Restaurant Review #226: Ken of Japan, Simi Valley

Spicy mayonnaise--err, spicy scallop roll

Ken of Japan serves the kind of sushi that I used to like--before I moved to California. I knew what I was probably getting myself into by choosing a restaurant that was both Japanese steakhouse and sushi restaurant. But on the other hand, if I had ruled out O2 based on the teriyaki chicken and teriyaki filet mignon that appear on its menu, I never would have found an almost Westside-caliber sushi restaurant in sleepy Simi Valley.

Yellowtail nigiri

So to Ken of Japan I went. We called to make a reservation. For some reason we couldn't have a 7:00 slot for four people--granted, we made the request at 6:00, but you don't expect to be refused a reservation time in the suburbs. Especially when the restaurant is almost entirely empty when you arrive. Who knows why they didn't think they could or didn't want to seat us earlier.

Eel cucumber roll

The menu is expansive. A photo menu of different sushi rolls shows most of the options available, though because of (I'm guessing) space limitations, it is not entirely clear on all the ingredients that are in each roll. Most of the rolls seem to contain crab (or fake crab, as the case may be) or spicy tuna. So while there appears to be a wide variety of interesting sushi on the menu, if you don't like these two items, you'll find yourself mostly limited to the usual stuff. And the usual stuff, like the dry yellowtail nigiri I ordered, is not very good. With sushi, there is no acceptable middle ground. Either the fish is top notch, or it's just not appetizing to eat raw. And with globby, spicy, mayonnaisey rolls, the quality of fish takes a backseat. So why pay a raw fish premium when you're mostly just eating rice and sauce? (As some consolation, the spicy scallop roll was genuinely spicy.)

Spicy tuna tempura roll

If you're the kind of sushi eater who likes spicy tuna tempura rolls (quick, eat them before they get soggy!) and doesn't really like raw fish, you'll probably be quite happy at Ken of Japan. Like I said, the selection is considerable. The portion sizes are also huge, especially if you're used to Westside restaurants, and the prices are reasonable (even bordering on inexpensive). We ordered way too much sushi. Each roll had eight large pieces--not the small six pieces I am used to. I kind of wish our waitress had commented that we might be ordering too much food. But I guess it's not really the staff's job to discourage you from spending money.

Salmon mango roll

As I alluded to in my comments about the reservations, I was disappointed in the service. The mango salmon roll came stuffed, unexpectedly, with crab. When we mentioned it to the waiter, he had no interest in having the roll remade or taking it off the bill, but only asked us if we wanted to box it up and take it home. (I'm not a fan of the "customer is always wrong" philosophy of business.) A take-home box didn't exactly solve the problem for the people who couldn't eat crab (yes, even fake crab). Also, the quality of mango used in the roll was pretty much what you'd expect for the dead of winter--so why is the restaurant even serving it? A place like Kiriko in West LA would never try to pass off a roll made with pale, almost crunchy mango as one of its top offerings--it wouldn't even serve it.

Teriyaki chicken and beef

The non-sushi-eaters in our party ordered a combination plate that came with teriyaki beef, teriyaki chicken, spicy chicken, eggrolls, salad, and miso soup. The salad had a mayonnaise-based dressing (surprise) that wasn't appetizing to anyone, so those went back to the dishwasher untouched. The miso soup had bits of fried tempura batter in it (intentionally), which tasted better than it sounds, though soggy bits of batter aren't very appetizing. The teriyaki meats were both dry and inunspired. The spicy chicken was a winner, though.

Spicy chicken

Ken's serves beer, wine, and sake plus cocktails made with soju, a Korean distilled liquor considered comparable to vodka in taste but that doesn't seem to require a full-blown liquor license (Musha in Santa Monica also serves beer, wine, and soju cocktails). We didn't try any of the drinks, though.

You've probably guessed that this isn't my kind of restaurant and I won't be going back. If it sounds appealing to you (plenty of Yelpers like it), save a few bucks by picking up a gift certificate on Restaurant.com before you dine. Look for a coupon code online to get your $25 certificate for as little as $2--Restaurant.com is always having sales.

Also, I should point out that while we chose to sit at a regular table for the peace and quiet and privacy, Ken of Japan also has a room with communal, Benihana-style tables and cooking.

Ken of Japan
4340 Cochran Street
Simi Valley, CA 93063-2352
(805) 527-6490

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