Food, Japanese food especially, is normally off-topic for this site, but I'm willing to make an exception for the exceptional. And exceptional this is. Indeed.
Kihachi sits anonymously in a nondescript strip mall in a suburb devoid of culture 20 minutes outside Columbus. It is inconceivable that you would end up here by happenstance, the way great experiences are often discovered through serendipity and spontaneity. But Chef/owner Michael Kimura has been turning out precise, ultra high-end cuisine for the last 19 years here, creating his own gravitational force that pulls in connoisseurs from far and wide.
The dining room is spare and spotless, channeling that this place is all business. Few restaurants can get away with this level of understatement, but when the waves of food start rolling over the bar, all consciousness of surroundings falls away. Detailing the several precious courses would prove futile - and ruin the surprise should you have the good fortune to make it here. Instead, here are a few impressions about what makes this place a destination worth booking a flight for:
Humility. On the surface, this is common in most Japanese establishments, but is always refreshing. For all his recognition, Chef Kimura is content keeping his - and your - focus on the cutting board. If tone is important, and it is, he projects a calm, subdued confidence in his trade, so the food can do all the talking.
Tempo. Much like an invigorating Ashtanga practice raises the heart rate before putting you through a series of mind-quieting poses, the sequence of courses here suggests a similar philosophy of progression. This kind of thoughtfulness is sadly uncommon in most contemporary cuisine, but the result is similar to that of the yoga practice: crescendos and respites culminating to heartbreaking silence and surrender.
Soul. While volumes can be said about quality of product and preparation leading to precision, food that evokes emotion rarely does because of its meticulousness. Soulfulness comes from food prepared with patience, with honor to legacy, and with a deliberate absence of pageantry.
Hushed profanity escaped our lips as the meal progressed. Hours after leaving the strip mall in stunned admiration, my body thrummed from the experience, physiologically and emotionally. And weeks from now I will no doubt still be haunted by the flavors, textures, and captivation of this meal.
As dining companion Bruce Schoenfeld later tweeted, "Amazingly, surpassingly good." A million thanks to Amy Weirick for the introduction and treat.