Japanese food goes pop in cheery Kirkland setting
Special to The Seattle Times
But on a shelf above the cooking area, neatly stacked sushi blocks create a repetitious pattern that's classic and calming. On each table, one bamboo shoot stands tall in a stone holder, and traditional screened rooms grace the back of the restaurant.
On a particularly disturbing day — Tuesday, Sept. 11 — I visited Rikki Rikki with a friend. Its cheery brightness and swirl of colors were comforting.
For dinner, there was a choice of three bento boxes: The Kirkland ($15.95), with beef teriyaki and sushi, the Rikki Rikki ($14.95), with chicken teriyaki and kasu cod (black cod marinated in sake lees and grilled) or the Passport ($13.95) with chicken teriyaki and a half order of cucumber rolls.
My guest and I then weighed edamame, a favorite appetizer of warm soybeans still in their pods, against gyoza, or pot stickers, which won out. I quickly chose hot sake over cold; I had been craving it all day. My guest skipped past the Japanese beers — the Sapporo, the Kirin Ichiban and the Asahi — choosing instead the more full-bodied Pyramid ESB. The arrival of each small dish sent a thrill through me. First the gyoza, soft and subtly spiced pot stickers, barely crisp on their folded edges. I marveled at the delicateness of each bite — a theme that continued in the sushi and vegetables tempura.
Next came the miso soup, always a delight with its filmy, textured center in a dark, rich broth. Salads followed, one nicely spiced with soy-ginger dressing, the other, a hot crescendo thanks to wasabi dressing. And at last, the main dishes: chicken teriyaki and the Kirkland Bento Box.
The plate of chicken rectangles in thin teriyaki sauce over rice tasted deliciously of sesame seeds, unlike the beef teriyaki included in my bento box. Too sweet with a salty aftertaste, this was more of a teriyaki soup. My three pieces of nigiri — shrimp, whitefish and tuna — were tender and textured, and their accompanying California rolls had a softness that proved addictive.
Each of the tempura vegetables wore a veil of thin, greaseless batter. The shrimp were easy to spot, but coated sweet potatoes, eggplant and zucchini looked alike and shared the same soft crunch, until the flavors kicked in.
After skipping from compartment to compartment and mixing textures, flavors and temperatures, I ate the final piece. For once, dessert would not be necessary. Even sweets could not equal the delight of discovering so many tastes in one meal.
Kirkland Bento Box: One of three bento boxes, this meal comes on an attractive, partitioned tray that separates the sushi from the teriyaki from the vegetables tempura.
Gyoza: So cohesively flavorful, these pot stickers taste fine with or without the dipping sauce. They're soft both inside and out.
Chicken teriyaki: The barely there sauce on this dish makes the flavors come alive.
Sake: Sake comes hot or in several cold varieties. The flower-scented rice wine slides down smoothly in small sips, but look out for its powerful punch.
Itemized bill, meal for two:
Chicken teriyaki $11.95
Kirkland Bento Box $15.95
Large hot sake $ 5.95
Pyramid ESB $ 4.00