(Kimis Asian Bistro, Voice-Tribune, Sept. 13, 2006)
In physics, “fusion” refers to the nuclear process that occurs within stars, where atoms are forced together under high temperature and pressure until they merge, releasing a tremendous amount of energy.
In jazz, fusion is a genre that merges the music with other styles, from rock to rhythm and blues.
And in dining out, fusion represents a creative blend of cuisines that aren’t usually seen on the same plate. At its best, fusion cuisine can be a delight, as pretty as a jazz riff and as energetic as sunlight.
Now restaurateur John Chung brings his gentle brand of fusion to the far East End with Kimis Asian Bistro, offering an easy blend of Japanese dishes accented with Korean and Thai flavors.
Kimis, pronounced “Kim-eez,” represents two Chinese characters that mean “Abundant purity.” It’s independent and locally owned, although stylish modern graphics – and displays of sample bottles of sauces bearing the Kimis brand name, still under development – hint at larger dreams for a chain-to-be.
This space has housed a string of five short-lived predecessors, most recently Nik’s, and past visitors won’t find many changes in the large, triangular dining room. Some of the tables sport beige tablecloths; others are undraped black. Forks and a spoon come wrapped in heavy white paper napkins, but steak knives (fine French Laguioles) and chopsticks are issued only if you order a dish that requires them.
The dinner menu is large, with 18 appetizers ranging in price from $3.50 (for Kimis’ salad or salted edamame beans) to $8 (for soft-shell crab tempura). About 20 main dishes are categorized as “From the Land” and “From the Sea,” plus “Authentic Favorites” such as tempura, noodle and hibachi-grilled dinners. Main courses are $13 (for boneless chicken breast with teriyaki garlic glaze) to $29 (for lobster-and-steak “surf and turf.” The lunch menu is short and budget-priced, with hibachi dishes, fried rice, tempura and noodle dishes and wraps.
The large drinks menu offers all manner of cocktails, an imposing selection of Geikkeikan brand sake, a short but affordable wine list, a moderate list of draft and bottled beers, and an imaginative if daunting collection of “signature and creative drinks” like The Buddha, a $10 concoction of light rum, orange juice, coconut milk and creme de almond, served, one assumes, in a tall glass under a paper umbrella. If you meet the Buddha on the road, swill it.
We started with shared appetizers from opposite sides of the Pacific Rim. Gyoza, Japanese potstickers ($3.50), were authentic and well-made. A delicate minced chicken and scallion mix was stuffed into football-shaped wontons, steamed, then finished on the grill until the bottoms were browned and crunchy. Chicken wings California-style ($4.50), come with your choice of traditional, sweet teriyaki or Asian spicy preparations. Door No. 3 revealed five fine wings, stickily coated with a hot-sweet honey sauce and a nice touch, garlic-herb tortillas sliced into thin julienne strips and fried to a tasty crunch.
Soups and salads accompany most dinners. Edamame soup, the house specialty, was a silken, creamy pale-green puree of edamame soybeans with floating toasted pine nuts. It was unusual and very good indeed. Wonton soup was fine, too, strong chicken broth with shredded carrot and chopped scallions, bathing two stuffed wontons.
Salads were passable, iceberg and mesclun lettuce garnished with thin slices of Fuji apples, fresh ripe strawberry and slivered almonds, with small pitchers of pour-your-own dressing, a creamy fresh-ginger vinaigrette.
Our main courses were attractively arranged on large, square brick-red earthenware plates.
Tonkatsu ($14) was prepared in authentic style, a Japanese rendition of chicken-fried pork coated with crisp panko crumbs and fried golden-brown, sliced and served with thick, dark and sweet oyster sauce.
Three thick lamb chops ($18) were marinated in a citrus-soy sake and mirin sauce and glazed with a thick soy-based sauce. Ordered medium-rare, they came well short of that, still raw and cold at the center. I didn’t mind that much, but was disappointed to find them heavily laced with fat and gristle. The meaty bits were fine, but half of the chops went to inedible waste. Both plates were decorated with thin-sliced fried strips of sweet potato, two grilled asparagus spears and two grilled baby carrots; a molded cylinder of wasabi mashed potatoes were surprisingly bland, with no apparent wasabi flavor.
Still, overall it was a pleasant meal served by friendly people in a comfortable atmosphere, and there’s a lot to be said for that. We had no complaints about the pricing, either, which came to $57 for an expansive dinner for two including two oversize Kirin Japanese beers, plus a $12 tip.
Kimis Asian Bistro
Blankenbaker Place Center
1915 Blankenbaker Parkway