Tag Archives: sushi

Sake Sipping Classes at KAZ Sushi Bistro

20 Oct

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not particularly well versed when it comes to sake, but that’s where Kaz Okochi, chef and owner of downtown staple KAZ Sushi Bistro, steps in.

Sake sipping class

Okochi, who has been working behind some of the District’s best sushi counters since the early 90’s, has started offering weekly sake tasting classes as a way to introduce his American audience to a beverage mostly associated with hot cups and sake bombs (both of which contain the cheap stuff).

Mozzarella cheese marinated in miso with blueberry

But Okochi wants his customers to experience the extensive range of cold sakes available, especially since the Japanese drink is widely accessible these days thanks to its rising popularity.


Back when Chef Kaz was working at Sushiko, it took him nearly a year to convince a D.C. distributor to carry it. In fact, not only did he find the one person in California that imports sake, he guaranteed to buy every bottle they got.

Sake can

Now there are nearly 400 sakes available in the states, and with sake breweries emphasizing exports, the beverage can now be found in several shops in the metropolitan area both in bottle and can formats.

Grilled fava bean

Kaz’s sake tasting class is more like a wine program than matching certain types of sake with food. “Sake can match with any Japanese food”, remarked Okochi, and after trying several varieties and complementing them with dishes such as grilled fava bean, fried pork skewers, and Japanese fried chicken wings, he’s absolutely right.


“I want the customers to learn the different kids of sake, and learn which ones they like.” And with sakes flavored with strawberry or aged in cedar, Kaz takes you on an amazing journey with a beverage that tastes wildly different from the next. And this is sake we’re talking about!

Fried pork skewer with miso and mustard

Kaz Sushi Bistro offers its sake tasting class every Monday in October. The $45 course includes gratuity and tax, making for an exceptional value given the broad range of sakes you’ll get to sample along with Kaz’s outstanding cooking.

Japanese pancake

The class is sold out the rest of the month, but don’t hesitate to sign up for the waitlist as there will most likely be more openings in the near future. Oh, and be sure to leave room for the sake kasu ice cream.

Sake kasu ice cream

Kaz Sushi Bistro is located at 1915 I Street NW, Washington D.C.

The DMV Dining Guide to Wheaton and Silver Spring

28 Aug

We have to admit, the amount of content on DMV Dining has diminished quite a bit since we moved to Silver Spring. Between chasing after a toddler and moving to a new house, our dining adventures these past few months have mostly been relegated to delivery and takeout. But rest assured, that’s not a bad thing.

You see, the move has also given us a chance to explore the abundance of excellent ethnic eateries up the road in Wheaton and Silver Spring. And let me tell you, there’s a plethora of options to choose from. The best part is that all of them are affordable if not downright inexpensive.  We’ve mostly stuck to Wheaton, but have checked out a few places in Silver Spring and know we’ve only barely scratched the surface in terms of cheap eats.

Having said that, Rachel and I have composed a breakdown of all the places we have visited thus far.

El Pollo Rico

It’s no secret than I’m a huge fan of Polla a la Brasa, so when I found out we would be moving less than a couple of miles away from one of the most highly-acclaimed Peruvian chicken restaurants in the area, this place was at the top of my list. And let me tell you, the chicken at El Pollo Rico is as good as it gets. Wonderfully crisp and delightfully moist, it is right up there with Sardi’s as one of my favorites. While most of the sides are an afterthought, the sweet corn tamales are highly recommended (they’re cooked to order so I would call ahead if you plan on doing takeout). The Wheaton location also offers delivery, too. – Brett


2517 University Blvd W
Wheaton, MD 20902
(301) 942-4419

Goldberg’s New York Bagels

Being walking distance to Goldberg’s, who in my opinion make some of the best New York style bagels in the area, is quite the perk come Sunday morning. Our new Sunday tradition involves running a few miles around the neighborhood and finishing at Goldberg’s with a bagel and a schmear. – Brett


9328 Georgia Ave.
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Hollywood East Café

While we have written about Hollywood East Café in the past, now we have even more reason to frequent their terrific dim sum given that we’re that much closer to them. – Brett

Dim Sum Cart

11160 Veirs Mill Rd
Wheaton, MD 20902
(240) 290-9988


This past rainy Saturday, we were staying in after failed babysitter attempts and had a hankering for Indian food. We looked for places that would deliver and came upon Ghar-E-Kabab. After a long but expected wait for our food, the payoff was worth it. We choose traditional (boring) items of Chicken Tikka Masala, Palak Paneer, and of course Naan. It certainly hit the spot and we’ll plan to order different dishes for variety the next time we crave Indian cuisine. – Rachel

944 Wayne Ave
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(301) 588-6656

La Casita Pupuseria & Market

We knew the Silver Spring/Wheaton area was full of fantastic pupuserias and Salvadorian restaurants, it was just a matter of which one we wanted to try first. We opted for La Casita based on its popular Yelp reviews, and judging by the crowded dining room at 5:30pm on a Sunday, we clearly chose the right place. We tried one of nearly each type of pupusa offered, and they were some of the best we’ve ever had. Our son ate them up too, in addition to the delicious mango smoothie. Next time we’ll have to try some of the other dishes on the menu, but you definitely can’t go wrong with any of the pupusas here. – Rachel


8214 Piney Branch Rd
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(301) 588-6656

Marchone’s Italian Delicatessen

A void needed to be filled once we left Bethesda and could no longer walk to Vace, which used to be our local Italian grocery. Thankfully Marchone’s has filled that emptiness with their delicious Italian cold cut subs. A family-owned business since 1954 and housed next door to Moby Dick Sushi, do yourself a favor and order a Panino and top it off with one of the many Italian pastries on display at the front of the house. They even sell cannoli from Vacarro’s! We have also heard great things about Santucci’s Italian Deli too, so that’s up on our list to try and then compare the two. – Brett


11224 Triangle Lane
Wheaton, MD 20902
 (301) 949-4150

Max’s Kosher Deli

After living in this area for well over a decade, I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never frequented Max’s until a few months ago. Rachel, on the other hand, last visited when she was an undergrad at the University of Maryland. Needless to say we’ll be making plenty more trips after devouring their schawarma and falafel when we stopped by last month. The matzo ball soup is as authentic as it gets, too. – Brett


2319 University Blvd W
Wheaton, MD 20902
(301) 949-6297

Moby Dick Sushi

This quaint sushi shop seems unassuming at first but in reality serves up some high quality fish at a very affordable price point. Their spicy crunchy tuna roll is arguably the best I have come across in this area, not only because of the quality but also how they prepare it – instead of being dusted with tempura flakes it is instead embedded in it, basically tempura style. The result is a satisfyingly crisp roll that is always included in each and every one of our takeout orders. – Brett


11220 Triangle Lane
Wheaton, MD 20902
(301) 949-3910

Nava Thai

First of all, not only are we a short drive to one of the best Thai restaurants in the area, we’re a short drive to three of the best Thai restaurants in the area (Ruan Thai and Thai Taste by Kob being the other two, all within a few blocks from one another). Nava Thai just happens to deliver, so we tried that one first. In fact, this was officially our first meal at our new house after an utterly exhausting day of moving. The Floating Market Soup is extraordinary, both in spice and overall flavor, and in my opinion is a quintessential must-try Thai dish. Even traditional items such as Pad Thai and Pad See Ew are refreshingly composed in a manner that makes you want to toss out all those old Thai takeout menus. The steamed dumplings stuffed with ground pork, shrimp, crabmeat, and water chestnuts are a real treat, too. On on a recent delivery order they convinced us to order the mango sticky rice dessert, which was a delicious summer treat that our son loved as well. – Brett

11301 Fern Street
Wheaton, MD 20902
(240) 430-0495

Ren’s Ramen

While Rachel and I have still never been to Toki Underground, we’re both perfectly content getting a piping hot bowl of ramen up the street instead of waiting outside for an inordinate amount of time on H Street for the same exact thing. And trust me, I’m not dogging Toki here, it just so happens that Ren’s is conveniently located a couple miles from us and serves up some tremendous ramen without the long queue and hip interior. Yes, parking can be difficult and they only accept cash, but these are small quibbles for a place that makes some outrageously good ramen. With a bowl large enough for leftovers (though I always finish mine) starting at $10, it’s a guarantee our visits will exponentially increase once the weather starts getting cooler. – Brett


11403 Amherst Ave
Wheaton, MD 20902
(301) 693-0806

Thai Taste by Kob

Tucked literally in between Nava Thai and Ruan Thai, Thai Taste by Kob stands out in that it offers an array of Thai street food in addition to more traditional fare. We stuck with items like Pad See Ew and Chicken with Chinese Broccoli, nothing too adventurous but delicious nonetheless. We discovered Thai Taste also delivers, and with its extensive menu we now have our pick of amazing Thai food to choose from. Thai Taste was recently given a favorable review by Todd Kliman in the May issue of Washingtonian, and we can definitely see why. – Rachel

11315 Fern St
Wheaton, MD 20902
(301) 942-0288

Bottomless Brunch at Zengo

14 Nov

A few weeks ago, Rachel and I had the pleasure of trying out Zengo’s new bottomless brunch. Offered both Saturday and Sunday from 11:30am to 2:30pm, diners get to indulge in a variety of Latin-Asian fusion dishes from Chef-Owner Richard Sandoval and Chef de Cuisine Graham Bartlett. Oh, and of course it’s not a bottomless brunch without endless brunch cocktails.

And just like Sandoval’s sister restaurant, Masa 14, the price tag of endless small plates and libations comes out to a reasonable $35 per person.

With nearly two dozen plates to choose from as well as a handful of brunch cocktails, Zengo’s brunch is ideal for groups so that diners can sample the entire menu.


Considering it was just the two of us on Sunday, we tried our best to order the dishes that sounded the most appealing without having to roll us out of the restaurant. With that said, we started brunch with a pair of mimosas – traditional and passion fruit.

Bay Scallop Ceviche  and Ceviche Dorado

Our first dishes were a duo of ceviches. The Bay Scallop Ceviche was comprised of Thai chile, avocado, peanut, mint, and crispy shallots while the Ceviche Dorado, our favorite of the two, featured mahi mahi, aji panca, kimchee, cucumber, and cantaloupe.

Angry Zengo Roll

And while sushi isn’t typically considered brunch fare, Zengo whips up an excellent spicy tuna roll, dubbed the Angry Zengo Roll. Made with wasabi, avocado, cucumber, and sesame chipotle rouille, it was an enjoyable plate of maki.

Short rib hash

One of the day’s highlights (at least for me) was the short rib hash, made with poached eggs, yucca, poblano rajas, and caramelized onion.

Salmon benedict

Up next was a salmon benedict, made with poached egg, ciabatta, kimchee, chili, and hollandaise.

Bacon and scrambled egg steamed buns


One of our favorite dishes was the bacon and scrambled egg steamed buns. Topped with Oaxaca and salsa verde, the buns were delightfully soft and subtly sweet.

Lobster grits

Perhaps the richest item of the day wasn’t even a small plate, but a side dish.  Regardless, the lobster grits are a must-order. And don’t let the title fool you – it was more of a lobster bisque given how thick and creamy it was.  Still, it was a hit nonetheless.

Peking Duck Chilaquiles

Next was the Peking Duck Chilaquiles. One of the more interesting concoctions of the day, it was comprised of fried egg, pickled onion. guajillo salsa, cotijacrem, and corn tortillas.  If you’re nursing a hangover, this is probably a dish you’d want to order.

Shrimp-vegetable pot stickers

The shrimp-vegetable pot stickers, accompanied with chile-dashi sauce, were a nice way to close out the main portion of the meal.

Churros with Mexican hot chocolate

As for dessert, we thought the churros were excellent. Served with a side of Mexican hot chocolate and artfully presented, the rich, slightly spicy chocolate sauce complemented the crispy quartet of churros.

Given the $35 price tag, it’s a value-packed brunch when you consider the unlimited small plates and beverages. Dishes did come out in waves, so be prepared when your table receives a multitude of items at once as it can get slightly overwhelming.

Overall, we really enjoyed what Zengo had to offer. Not only was the service excellent, but it’s also incredibly convenient given that Zengo sits atop the Gallery Place Metro. If you’re looking for a good group outing for bunch, Zengo is a solid choice.

Zengo on Urbanspoon

Kushi Izakaya and Sushi

13 May

Rachel and I have been meaning to try Kushi for what seems like an eternity, and given that our LivingSocial certificate was about to expire in a few days, we had to act fast. We decided to make a reservation last Monday since it would not be as difficult as opposed to securing a table later in the week.

Kushi Izakaya & Sushi, which is a part of the CityVista complex, has garnered positive reviews since opening early last year and is the only Izakaya-style restaurant in DC proper. Considering that both Rachel and I are adventurous when it comes to food (which was taken to the nth degree at Sushi Taro), Kushi was right down our alley.

When we arrived, our waitress greeted herself while explaining the menu and how to order. For us first-timers, it was intimidating to say the least. The menu is divided into several categories which range from small plates to grilled skewers to sushi.

After taking a considerable amount of time to review the menu, we were finally ready to place our order. We started the evening off with the ginger fried chicken. The chicken must have come right out of the fryer as it was piping hot. Not anything amazing but the soy dipping sauce was rather addictive. We should have gone with the Kawa (crispy chicken skin) instead.

Ginger Fried Chicken

Up next was Onigri, or crispy rice ball. Kushi offers Onigri as a daily special and rotates what ingredients it uses – that night the kitchen used pork as its featured protein. Considering that it was only $3, this was more of my choice than Rachel’s as I was curious what it would taste like. While I enjoyed the texture of the grilled rice and how it created a cohesive outer layer around the pork, we probably could have done without it as there were simply better options on the menu.

Speaking of which, our next plate was the tuna tataki. One of the more authentic items of the night, I really enjoyed this dish as the ginger and vinegar hit a nice balance with one another. Rachel, on the other hand, initially thought it would resemble more of a tuna tartar so she wasn’t the biggest fan after a few bites.

Pork Belly Skewers and Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus

While Rachel may have been disappointed with the tataki, we both adored the pork belly skewers. One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, these were simply fantastic. Tender and succulent, these are a must-order should you ever dine at Kushi. Futhermore, our order of bacon-wrapped asparagus was on the very same plate. I don’t have to remind you that anything wrapped in bacon is automatically considered a success, do I?

Japanese EggpantCrispy Rice BallGrilled Squid Legs

Up next was an order of Japanese eggplant. While the sauce was a little too sweet, this proved to be another solid choice. The grilled eggplant was excellently prepared and nearly melted in your mouth. Highly recommended.

Continuing our selections from the robata (wood grill), our next plate was Geso, or grilled squid legs. The char really enhanced the overall flavor of the dish while the squid was not as chewy as anticipated. We were both very happy how this item turned out.

Seared sea scallop maki (above) and beef maki (below)

After several plates from the robata, we finally moved onto the sushi. The seared sea scallop maki was excellent – one of our favorite sushi courses of the night. Meanwhile the beef maki was a little too overwhelming, both in size and execution. Considering all the other plates we ordered, the beef roll was just a little too much and didn’t bring anything exciting to the table.

The seared fatty salmon nigiri was simply incredible, and I’m not even a huge salmon fan. The fish was lightly seared, bringing out more of the flavor while melting in your mouth.

Seared fatty salmon nigiri

We were tempted to order another but instead got the tuna sashimi. Honestly, I wasn’t too impressed with the quality of the fish and considering that we had a similar tuna dish earlier in the night, I should have just went with my gut and got that second order of salmon. Lesson learned, I suppose.

Tuna sashimi

Just when we thought we were done, I was able to convince Rachel to split an order of the black sesame gelato. The only tip I can give you is this: order this as your dessert. There were hints of what tasted like peanut butter as we dug away at the generous scoops in what rapidly soon became an empty glass bowl.

Black sesame gelato.

Overall we had a great time during our first visit at Kushi. Granted, we went a tad overboard with how many plates we ordered, but the LivingSocial deal allowed us to sample more of their menu without taking such a hit in the wallet. This is a place that you need to visit several times as there is so much to choose from. All I know is that the pork belly skewers will be on the bill each and every time we visit.

Kushi Izakaya & Sushi on Urbanspoon

Top Notch Sushi at Sushiko Chevy Chase

9 May

Last week was the week of fulfilling our Groupon and Living Social deals before they expired, so we started at Sushiko in nearby Chevy Chase. We have never been to either of their locations, but heard that their Chevy Chase location was a lot swankier than the Glover Park one. Unfortunately we had accidentally made a reservation at the wrong location, so we had to wait 30 to 40 minutes until a table opened up, which was understandable for a busy Saturday night.

Spicy tuna and sashimi roll

Before long, we were sitting in a booth with drinks in hand. I ordered the refreshing lychee martini and was tempted to order several more given how delicious it was. The three of us decided to split several dishes amongst ourselves, and I was ultimately in charge of picking them. In total, we had the edamame, a small plate of seared lobster and scallops with mushrooms and spinach, as well as the spicy tuna and sashimi roll, spicy rock shrimp and cilantro roll, eel and mango roll, and the soft-shell crab roll.

There isn’t much to discuss about the standard edamame, other than to say it was a good start to the meal but overly salty. The lobster and scallop dish was decadent with a cream sauce; we just wished there were more of it to go around.

Seared lobster and scallops with mushrooms and spinach

Each type of maki we tried was unique. The spicy tuna roll was something that most people are familiar with, but the chefs added a twist with pieces of tuna sashimi placed on top. The eel roll was a solid combination of sweet and salty as each bite tasted a little like candy. Meanwhile, the rock shrimp roll had a nice kick with the added jalapeno peppers, which didn’t overpower the  fresh seafood.

Soft-shell crab roll

Their signature roll (which our waitress recommended) was the soft-shell crab roll, and while it was crunchy and full of flavor, it didn’t necessarily wow us as much as they described. While all the rolls were relatively small, they were high in quality and freshness.

We can’t believe it’s taken us this long to visit Sushiko and would definitely return to try more of their fun and adventurous rolls.

Sushi Ko Chevy Chase on Urbanspoon

Lounging at The Source

31 Mar

Prior to the Brightest Young Things Night at the Newseum party last Saturday, us and a few our friends went to the adjacent Source for a few appetizers and drinks.

Rachel and I have been meaning to go to The Source for awhile now, so we felt by checking out the bar portion of the restaurant that it would give us a preview of what a full meal in the dining room would be like.

Spicy Tuna Roll

We found a table in the lounge portion of Wolfgang Puck’s Asian fusion venue which features a Japanese Izakaya-style menu. The five of us started the evening off with some cocktails, and after glancing over the menu, I went with The Hemingway. A concoction of rum and grapefruit, I’m not sure what was stronger: the actual drink or the gargantuan slice of grapefruit that was atop the rim of the martini glass.

Rachel ordered the Asian Pear which consisted of Absolute Pear, sake and pear puree. Served in a martini glass, she was a little worried that it would be a too sweet like the Pear Sangria she had the other night at Sei. Fortunately, you could taste the fruit as it was more refreshing than overwhelmingly sweet

As for food, our group decided to split two orders of the Kobe beef sliders. Arguably the circumference of a half dollar, The Source instantly reminds you that the “small portion for high price” mantra is alive and well. Each order only came with two, and for $8 per dish, we were hoping that these would meet expectations at the very least.

Thankfully, they did. Prepared with onion marmalade and sandwiched between miniature brioche buns, the quality of the beef was excellent. Were they that delicious enough to justify the $8 price tag? Maybe if they had thrown one more on there.

Up next was the spicy tuna roll, and it was simply wonderful. Eight pieces of fresh cut tuna topped with aioli really gave us a glimpse inside the Asian-inspired kitchen of The Source. And while it was priced at an exorbitant $13, you get what you pay for.

Sichuan chicken dumplings

Our final dish was the Sichuan chicken dumplings, and once again, The Source did not disappoint. The wrapping was delicate while the chili “dan dan” gave each of the five dumplings a healthy amount of heat.

Overall, we had a fun if not expensive pre-party meal at The Source. For a handful of drinks and only four orders of food, our bill came out to well over $100. You’re probably better off having dinner in the main dining room than grabbing a bite in the lounge if you want to justify your expenses as well as leave the restaurant with a full stomach.

Thank goodness the Newseum cafeteria was open during the party. Who knew an order of chicken fingers could be so filling?

The Source is located at 575 Pennsylvania Ave NW in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, DC.

The Source on Urbanspoon

Happy Hour at Sei and an Encore Dinner at Carmine's

30 Mar

Before meeting a group for dinner at Carmine’s, we went across the street to Sei Restaurant & Lounge for happy hour.

The restaurant offers specials at the bar Monday through Friday from 5pm to 8pm, making it one of the longer happy hours available in DC. Considering it is difficult to get down to the Penn Quarter area before 6pm most evenings, Sei was very appealing.

Spicy tuna roll

We ordered drinks right away and I got the Asian Pear Sangria while Brett ordered a Sapporo. Although we were about to head to Carmine’s for a big dinner, Brett was a little hungry so we ordered the  to tie us over. I had one of the rolls and can say that they were incredibly fresh and had a nice kick to them. We have been to Sei for happy hour several times now, and I definitely want to go back at some point soon for dinner.

Sapporo and Asian Pear Sangria

We then headed to Carmine’s and somehow managed to order the perfect amount of food for 14 people. This was a dinner through a group at our synagogue, and I volunteered to help plan the event. We had to find a place that could easily host large parties, but didn’t want to worry about itemizing everything on the bill. Carmine’s was a no-brainer in that sense. We split the costs for the family style meal, and then everyone added in what they owed for drinks.

Somehow, each person only owed $18, and that included tax and tip (at least for the food bill)! We all shared Caesar salad, mixed greens, eggplant parmesan, chicken marsala, Penne alla Vodka, spaghetti and meatballs, spinach, and broccoli. Everything was delicious, and we both agreed that some of the dishes even tasted better compared to our first visit a few months ago.

Carmine's Titantic

The spaghetti and meatballs was a proven hit, and everyone really loved the eggplant parmesan and chicken marsala. We definitely didn’t need dessert, but decided to go big or go home, and ordered the monstrous Titanic.

Yes, it’s called that for a reason. Think of it as a colossal banana split sundae, complete with fudge brownie, countless scoops of vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and of course, whipped cream. We all attacked the sundae and then cried mercy. The evening turned out to be a fun time with good food, great conversation, and all at an incredibly affordable price.

Sei on Urbanspoon

Maki Maki: Quality Sushi, Affordable Prices

19 Jan

Whenever Rachel and I are in the mood for ordering sushi, Maki Maki is generally our go-to option.

Located at the corner of Wisconsin and Highland Avenue in Bethesda, Maki Maki isn’t nearly the size of fellow sushi competitor Tako Grill, located just a few blocks down the street, nor does it carry the popularity of Raku, or even the conveyor-belt gimmickry of Matuba. And yet, despite all these perceived disadvantages, it stands up in its own right.

Sashimi Appetizer

Maki Maki is simply a straightforward sushi restaurant that probably does more business with carryout and delivery versus dining in. But it is the quality and the prices that really make it stand out amongst its Bethesda competitors.

Their standard rolls start out at a very reasonable $3.95, while adding brown rice will cost you just a dollar more. Specialty rolls, such as the Dragon Roll, usually start at $6.95 and up.

Rainbow Roll

But compared to a place like Tako Grill, where the rolls are generally smaller while the prices are higher, Maki Maki is a fantastic value. Granted the former is more authentic than the latter, but if you’re just looking for good sushi at a decent price, Maki Maki would be the default choice.

Rachel and I ordered four rolls: California, Shrimp Tempura, Tuna, and, lastly, the Rainbow Roll. We also split a sashimi appetizer and miso soup. The total came out to $35, and it obviously would have been less had we subbed the Rainbow for one of their more basic rolls, but we’ll call that our splurge for the evening.

California, Tuna, and Shrimp Tempura Rolls

The portions were rather generous as the rolls were stuffed with their respective ingredients. Meanwhile, the sashimi featured several large cuts of fresh fish, and for $6.95, it was quite the bargain.

Maki Maki is located on 8023 Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda.

Maki Maki on Urbanspoon

Omakase at Sushi Taro – An Unforgettable Evening

17 Nov

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.

ChopsticksFresh oysters and scallopsGinger Cocktail

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.

Tofu with Sea UrchinCrab BallLobster Tail

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.

Cooking lobster on the stoneUp 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.

Seasonal AssortmentThe 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.

Fried shrimp headFatty TunaSashimi

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.

Wagyu BeefAs 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.

Head of Red SnapperThe 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.

Japanese DelicaciesSquid in its own inkJapanese Delicacies

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.

Selection of fresh seafoodChef Nobu preparing the sushiSushi place-setting

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.

Green Tea CustardGreen Tea Roll Cake

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.

Sushi Taro on Urbanspoon

Zentan: Great Sushi, Not So Great Service

14 Oct

This past Saturday night’s dining outing proved to be a challenge from the get go in terms of finding a place that could accommodate a large party as well as offer food options that were agreeable to everyone.

Tapas are fun in theory for a big group, but it gets tough sharing with so many people, especially when guys are involved and walk away hungry. You either wind up ordering too much or too little, and it only works out if it is the right mix of people and everyone wants to share everything.

You also want a place that isn’t too over the top expensive, so that people don’t feel uncomfortable. What started as dinner for six people turned into 12, and by that point OpenTable was no longer an option. I usually love challenges like this, and after making a few phone calls, it occurred to me what I thought would be the perfect place.

Zentan is a fairly new Asian restaurant in the Donovan House hotel. The executive chef at the restaurant is Susur Lee, who some may remember from Top Chef Masters. The expansive menu varies from small plates for starters, to sushi, to larger entrée dishes. Sushi can be difficult because not everyone likes it, but I figured this place had options for both sushi and other dishes. I also knew the space was fairly large and had been there before with a large group, so securing a reservation wasn’t an issue either.

We arrived at 8pm and some of our party was already there with some drinks in hand. The bar offered some fun and creative cocktails, in addition to sake, wine, and beer. When the waiter finally got to us after we had been sitting for some time, we ordered our drinks and looked at the menu. It seemed like the drinks were taking forever, and finally, the waiter had come around and said the delay was because they ran out of flutes for the sparkling wine I had ordered. I honestly could not have cared less if it had come in a flute or a plastic cup, and it pretty much seemed silly that was the reason he had disappeared for so long.

Caramelized Black CodSzechwan-style sliced duck with crepes Donovan Platter

By the time we had ordered our food it was close to 8:45, so needless to say, everyone was a little impatient waiting for the food to come. We ordered some edamame and two Donovan Platters to share with the table, which consisted of crusted vegetable dumplings, salt and pepper calamari, crab cakes, and a satay trio. Everything was tasty, but for $24 per platter, it was still barely enough food for everyone. We may have been better off just getting one or two regular appetizers instead of the sampler.

For dinner, most people ordered entrees, but Brett and I weren’t super hungry so we decided to share some sushi and an appetizer dish that I have been eyeing for some time, the Singapore Slaw. I have heard that it is one of their signature items on the menu, and the description of 19 ingredients, hazelnuts, and salted plum dressing certainly was appealing. For the sushi, we went with a slightly traditional rainbow roll of tuna, salmon, and yellowtail atop a California roll, and the Brick Roll, which consisted of spicy lobster, BBQ eel, and scallop.

Singapore Slaw

I have to admit, the Slaw lived up to its reputation just from its sheer size and color alone. It was a giant tower of ingredients, although when mixed up it’s hard to tell if there really are 19 ingredients. It seemed more like five or six to us. The restaurant obviously doesn’t list them out, but it was certainly unique and different than your average green salad. That might have been a better dish to share with the group than the platter, just for its generous portion alone.

The sushi might have been the highlight for me. It was extremely fresh and flavorful, and the Brick Roll was literally shaped like small rectangular bricks. The only downside was that it was hard to pick up and we wound up having to eat those in sections.

One friend got Szechwan-style sliced duck with crepes while another got caramelized black cod, which looked like something I would order the next time we would eat there. Oddly, they recommended that people order side dishes of vegetables, but I’m surprised they didn’t inform us of how large the portions would actually be. For $6, a bowl of string beans was easily twice the size of the bowl of edamame we ordered earlier in the evening. In my opinion, I’m not entirely sure those entrees needed sides to begin with, but they were so large that we ended up sharing with those who ordered them. I should note that the string beans had this garlic sauce on them they made them slightly addictive.

By the time everything had come out, we had inhaled our appetizers so people were slowing down on the entrees fairly quickly. Despite the wait, everyone seemed to like what they ordered and the presentation was very unique.

Unfortunately, no matter how good the food may have been, a bad impression of poor service from the start is what everyone seemed to remember, but I guess that is to be expected with a larger group. However, I would think if they knew ahead of time that a large party is coming, and that the bill and order will be substantial, that they would get not one but two servers on us to make sure everything is running smoothly. I think Brett and I will be back, but it will probably be the two of us if anything.

Zentan on Urbanspoon