When Rachel turned 30 last year, I surprised her with a dinner at Table 21 at Volt up in Frederick. Little did we know how popular it would become once Bryan Voltaggio became a household name thanks of course to Top Chef.
It was an amazing culinary adventure, and even though DMV Dining did not exist at the time to document this extraordinary meal (though it was recorded over at my other blog – with four posts no less!), it heavily influenced the creation of this site.
It also started a new tradition of taking the significant other out to a new and exciting restaurant for their respective birthday. For example, Rachel surprised me with the tasting room at Restaurant Eve back in May.
So the question was, where do we go from here? I decided to keep it under wraps till the very end, but when we arrived at 17th and P last night, Rachel, who knew Komi was closed on Mondays, somehow had a feeling it would be Sushi Taro.
She didn’t know, however, that we would be dining at the private sushi counter in the back for omakase.
I decided on the sushi counter thanks in part to Tom Sietsma’s Fall Dining Guide. I also knew that this would be vastly different from anything that we have done in the past, and since Rachel loves sushi to begin with, it was practically a no-brainer.
When we arrived, we were warmly greeted and promptly seated in the curtained-off area of the restaurant. The counter seats up to six people, but because Monday isn’t necessarily Sushi Taro’s busiest day, we had the room all to ourselves. Well, we and the chef slash owner Nobu Yamazaki.
We started the evening off with some celebratory drinks, with Rachel ordering a ginger cocktail while I went with a Riesling. The chef then asked if we had any dietary restrictions to which we quickly said no. I think he appreciated that since the point of omakase is to let the chef’s creativity run wild. We’ve been adventurous in the past, but we had no idea what was to come.
Our first course was a tofu dish that apparently takes at least an hour to prepare each day according to the chef. It was topped with sea urchin as well as freshly made wasabi. The texture was unbelievable as it resembled a gelatin-like substance. I felt bad eating it as I didn’t want to disrupt its delicate construction and gorgeous presentation.
The next course was a lightly fried crab ball with mushroom in a mild chili sauce accompanied with what I believe was another ball made from tofu. The crab was delicious while the mushrooms were surprisingly rich in flavor despite their small appearance.
Up next was perhaps the coolest thing I’ve ever seen at a restaurant.
The chef grabs a fresh lobster tail and immediately takes his knife out, cutting out all the meat and placing it on two dishes. He then serves each of us a plate with an incredibly hot stone and tells us to then cook the lobster on top of it!
And we did just that. I took my chopsticks, picked up some of the rare lobster, placed it on the stone, and watched it sizzle right before my eyes. While you could eat it rare, the chef recommended cooking it for at least a few seconds to bring out more of the flavor. Between the quality of the lobster itself and the interaction involved, the experience was second to none.
The next course involved a sampling of ingredients in a gorgeous presentation.
We weren’t able to recall everything on the plate, but it involved monkfish liver (which tasted similar to traditional foie gras), marinated mackerel, and a chestnut. It also featured a small, lightly fried fish from the Japanese coast which the chef said was only in season two weeks of the year.
I’ve never devoured an entire fish before, including the head, but we did it without much reservation because it tasted so good.
Up next was the sashimi course, and let me tell you, we are just going to have to let the pictures speak for themselves as there were so many different cuts of fish and seafood we sampled.
The quality alone was hands down the best we’ve ever had, particularly the fatty tuna, but the most memorable had to be the fried shrimp head. Yes, you read that right. We each ate a shrimp head.
As if the night could not get any better, the chef prepared a decadent Wagyu beef dish right before our eyes.
He sliced the meat, quickly seared it, and presented it to us in a bowl with a ginger sauce that was simply out of this world. Neither of us has ever eaten Wagyu beef before, but we can completely understand why it is so appreciated.
The combination of the tender, fatty beef with the sauce was heavenly to say the least.
What came next, however, was something I’d never imagine being served, or eating for that matter.
The chef presented us with a large bowl that contained the head of an enormous red snapper. Nobu made it sound so simple, saying “Here we have the head of a red snapper. Enjoy.”
Rachel and I looked at each other in befuddlement, unsure of how to tackle eating an entire fish head. Little did I know my wife’s skill in culling meat from fish heads, because she was quite skilled in this department after a few minutes of observing.
According to the chef, the best meat is from the head of the fish. Well, he was right. Though it kind of creeped us out having to cast aside the mouth (with teeth!) to work our way around it, saying it was a unique entrée would be a complete understatement. What’s even more ironic is that I rarely order whole fish at restaurants, yet here I was, digging away inside this poor snapper’s head.
Of course, we weren’t done yet. The chef served us a hollowed-out brick with what he described were Japanese delicacies inside. One of the most impressive had to have been the squid served in its own ink. I don’t know what was more extraordinary, the flavors or the presentation. Both were breathtaking.
Just when we thought we had seen it all, the sushi course was slated to close out what was already a magnificent evening. The chef, who already demonstrated his excellent skills with the knife earlier in the night, began slicing thin layers of fresh ginger in order to cleanse our pallet between each serving.
He asked us what kind of sushi we wanted by presenting six boxes of fresh seafood, which ranged from scallops to yellowtail to even urchin. It was overwhelming to say the least.
The place setting for the sushi course consisted of a bowl of soy sauce that was accompanied by a miniature brush. This way, it allows guests to gently add an appropriate amount of sauce to each piece without overpowering the flavor of the fish.
Nobu also mentioned that, at the sushi counter, you are allowed to eat the sushi with your hands. Because of that, he provided each of us with a miniature “finger” napkin in order to cleanse our hands before the next serving.
We ultimately selected salmon, shrimp, mid-fatty tuna, and two different types of eel. It was amazing to watch Nobu meticulously construct each piece of sushi by hand, and we were even more taken aback by how fresh all the ingredients he used were.
The tuna was so mind-blowingly good it nearly made me want to cry. It pretty much speaks volumes that a chef is doing his job when he evokes that kind of emotion from his patrons.
Just when we thought we had wrapped things up, we still had to select dessert. In the spirit of omakase, we told the chef it was up to his discretion what to serve us, and once again, he knocked it out of the park.
Nobu presented us with two desserts, both featuring green tea as its star ingredient. One was a roll cake (with birthday candle) while the other was a custard with a caramel sauce found at the bottom of the bowl. Both were fantastic and reinforced how enjoyable, different, and special each of the innumerable courses were that night.
The waitress then provided Rachel with a card wishing her a happy birthday, signed by the entire kitchen staff! Between the intimate service already provided by Nobu alone, this was really going the extra mile.
If you want to take one of the most incredible culinary journeys through Japan while never leaving DC, then I implore you to try Sushi Taro’s sushi counter. I don’t want to get all Anthony Bourdain-ish, but it simply is one of the places you must visit before you die. End of story.