Sushi Kimagure.
You won’t find crispy tempura rolls here. No chicken teriyaki or cream cheese dynamite rolls. This is for sushi purists. Be forewarned: You must make a reservation to eat at this 34-seat restaurant. When you make your reservation, request a seat at the sushi bar and order omakase (literally “I’ll leave it to you”). At the bar is where you’ll witness Ike’s muscular fingers artfully work the rice and fish and where you’ll probably get teased by the mischievous chef.
In English, kimagure means whimsy or capriciousness. Ike is by no means capricious in his sushi preparation. Each piece of fish is carefully chosen and cut. But his personality definitely has a dash of whimsy — he’s quick to smile and has a glint in his eye.
Each dish Ike placed before me was better than the one before. The procession reached its zenith, though, at his Special Salmon. The fleshy slice was grilled for a flash then deftly combined with sushi rice and a thin sauce. I was told to eat it quickly to get the full effect. There was coolness and warmth, clean rawness with just a hint of sizzling salmon fat. It was like an amusement park in my mouth. In fact the whole 12-course meal (as I’m boldly calling it) was like going on ride after refreshing roller coaster ride.
There’s not enough room to reiterate all 12 sushi plates on my omakase menu ($50) but here are the highlights. The yellow fin and blue fin toro melts in your mouth. The grilled octopus is not at all chewy but more like toothsome lobster with a grilled steak aroma. The giant prawn was so fresh, the live creature leaped out of the bowl. Then it was presented to us two ways -- its body raw and achingly fresh on rice, and its head battered and crisp-fried. With the Japanese mackerel, you get the whole 4-inch long fish, a delicious mini work of art. And the simmered sea eel, topped with a reduction of the simmering broth, is not only not fishy-tasting, it’s wonderfully sweet. Finally, the albacore belly is grilled and then re-chilled exaggerating its naturally occurring striations which add to the mouth feel.
Generally, the only additions to the fish are lemon zest, lemon juice, shoyu or scallions. There are no gimmicks or pretentious plating at Sushi Kimagure. I think Ike said it all when we asked if he had a website. He answered, “No, I’m low tech,” holding up his foot-long sushi knife.
Open only since August, they are still working out the intricacies of good service but everyone involved is gracious. As of yet, they have no liquor license. But parking is a breeze in the underground lot with 90 free minutes.
LISA DUPUY has been reviewing area restaurants since 2008. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.