Last week I made a trip to El Dorado Hills, California for work. Located 30-40 minutes northeast of Sacramento, I didn’t expect much from the restaurants in this town. With only a hand full of restaurants in El Dorado Hills, my colleagues and I had a group dinner reservation at Aji Japanese Bistro, a local Japanese fusion restaurant opened 4 months ago. Reading quality reviews online, as well as a colleague vouching that the food is nothing like the regular sushi bars in the area, I was curious to try this restaurant.
Since our colleagues visited the restaurant quite often the last couple of months, we made a reservation. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Russell Okubo, Executive Chef Partner, and Nick Dedier III, Managing Partner, and showed to our table. With a long list of cocktails and Japanese import & local beers, we ordered our drinks and started looking at the menu. Russell suggested we let him feed us so he can highlight the popular dishes on and off his menu.
For drinks – Aji Bistro offers a list of delicious custom cocktails as well as extensive list of import and domestic beers. I decided to order their house cocktail – Kyoto New Year – Bombay London dry gin, fruits rouge, Bunny sparkling sake. This cocktail provided the perfect combination of fizz, fruit, and alcohol to it! I particularly liked the blend of gin and sparkling sake. My colleagues ordered Hitachino Nest Beer White Ale, a Japanese beer that’s now one of my top beers of choice – a light and refreshing ale with hints of nutmeg and orange. Time for me to hit up the local specialty liquor stores to find this beer.
Our first couple of dishes that arrived were plates of assorted sashimi and Lomi Lomi. The sashimi came loaded with fresh hamachi, salmon, tako, spicy tuna, and albacore tuna. The sashimi is as fresh as the sashimi I most enjoy in Vancouver! It was also paired with some wakame (seaweed) salad. The Lomi Lomi consisted of salmon belly, marinated in soy sauce and togarashi chili mix and served with cucumbers and topped with roe.
We next moved onto some popular dishes that are listed under their “Street Food” menu. The Kalbi Taco consisted of delicious slices of kalbi short rib with a kimchee slaw. I really enjoyed the juicy short rib with the pairing of the spicy kimchi. A great snack food accompanying a glass of beer.
The Crispy Pork Belly came with rave reviews from my coworkers that have already eaten here. It reminds me of a Chinese Roast Pork, minus the crispy skin on top – with a hint of spice and accompanied with sauteed chive blossoms and onions. I really enjoyed the Crispy Pork Belly, however would have preferred it with less chives and onions.
The third street food served was the Kakuni Bun – a reminder of a modern twist to the BBQ Pork Bun we have for Dim Sum. The Kakuni bun was served on a fresh white bun, nice and fluffy, with pork belly cooked in a hoisin sauce and accompanied with spicy onion slaw. I’m normally not a fan of the BBQ Pork Bun when I go to dim sum, but this Kakuni Bun was a hit due to the flavors of the hoisin sauce pork belly.
Next we were served some large and Gordon Ramsay approved seared scallops. I’m not sure where Russell ordered these fresh jumbo scallops from, but the one I ate was almost 2 inches in diameter! This dish was off-menu, but offered insight into how delicious Russell transforms fresh seafood into the most delicate and flavorful dishes with minimal effort. This dish was one of the highlights of my evening.
We ended the main dishes with the lamb lollipops – seared with sweet and spicy glaze, garnished with sesame seeds and green onions. The lamb was cooked perfectly, with the right amount of sweet and spicy to it.
Although everyone at my dinner was done after the above dishes and awaiting dessert, I had room to order the House Ramen to try. I was curious to see how ramen would be served since I love the ramen restaurants in Vancouver. Russell warned me that it’s not like a traditional Ramen, but he did make the noodles fresh. I ordered a children’s size bowl to try. The noodles were delicious, however the soup was a bit over salted. I really enjoyed how it came with a tempura prawn, marinated egg, and a piece of pork (charsiu).
For dessert we were provided with sharing spoons to share the following three desserts: Green Tea Creme Brulee, Strawberry Shortcake, and Flourless Chocolate Cake. My favorite was the Green Tea Creme Brulee – with the strong matcha flavor, a crispy top, and smoothness of the creme brulee. Although they don’t have a dessert menu, I hope this is a regular dessert offered as I want to come back for more!
One more thing to highlight, we were offered some of the chef’s secret soy sauce reserve. A light white soy sauce, Kinoene Shiro Shoyu (Soy) Sauce is imported from Japan and is a lot lighter in color than regular soy sauce and is less salty than regular soy sauce. We used this for our sashimi and it was light and flavorful! I’m not sure if I can use regular soy sauce again after experiencing this white soy sauce.
Aji Japanese Bistro offers most of the above dishes on their menu, however they also offer a $55 Chef’s Table Omakase Tasting Menu (6-14 guests) which I highly recommend. They also offer a Social Hour (3pm-6pm) with drink and snack specials.
Great job Russell & Nick for the opening of such a high quality restaurant in El Dorado Hills! With the opening of the patio and the beautiful summer weather, this will be a local spot for those looking for some Asian street food and great cocktails/beers. I look forward to my next trip to El Dorado Hills to enjoy some street eats and cocktails.