photo credit: Eugene Lee
It happened at the very end of our most recent dinner at Kinkan. The lights dimmed suddenly and the room fell silent. Three servers emerged from the back, each holding a candle-lit cake and began to sing. The chef went from table to table, personally thanking each birthday person for choosing to spend their night there. It was a moment that felt suspended in time, like a core memory of your mother picking you up from preschool or the first time you ever laid eyes on a platter of cocktail shrimp.
But then it happened again. To the delight and extreme confusion of everyone, the servers returned with two more cakes. We clapped and sang again, sharing puzzled glances, before the meal finally came to a close. There were five separate birthdays that night. We’re no mathematicians, but for a restaurant the size of a studio apartment, the chances of that happening are like, really really low.
But that’s what Kinkan is—a fine-dining spot in Virgil Village that’s so special, you’ll feel the immense urge to book it for every birthday, anniversary, graduation dinner, and random commemoration you can think of.
With three distinct menus, two chefs, and dishes that blur the line between Japanese and Thai cooking, the usual ways of describing a restaurant simply don’t apply here. Some traditions are still in place—you’ll be asked your name at the door, someone will drop and patiently explain the dishes to your table, etc.—but for the most part, all rules are broken. The dining room is filled with mismatched items—rustic wooden tables and a sleek sushi bar are pushed up next each other, no two plates are the same. Perhaps you’ll be seated at an antique desk. Maybe you’ll get curious and open a drawer full of silverware, then later when you drop your fork on the ground, they’ll motion to the desk and just say “grab one.” There are no waiters here to take your order, nor checks to pay at the end of the night—everything’s handled beforehand through an online reservation portal.
Reservations can be made through Tock, where you’ll find a rotating list of options. Right now, there are three ways to dine: Kinkan To-Go, the Japanese Omakase, and Homage to Grandmother. On Saturdays, Kinkan returns to its to-go pop-up roots with various pre-packaged sashimi sets. You’ll find lacquered boxes wrapped in gauze and filled with pristine cuts of fish and dashi-marinated ikura available for pick-up only. Originally offered for lunch, the Japanese omakase is now a 20-course dinner prepared by chef Nan Yimcharoen’s longtime mentor, Yasu Kusano of Beverly Hills’ Yasu. Despite the high $250 price tag, it still feels like a cozy, communal gathering: the entire bar is seated at once, cups of iced green tea are dispersed, and you’ll be treated to round after round of hotate scallops, ahi tuna that’s been marinated for ten days, and funky tasting uni.
But the creme de la creme, Kinkan’s magnum opus, is the Homage to Grandmother. It’s a ten-course set meal described as “Japanese-inspired, Thai reflected” that goes between familiar flavors and completely new ones at such a rapid pace, you’ll feel like you just got off the spinning dragon ride at the county fair—dizzy, but happy to be there. There is a fiery, peppery stew that dissolves on your tongue like a Listerine strip. Seared fish is shaped into rose petals and ikura is served in vintage tea cups. Crab curries come decorated with crustacean two ways—one still in the shell (meaty! menacing!), and the other is a tiny fried thing, still fully formed and waving to you from the summit of a bright-blue mountain of noodles. It’s likely that you’ve never had food like this before. Neither have we. Kinkan invented it.
If we have one criticism of Kinkan, it’s perhaps that the menu changes too often: since its opening, they’ve cycled through various omakases, a la carte options, and dine-in set ups. It reads as chaotic and uncertain, like the first couple episodes of a new TV show, where it’s obvious the writers are still trying on various styles and tones before deciding which one suits them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—we love Arrested Development—and we know we’ll be along for the ride as they figure it out.
Kinkan is the restaurant reimagined, a night that feels more like an intimate supper club with friends than a transaction between humans and businesses. We knew it as soon as we were charmed, not bothered, by five consecutive birthdays at dinner. Singing your heart out at a restaurant of all places usually feels lame, but at Kinkan, it’s just what you do.
First Look At Kinkan: The All-New Brick-And-Mortar In Virgil Village
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Homage To Grandmother
Even if you’ve eaten something described as “Japanese-Thai” before, there’s no way to predict what’ll hit the table during this ten-course omakase. The dishes are delicate and dainty, with an emphasis on luxury ingredients paired with meticulous presentation. A-5 Wagyu is sliced paper-thin and served like sashimi, vintage teacups are filled with marinated ikura and mounds of uni. Our favorite course is a fiery, peppery stew, where slivers of seared fish are shaped into a rose and bathed in a delicious red sauce.
Outside the worlds of $400 omakases, finding a sushi experience that truly surprises us is rare. But this 20-course meal is not only impressive - it’s so relaxed, it feels like a communal gathering. The entire bar is seated at once, which gives people time to settle in, hang their bags, turn their phones to silent, etc. Green tea is dispersed, if you brought your own wine, they’ll uncork it for free. Then you’re delivered round after round of supremely great sushi, ranging from orb-like ikura to octopus that’s blowtorched on the spot.
This is how Kinkan started, back when it operated out of a residential building in Silver Lake. Gorgeous to-go boxes are carefully planned, filled with pristine cuts of fish and dashi-marinated ikura. Notice their signature touches, like dried flowers and slices of tuna fanned out over rice: opening a lacquered bento from Kinkan will make you feel like you’ve unearthed a long-lost jewelry box.