Kiku

By | May 12, 2006

Kiku
Station Square, 15219
412-765-3200
Lunch: Tu-Sun: 11:30-2:00
Dinner: Mon-Th: 5-10; F & Sat: 5-11; Sun: 5-10

Kiku is a Japanese restaurant in Station Square.  Suffice it to say, Station Square is not really my ‘style’, so I never thought I’d find a place to go there that I thought worthwhile.  That is, besides the Grand Concourse for brunch, and that store with the skank-ho dresses.  But seriously, restaurants in malls bother some people.  I grew up in Southern Florida where even the churches are in strip malls, no lie!  So I’m used to doing everything in malls, but even so I have learned that in Pittsburgh the equation is ‘mall restaurant = crap’.  But this restaurant breaks the rule!  Kiku serves semi-excellent sushi for a semi-excellent price! 

Pittsburgh has a number of sushi places, and I rank this one somewhere between Sushi Kim (low end) and Umi (high end).  To get really elaborate, I think the rank would go something like this:
LOW: Sushi Too, Sushi (in New Dumpling House), Giant Eagle, Ginza
LOW-MEDIUM: Sushi Kim, Oishii Bento
MEDIUM: Kiku, Chaya, Wholey’s guy
HIGH: Umi

Obviously, I still have some places to go.  But this is a pretty good synopsis I think.  The different grades correspond to several things.  Low is either too cheap to be any good, or too crappy for the price you pay.  Low-medium is great lunch sushi because it’s better than you think it will be and the price is right; however, selection is limited.  Low-medium is good for every-day sushi meals, but it isn’t really good for a night out on the town.

Medium and higher is where things start to get distinct.  Restaurants that I categorize as >=Medium pay attention to the quality of the sushi in a more detailed way.  For instance, Kiku wouldn’t give you a spider roll if the soft-shell crabs weren’t in season.  If you’ve been going to Sushi Kim all along, you wouldn’t even know there was a season because they will always sell you a spider roll.  A >=Medium restaurant always has Yellowtail that is melt-in-your-mouth soft, and they always have Tomago (sweet egg omelet sushi).  This brings me to another hallmark of a >=Medium sushi restaurant: a menu listing more exotic sushi.  For example, can you get Toro?  Toro is fatty tuna, and it is awesome!  It is one special little piece of sushi, and Kiku does it so well!

Of course, if a sushi restaurant serves different grades of Toro, then you’d be getting up into the High range.  The High restaurants simply taste better because they are highly selective of the grade of the fish.  It makes me wonder what I am even getting at Giant Eagle.  At someplace like Umi, each little piece of sashimi is the best thing I’ve ever had, and I wish the meal would never end.  But sushi that good comes at a great price.  I can’t afford to eat that way every month.  I’m in a spot where I do Low-Medium for lunch, and Medium for dinner, lest it be a special occasion, and then I go High.

But enough talk about all that.  BO-RING!  What should one get at Kiku?  Well, they serve a Chirashi bowl, which is sashimi on sushi rice.  Its way good, and its one of those things you only see at a >=Medium restaurant.  You wouldn’t want to get sashimi at a place where the fish grade wasn’t high enough.  It would taste bad, have a bad texture, or at the very least be bland.  Not so at Kiku, where the sashimi is good enough to savor.  I like getting chirashi because I like to eat my rice separate from the fish itself.  If you aren’t into that, any of the sushi or rolls are good, just get what you like!  I’d like to particularly recommend the Toro (that fatty tuna) and the Tomago (that sweet egg omelet), which are both done particularly well here.  You can always just opt for a Sushi-For-Two plate, which comes with a great variety of sushi and rolls.  I did notice that the last time I got this there was no squid, octopus, roe, or clam.  I just wanted to mention that for the people who like to get this sort of thing – you might need to order those pieces separately.  But you can’t really go wrong here.  Even their miso soup is good, with little squishy tofu entities floating around it in.  Yum!

Also, Kiku has several kinds of sake, both hot and cold.  If you are a connoisseur, it probably won’t live up to your imported stuff from Japan.  But, at least they have a selection!  That’s a start!  And for dessert they have a few kinds of ice cream, including Tempura-Fried Ice Cream with a red-bean sauce.  Pretty yummy!  Red-bean oriented desserts are also one of those things you don’t see unless a restaurant is serious.  Try the green tea ice cream with red bean paste, if yeh be adventurous, yar!  I should also mention that Kiku has all kinds of entrees that sound good.  Though I’ve never personally had any of them, I hear tell that they are all well prepared.  One that piques my curiosity is the Shabu-Shabu, which is a large-group-oriented, cook-it-yourself, Japanese-style broth-fondue with meat, veggies, and noodles.  Sounds interesting!

All in all, Kiku is a really great middle of the road sushi restaurant.  Would I go there if I could afford to go to Umi every night?  Well, I probably would just because I’d feel bad spending all that money on my dinners when I could be donating to some kind of charity.  But, if I had all the money in the world AND I was a jerk: Yes, yes I would eat only at High-end sushi restaurants as often as I felt like it.  Being that neither of those things holds true, I’ll stick with my current Sushi Plan, in which Kiku is deservedly included.

GET:
Chirashi
Tomago and Toro

DON’T GET:
Something you can get anywhere, like simple salmon or tuna rolls, unless it comes on your variety plate.  I only say this because you won’t be showcasing Kiku’s talents.

SNEAKY TIP:
Ooooh, this is the best part!  Instead of paying a million bucks to park in the Station Square lots, drive up to the top of Mount Washington and park for free.  Then take the Incline down and walk.  It adds an extra adventure to your dinner!


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