My ever stylish host nailed it on the head when she proclaimed "Sometimes you have to pull out the old jewellery and polish it up to appreciate what you really already have". That is exactly the sentiment I have for the re-emergence of one of Ottawa's gastro-landmarks in the Byward Market.
(Grilled Calamari and Octopus with Sake Poached Pear, Tomato and Jalapeno in Parmesan Bowl)
Kinki, located at 41 York St. was an innovator over a decade ago when the trendy area consisted of mainly of retailer's, take out and Brit-pub's catering to the University crowd. The name itself, Kinki must have been a shock to the ultra conservative public at the time (perhaps still) with the risque´ suggestion of sexual impropriety transgressing into Ottawa's ho-hum food culture. They may in fact be the unknowing originators of the now popular term "food porn".
I was hooked from the time Kinki opened their door's but as a one time regular I became increasingly bored with traditional North American styled Maki's found just about everywhere in Ottawa with some restaurants degrading to the pedestrian "all you can eat sushi"? Really, it's raw seafood?
Recently I was invited to taste the new, soon to be released menu at Kinki and I was elated after a long period of absence from a once favorite haunt. If the restructured, youthful team could re-establish themselves as innovators in the stagnate Sushi genre then Kinki goes back to the top of the list of must eat market boutique restaurants for me.
If you have not been this place it is cool with generous booths, romantic tables for two, sushi and cocktail bars, hip but tasteful art, attractive and very attentive staff. The restaurant is situated in a heritage, exposed stone building that echos with perfectly chosen jazz and palatable beats spun by their in house DJ. What is new and equally exciting is that in a short summer season with limited outdoor space Kinki are opening a 140 seat side patio this spring for public and private events.
(Sake with Clamato and fresh oyster )
First up, cocktail's. Clearly the staff had a lot of fun making these libatious elixirs, I can only imagine how those tasting seminar(s) went? The result of our first drink was this fantastic "eye" opener, who would have thought Sake, Clamato and oyster? It was a brilliant concoction in a time where the something or other "tini" has run it's course.
Youthful and talented Kitchen Chef, Jonathan Roy is a graduate of Algonquin College's Culinary programme and is supported by Sushi Chef Amin Takano, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. These two artist's created 3 appetizer's and 3 mains from their upcoming menu.
First, the succulent grilled calamari and octopus (pictured above) as with all of the dishes expressed a deep respect for the freshness of the seafood with a clear understanding that it was the star of the dish. Poaching sweet pears in sake added a textural and flavourful contradiction that pulled the whole plate together when paired with the salty parmesan bowl.
Three types of "Whalesbone's" seasonal oysters included Raspberry Point (P.E.I.), Gems (B.C.) and Caraquet (N.B), represented some of Canada's best and all played nicely with a house made chutney and an edamame, wasabi puree. A bean salad was refreshing, light and crisp with edamame, walnuts, cilantro, Hallumi cheese, mescaline greens, topped with a chili modena and balsamic vinaigrette, a clear nod to the influences of sister restaurant Mambo.
(Hint of Hamachi, Ebi Chili and Ocean Delight with garlic, ginger, cilantro and chili oil chutney)
We have all coined the phrase, "it looks too pretty to eat" and that is precisely how I felt when this dish arrived. It reminded me of an artist's pallet often more attractive than the canvas itself. However, I was there to eat and was I ever happy I did. The freshness was clear in each of the presentations, as was the obvious pride the staff had in preparing and presenting the trio of goodness. Entrepreneurial pairings of Hamachi, asparagus, cucumbers and scallions, sriracha marinated Ebi (sweet shrimp), mango, perfect rice and fried won ton chips amalgamated to delectable flavour combinations and textures.
The dining experience was complete, fulfilling and an overall a breath of fresh air for this sushi lover. I am told that there are a few crowd favorites that will remain on the menu, but essentially the entire menu has been rethought by this energetic, creative team.
Kinki has successfully achieved a renaissance 近畿地方の復興 by reinventing how they manipulate for the better these often taken for granted seafood delights, as well as providing a rejuvenated, upbeat space for the treasure to be enjoyed in.