Kirin Asian Cuisine is only four years old, but it keeps growing and evolving, especially in the past seven months.
“We have expanded significantly,” owner Maggie Easter said recently. “We have added a separate bar area and a private room, and our menu is constantly changing according to the trends.”
The dining room always has had a touch of elegance with tall light fixtures that feature long strands of black cloth, plus equally tall triptych — three-panel — artwork. Easter said her father-in-law came from China to paint the watercolors. A black-and-white triptych hangs in the new, 20-seat private room.
“Kent Oellien (Oellien Design Inc.) did a great job making the new rooms flow together with the original dining room,” Easter said.
We went by for dinner recently, and I compared the current menu with the opening-day menu. It has changed considerably. A few staple items remain, but the majority is new. We mixed some old and new.
“We try to bring some more traditional and authentic items to the menu, not just something like sesame chicken,” Easter said.
Having spent some time in South Korea, I usually am drawn to bulgogi when I see it on a menu. Next to kimchi, it probably is the most popular dish in that country and travels well to American tastes.
The bulgogi ($14) at Kirin came out sizzling in a metal bowl that sat in a wooden platter and featured a sizable amount of strips of beef that had been marinated and mixed with veggies and a savory sauce. It came with a choice of white or brown rice, and I chose brown on this occasion for no particular reason.
I also tried the yu xiang rou si ($12), a classic stir-fry dish in Chinese Sichuan cuisine. The foundation of the dish is shredded pork in hot garlic sauce. Ours was mixed with green peppers, carrots, bamboo shoots and ear mushrooms, and it was delicious.
It had a red pepper next to it on the menu, indicating it was spicy-hot. We got a little burn on the back of the throat, but it should not be an issue with most diners.
Kirin has a lengthy selection of nigiri, sashimi and sushi rolls. We shared two of the sushi rolls — the Kirin ($12) and the lobster ($13) — and both were tasty.
The eight-piece Kirin included shrimp, crab, mango, cucumber, cream cheese, avocado and a sizable topping of masago (smelt roe or the edible eggs of the capelin fish).
The lobster roll featured deep-fried lobster, avocado, snow crab and cream cheese, topped with masago and a sweet eel sauce.
Tables include bottles of house-made soy sauce for the sushi rolls. The sauce was quite salty, which was offset a bit when mixed with wasabi sauce.
We warmed up for the main items with a bowl of edamame ($4), a bowl of egg drop soup ($3) and a crunchy pork and veggie egg roll ($2) with a sweet-and-sour sauce. The soup, dotted with peas and carrots, looked the part, but the flavor wasn’t as eggy as most we have tried.
We were looking at another dish that included spicy mayo. We ended up not ordering it, but our server, Sang, brought a sample of the mayo while we were deciding. I loved the flavor and a bit of zing from the spicy mayo and wound up dipping a bit of my bulgogi into it.
I learned during an interview the next day that Sang was on his second day and was supposed to be in training but had to fill in for a regular server. He did a commendable job under the circumstances.
We also learned the manager, Di Harvell, has been with Kirin only a month, and it is her first restaurant job. It didn’t show. She was a gracious hostess and obviously zeroed in on customer service.
Kirin has full bar service with a workable selection of wine, imported beers, sake and specialty cocktails.
Kirin also offers live music from 6:30-8:30 p.m. the first Friday of each month.
Easter and her husband, Johnny, also own the Rice Bowl, which has been in business for 15 years at 43rd Street and Sheridan Road.
“My husband usually takes care of the Rice Bowl and I watch over Kirin, but we both help each other with the restaurants,” Easter said.