There was a time Columbia Road was home to a truly unique little Japanese restaurant serving some of the best fresh sushi around. Kinki Sushi was a hop, skip and jump from another of my fave “hidden gems,” Emashiya Korean BBQ, and all of a few minutes from our home.
It was our go-to for date nights — usually quiet enough for a private meal, but populated enough you didn’t wonder if there was something hideously wrong with the place. For skeptics (ahem), the sushi bar provided the perfect spot to sit and watch the chefs create edible works of art from scratch. The service wasn’t just good; the servers were super friendly and had excellent timing. And the Kinki Roll with its crunchy tempura and spicy mayo sauce was just about the best sushi roll I’d ever had before then or since.
The restaurant endeared itself to me for all these reasons and one more. On the walls hung a few framed Japanese prints featuring beautiful scenery, sparkling rivers and traditional pagodas. All very normal, right? But, if you looked closely at these prints you would see tiny magazine cutouts of Miley Cyrus. Miley sitting on a porch, or peeking out behind a tree, or looking out a window. Countless Mileys just quietly waiting to be seen. So weird and funny.
Then, my youngest was born and Mr. Swift and I became hermits for I-don’t-know-how-long. By the time we were financially and physically capable of resuming date nights, Kinki was gone.
Actually, it had just moved. At some point between 2008 and 2010, Kinki’s business model changed and the restaurant realized it could profit from a more fast-food style system. Kinki Sushi occupied a place in the Augusta Mall’s food court and closed the restaurant on Columbia Road. At a later date, the mall location closed but Kinki had already taken up residence in Le Pavilion on Washington Road, its current location which offers customers the option to dine-in or take-out.
The Kinki Sushi I walked into was radically different from the original version and I was shocked — like I had been suckered into a fast food joint and seeing a red-haired clown guy wouldn’t be weird at all. Welcome to McKinki.
I tried to set aside the memories and go with it, but the difference is radical — from its décor to the menu. The dining area stainless steel chairs, plastic covered everything and a self-serve soda dispenser. Order your food at the counter, grab your plastic fork or chopsticks and go find a seat at one of the very few four-top tables, or one of three taller two-top tables looking out the window at Washington Road.
The young guy taking the food order at the register was nice enough — a couple of cooks were busy in the kitchen, but only two people were waiting for their food at a table, so I figured it wouldn’t take long to get our dinner. The man certainly wasn’t rude, but he was in a hurry and I felt it. I tried asking about the new rolls on offer, since I couldn’t see my Kinki Roll or even anything comparable to it on the menu, but either the heat of the kitchen or my five-year old interrupting everything I was saying led to a very brief and hurried exchange and he didn’t seem to understand what I was asking.
I admitted defeat and just went with the Super Crunchy Roll for $8.99, which the guy suggested was a suitable alternative. The sushi rolls were all very affordable, ranging from $5.99 to $14.99, while the teriyaki and hibachi grill items are closer to $10 per dish.
I ordered the chicken teriyaki with fried rice for the kid. She was thrilled because she thought I was about to force her to eat raw fish (for many five year olds that’s akin to being hung over a pit of snakes) — plus, she was allowed to use the soda dispenser herself and she got to use chopsticks. It was a big deal.
The place was clean and the tables looked like they’d been wiped down. We sat and waited. And waited. Fun parenting moments, like teaching the kid to use chop sticks and practicing with tabletop items and the obligatory “I need to go potty” panic made the time fly by. For about 10 minutes. After that, it was all I could do to stop myself from walking out. Because, now that it looked like a fast-food restaurant, I expected the food to be made quickly, which is just silly, apparently.
Sitting at the table, I couldn’t actually see our food being prepared — there was no telling what was happening behind the partition and no way to see the chefs working their magic. It took close to 20 minutes for our food to arrive. On a Styrofoam plate. The kid got hers served in a to-go box. So, not a place to come for a date night unless you want to dine on disposable dinnerware; though it does mean no awkward wait for a server at the end of the meal since you can just pick up everything and head straight out. But, in this moment I realized Kinki had totally changed — it had moved on and it was I that was stuck in the past.
The super crunchy roll wasn’t super crunchy — the shrimp tempura wasn’t tempura, it was panko bread crumbs. Seriously, I don’t know if the golden breaded shrimp was even prepped in-house, since it was indiscernible from something you can find in the freezer section at Kroger. And truly disappointingly, it was the only crunch. Semi-crunchy roll, perhaps?
The shrimp was accompanied by cucumber and mayo, and topped with crab, avocado and more shrimp. Again, I was disappointed both with its appearance, and then its lack of flavor. It was bland — yes, the innards were fresh ingredients (probably), but they certainly didn’t taste amazing. It wasn’t the Kinki Roll, or even close.
Just like the rest of the experience, there was nothing terribly wrong with it, but there was nothing terribly right, either. It was sushi in name only, so I dutifully dipped it in some soy sauce and got through it in a few minutes. Mmm… soy sauce.
There are no kid-size portions or half-portions, so the chicken teriyaki was a mountain of fried rice and chicken in a to-go box. I tried it (stole some) and it indeed tasted like every other chicken teriyaki I’ve ever had and, yes, I could totally eat the entire thing because it’s yummy. I can also eat an entire jar of Nutella with a spoon; doesn’t make it an epicurean delight.
It was time to exercise that to-go box. Nobody had asked us if our food was okay or if we needed anything but we did get a “goodbye” shouted to us as we headed out the door. I can’t say I’ll return, but I might. There’s no reason to avoid it — it is what it is. But I still need to let go, because now there’s no going back to how it was, and it was damn near perfect.
Kinki Sushi is located at 3328 Washington Road in the Le Pavilion shopping center. They’re open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Call 706-364-2161 or visit kinkisushi.com.