KIKO JAPANESE CUISINE
110 S. Semoran Blvd., Winter Park | 407-677-5800 | gokikosushi.com | $$
Kiko looked every bit the part of a typical neighborhood sushi joint – the strip-mall locale, the simple decor, the blond wood tables. Even the menu we were presented seemed just as expected. Then a bluish-hued takeout menu was laid at our table – one revealing vegetarian options, and a host of options at that. It’s not often one finds a vegetarian menu at a Japanese restaurant, let alone one with 60 different items, but then again, Kiko isn’t your average Japanese restaurant.
Proprietor Jim Wu learned the art of sushi-rolling in his native San Francisco and has been at it for nearly 30 years. He and his wife, Kiko, also happen to be staunch vegetarians, and Wu makes it a point to use separate utensils, cutting boards, pans and fryers for his veggie creations. If your diet mandates meatless meals, you’ll do well to pay this place a visit.
Now, you might come for the sushi, but you’ll stay for the soup – the Eastern Healthy Soup ($4.99 cup; $5.99 bowl) in particular. The light, faintly sweet broth teems with such exotic ingredients as burdock, red dates, goji berry, wolfberry, ginseng, lotus and dried mushrooms. It’s as good a rainy-day/under-the-weather soup as you’ll sip without chicken or noodles. Vegetarian gyoza dumplings ($4.59), another menu rarity in this town, can be ordered steamed or pan-fried and make a delightful accompaniment to the soup.
As much as Wu’s vegetarian dishes impressed us, it was his undeniably fresh slices and rolls of sushi that had us contemplating future visits. A more organic cut was employed in tuna ($2.50) and hamachi ($3) sashimi, but what the chunks lacked in aesthetics, they more than made up for in taste. Nigiri of escolar ($2.50) was buttery-smooth, but tai snapper ($2.75) even more so. I chose to counter the plush bites with a little snap, and the tobiko ($2.50), tinged green with wasabi, was properly crunchy. Interesting items like wahoo, uni, toro and quail egg were off the menu due to their lack of popularity – a shame, but understandable given their cost to procure. We dove headlong into a plate of kamikaze rolls ($9.99) – the spicy rounds of tuna, masago, cucumber, scallions and tempura flakes were simply superb – but the beef negimaki ($8.59) was downed the quickest.
We weren’t all that enthused by the peppery seaweed salad deluxe ($6.99) with added octopus and krab, though Wu made up for it with the “ginga” mahi ($16.99). The fish is grilled, then steamed, and served with a saucy ginger concoction that isn’t at all like teriyaki. Of course, if you’re up for teriyaki, you won’t be disappointed by any of Wu’s offerings – we liked the chicken and salmon ($14.99) combo.
There’s no better way to end than with amazingly delicate tempura banana ($3.99) and some red bean ice cream ($2.99). Our genuinely accommodating server even added a few extra scoops at no extra charge. Along with their sushi and vegetarian creations, Kiko seems to have mastered the art of customer service as well.
Granted, Kiko isn’t in the most desirable of locales, but it has a pedigree, with previous sushi tenants Momo and Gizmo once occupying the space. Having visited Momo and Gizmo in the past, I can unequivocally state that Kiko far outshines them both.