Ah, Sushi Taro! A member of my Dupont neighborhood for over two decades, it was my go-to spot when I first moved into my little cave. Located above the CVS on the corner of 17th and P Street, Sushi Taro was a ferociously popular food destination due to its consistently solid sushi at budget prices. I loved it with a fierce and uncontrollable passion - no kidding, I think I probably stopped in or carried out at least 4-5 times a month for a couple of years. And I was not alone in my zealousness - I don't think I'd ever been able to eat dinner there without having to wait in the very crowded entry way or staircase for at least 45 minutes to an hour.
But back in October 2008, owner Nobu Yamazaki announced that he would be closing the restaurant temporarily for renovations for the insane purpose of cutting seats from 120 to 70. When I heard the news, I wanted to cry - it was already hard enough to get a table, now it would be impossible! Once the restaurant opened back up, I learned that the situation was even worse than I imagined - they had taken away my favorite cheap-but-top-notch sushi joint in exchange for a much more expensive "more authentic" dining experience.
I had decided that I wouldn't step foot through the usurper's doorway, but my hand was forced when my co-workers picked it for lunch a few months ago...after which I realized that I may have been a little over-dramatic about the changes (but just a little, I'm still pretty mad). While still slightly more expensive than it used to be, the lunch prices are actually reasonable, particularly given the quality of the food. Mark and I decided to take advantage of this cheaper option for a quick lunch date.
Although I loved the kitsch-y feel of the old Sushi Taro, there's a sleek and quiet elegance to the renovated space, particularly now that the restaurant seats half as many. The chaos of the old set-up is gone, and the decor has a much cleaner feel.
I started with chawanmushi, which I've stated before that I LOVE, a savory egg custard (above, left). The texture of Sushi Taro's version was right on the money, really silky, but taste-wise, a tad underseasoned. I also wouldn't have minded a few more buried treats, as my bowl only yielded a couple of enoki (I think) mushrooms, one piece of white meat chicken, and one very small shrimp. I still polished it off in under 5 minutes.
Not realizing how filling our entrees would be, we ordered a spicy tuna roll. (above) Now, it's pretty hard to screw up something as basic as a spicy tuna roll (mmmm, spicy sauce)...and Sushi Taro didn't. Though pretty basic, it was a very satisfactory roll. Mark noted the high quality of the tuna inside the tightly rolled sushi, and I liked how there was an actually spiciness to the sauce, although I wouldn't have argued with more.
Mark ordered the Katsu Don set, a fried pork filet with scrambled egg and onion. I was nervous for him, as new friend and fellow food blogger @dclovesfood had just reviewed this exact dish (left) and had some issues with it, specifically the pork.
But Mark seemed to have struck it lucky - his pork (covered in an eggy blanket) was relatively moist, flavorful and well cooked. Beneath the filet (right) waited a massive bed of sauced rice. He wasn't blown away, but found it good and enjoyed its presentation.
I ordered the Bara Chirashi set, with seafood, snap peas, mushrooms, and prettily sliced daikon atop a layer of shredded scrambled egg, torn bits of nori (seaweed), and sushi rice. All of the seafood was really fresh, and I was pleasantly surprised by both the variety (shrimp, tuna, salmon, roe, mackerel, squid, eel) and the portion size. In fact, I was absolutely stuffed when I finished, and I rarely say that after eating sushi. Neither Mark nor I even touched the miso soups that came with our entrees.
I'll admit that lunch was pretty good and not too too expensive. And I'm sure that the dinner options are, as the Washington Post puts it, "revelatory." I'll probably come back for lunch. I might even cave and experience dinner here myself sometime (now that I've taken that important first step). BUT, there will always be a part of me that misses my old, crowded, cheap-o friend.