3. Kihachi

Story by G.A. Benton + Photos by Will Shilling

As a veteran professional eater, I'm rarely overwhelmed by every single bite of any dinner from start to finish. But that happens nearly every time I dine at Kihachi.

When lining up adjectives to capture that food, the candidates pushing forward are: elegant, spare, thrilling and poetic.

Yes, Kihachi's very special. In fact, I bet if you questioned the other chefs on this list about their favorite culinary magicians, most would reverently mention master Mike Kimura.

Thus his dazzling dishes transcend lesser features like a shrug-inducing wine list (beer and sake work great anyway). As for ambiance, though Kihachi features nifty tatami-matted chambers, this strip-mall temple of no-training-wheels Japanese cuisine might best be described as a blank canvas for Kimura's artistry.

Said artistry is catalogued on two menus, one containing udon, teriyaki, tempura and such and another with more rarefied, tapas-type preparations. I recommend latching onto the latter, where huge pleasures arise from small plates.

Recent knockouts include: a basket of crunchy, deep-fried lotus root wedges crammed with a delightful shrimp filling--water-derived gifts with celestial textures and flavors. Stunning, lime-scented sea bream sushi patterned, wallpaper-style, with sancho leaves, served with an explosive grapefruity sauce (Kihachi's not a sushi restaurant, but you'll find none finer in Ohio). Insanely intense Berkshire pork cheeks presented with bare vegetal accoutrements--a porcine haiku.

Kihachi's my preferred special occasion restaurant, and I highly recommend splurging on its mindblowing omakase (multi-course magnificence). Insider tip: from October into November, Kihachi's matsutaki mushroom-packed omakases are especially majestic.

Kihachi 2667 Federated Blvd., Dublin 614-764-9040 Hours: 6-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday

The Crave 10 1. Rigsby's 2. G. Michael's 3. Kihachi 4. Dragonfly 5. Basi Italia 6. Sage 7. Refectory 8. M 9. Alana's 10. Worthington Inn