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Beast from the East

With so much care put into providing quality, beautiful, artistic food, you will come away from your visit to Kirin feeling that a mystical, benevolent beast has blessed you.

Donna Leahey
Marc Rains
July 28, 2019

Chinese legends tell of a mystical benevolent creature, known as a kirin, that likes to help good people. This legendary beast is much like a unicorn, gentle, and kind. Drawn to those who do good deeds, a kirin protects and blesses those it chooses, bringing prosperity and guarding against danger.

Maggie Easter, the owner of Kirin Asian and Sushi Cuisine, chose the good-natured creature as the symbol of her restaurant because of those benevolent blessings and that it represents Asian culture. The spirit of the kirin runs through the peaceful, beautiful space; you could almost believe a kind, mystical beast has taken up residence there.

Stepping into Kirin is like stepping into a spa, or even a magical forest, the kind that might be home to a unicorn or a kirin. It’s serene, quiet and peaceful, with dark furnishings, natural light, and hanging light fixtures. Easter’s father-in-law, Mr. Liu, crafted the lovely hand-painted art on the walls. “He’s an artist in China. He flew here three times to do the paintings,” she says. “We wanted them perfect."

Fruit Sushi (Photo: Marc Rains)
Fruit Sushi (Photo: Marc Rains)

The ambiance is so welcoming, you know you’re about to enjoy some of the blessings of the kirin yourself when you’re there.

Kirin has been serving delicious Asian cuisine and sushi to south Tulsa for over four years. About a year ago, Easter remodeled her restaurant, adding a bar and a party room to the already hospitable space. “The party room is great for events,” says Danielle Lundquist, Kirin’s manager. “It can comfortably hold 18 adults. We’ve had business meetings, birthday parties, and even a bible study in there.”

The bar space allows Kirin to offer a large selection of sake. “We price it very competitively. We want to allow you to try other sakes with your meal,” Lundquist says. It has also let Kirin explore new territory in creating drinks. “We’ve got unique drinks not available anywhere else,” says Lundquist. “We incorporate our selection of teas into some of the drinks. Like the Empress, a hibiscus tea mixed with vodka, muddled mint, blueberry, and lemon juice. It’s a lightly sweet drink, great for the summer, but tasty all year-round.” The Empress is a delightful, beautiful drink.

Another great and unique choice is the Thai Lotus, made with Thai tea. “Thai tea has a smoky flavor. We add whiskey bourbon which brings out that smoky flavor and mix it with cream and Irish cream,” says Lundquist. “It’s got a big, bright, orange color that draws the eye.” The Thai Lotus is creamy and delicious, with a nice bourbon kick, and best of all, it’s not too sweet. It’s just one of many signature drinks you can — and should — try.

Thai Lotus (Photo: Marc Rains)
Thai Lotus (Photo: Marc Rains)

One of the unique aspects of Kirin is made-in-house soy sauce. “Most places buy Kikkoman soy sauce. We start with low sodium sauce and marinate apples, cooking sake, oranges, sugar, kelp, and cooking wine. We cook it for three hours. It’s lighter and sweeter and a little citrusy,” says Lundquist.

“Our soy sauce sets us apart,” adds Easter.

Kirin’s housemade soy sauce is sweeter than the soy sauce you’re used to, but the light citrusy tang, deep umami, and salty finish keep that sweet from being overpowering. “People are always asking us if they can buy the soy sauce,” says Lundquist. Try it on a bit of sushi or some rice, and you’ll understand why people are clamoring for it.

Another thing that makes Kirin unique is how they train their sushi chefs. “Most places start training their sushi chefs with how to cook the sushi rice,” says Lundquist. “But here, only our head chef is responsible for the rice. Thanks to years of experience, he can make it perfect. If it’s flawed, the sushi will suffer.”

“Our rice lets us provide a quality product above the rest,” adds Easter.

Kirin’s dedication to quality shows in everything they do. Some of their most popular kitchen items include their bulgogi and their traditional Yu Xiang Rou Si.

“Bulgogi is thinly sliced beef in a Korean marinade. It’s delicious. People are stunned by it. It’s also available in a spicy chicken version,” says Lundquist.

The Yu Xiang Rou Si is a traditional Chinese dish. “There’s a story behind it,” says Lundquist. “A Chinese woman had extra fish sauce, and she added it to some pork to create this sweet, salty, spicy dish.” The Yu Xiang Rou Si is a beautiful dish, with colors and textures that appeal to the eye every bit as much as the tongue. The flavors are rich and unique, and it’s full of textural interest as well. It’s a must-try.

Amongst the traditional dishes, there are some fusion options you’ll want to try. The crispy sriracha chicken is a delightful surprise. Thinly sliced chicken is cooked crispy, then topped with a sweet, tangy, and spicy sauce. Don’t be afraid of it, though; the spice level is gentle.

The wok classics include some of your Asian favorites, touched with Kirin magic. There are some popular choices like sesame chicken and Mongolian beef. Kirin’s pad Thai is made with not one protein, but three: chicken, shrimp, and tofu. The Kung Pao is made with generous portions of chicken, shrimp, and scallops.

Of course, you want to know about sushi. Like everything else, Easter wants it perfect. “Details in sushi rolls are important,” she says. “The artistry is important. We put a lot of effort into our recipes and our work, too.”

“In addition to rolls, we have sushi bar entrees. The deluxe sashimi is a piece of artwork,” Lundquist says. “Everything is cut perfectly and balanced. There are some flowers and leaves to make it not just food. It’s something more.”

One of the most popular rolls at Kirin is the Dancing Roll, which is made with crabmeat salad, shrimp, masago, tempura crunch, and spicy mayo. It’s a beautiful combination of flavors, colors, and textures, served up as a masterpiece on a plate.

The American Dream is another popular choice, a roll with spicy tuna and avocado topped with five types of fish. The Snow White Roll is Lundquist’s favorite. It’s a strikingly pretty presentation, filled with spicy yellowtail and avocado and topped with white tuna and four different types and colors of tobiko (flying fish roe). “It’s very clean,” says Lundquist. “And no two bites are similar.”

When you’re done, find room for a serving of fruit sushi. This lovely sweet treat is made from mango, kiwi, and strawberry rolled in pound cake and sliced like sushi. There’s just a hint of cream cheese frosting to keep things sweet. Like so many of Kirin’s dishes, it’s beautiful and delicious.

Kirin changes up its menu about three times a year to keep it seasonally fresh. “We always want it to be the best experience for the guest,” says Easter.  

Kirin Asian and Sushi Cuisine
8041 S. Mingo Road | Tulsa
Monday-Sunday: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.