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Entries in Japanese (9)

Friday
Jun042010

Sushi Taro

*Post by Angela.

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.

Sushi Taro on Urbanspoon

Friday
May142010

Matuba & Lost Dog Cafe

*Post by Angela.

You all may or may not remember this, but I've stated it before - due to my fear of  being away from the Ang-cave when the zombie apocalypse starts (and our epic laziness), it's pretty rare that we venture outside the District for dinner. However, there are a handful of people who can actually motivate us to leave our "safe" zone to enter the wilds of Virginia. The other evening we headed into South Arlington to meet two of these people, our very good friends Stephanie and Adam (who also happen to be the people who introduced us) for dinner at Matuba and dessert across the street at Lost Dog. While Matuba (which has an outpost in Bethesda) wasn't spectacular, it offered pretty solid food, nice service, and a pleasant laid-back atmopshere in which to visit with friends. And I kind of fell in love with Lost Dog, with its colorful and cute decor, massive food and beer menus, and tasty desserts. This trip added to my growing belief that Virginia isn't the barbarous wasteland I'd initially imagined - there's fun stuff and good food to be had across the river, after all!

We started the night at Matuba, on Columbia Pike in Arlington (I can't be more specific than that - I don't drive and have no actual idea of where we were). Steph and Adam took us into an alley behind the main strip, and I whispered a nervous aside to Mark ("you know, they have been acting weird lately") until I saw a small sign above a doorway reading "Matuba." Relieved that one of my favorite couples was not planning on murdering us, I followed their lead through the back entrance into the bright, sparsely (but cozily) decorated restaurant.

 

 

Mark, not being the sushi fiend that I am, opted to start with a couple of small plates, sweet pototo tempura (below, left), and chicken gyoza (below, right). He liked his starters, but nothing really blew him away. Mark wasn't too upset about it, though. At this point in the meal, either Adam or Stephanie mentioned grabbing dessert across the street - Mark's eyes lit up, and he announced that he would be saving up space in his stomach for the after dinner trip. Stephanie also got an order of sweet potato tempura, and the four of us demolished a bowl of edamame.

 

 

I got the Super Deluxe Sushi combo, which came with a bowl of the miso soup (not pictured). The combo included a tuna roll, as well as several pieces of nigiri (pictured next to the tuna roll is the salmon roe and sea urchin, and I also got tuna, salmon, toro, shrimp, white fish, and eel). I was pretty pleased - the rice was nicely seasoned, with the perfect texture (tender but not mushy), the fish was surprisingly fresh, and I got a good variety of stuff. 

 

 

Mark did end up getting a roll off the specials menu, the spicy toro with avocado roll (below, left).  He liked it okay, but didn't think it was all that spicy. Stephanie got a vegetarian roll combo (below, right), which she seemed to enjoy.

 

 

Adam got a variety of rolls and seemed more than satisfied with his selections - the really nice thing about Matuba is that the food is good for a decent price (generally about $3-$6 dollars per roll), so you can definitely leave satisfied without spending a fortune.

After sitting and chatting for a few more minutes, we finally indulged a twitchier-by-the-minute Mark by heading across the street to Lost Dog Cafe for dessert and after dinner drinks. When we walked into the cafe, my vision was immediately assaulted by the massive variety of beer they have available for takeout. Once my beer-fogged sight had cleared, I was able to appreciate the decor - the walls were covered with brightly painted murals of dogs in various highly unlikely situations (hanging out with giant roosters, smoking pipes, dressed as firemen, etc.). 

 

 

We were quickly seated and handed the humongous menu, featuring 31 gourmet pizzas, 13 types of salads, 52 specialty sandwiches, 19 classic sandwiches and subs, and 10 pasta dishes (and I'm not even including the appetizers and side dishes!). And while it was hard for me to believe, given the size of that menu, Stephanie and Adam assured me that the food was pretty good. 

But we hadn't gone there for the savory items. Stephanie and Adam, respectively, got the banana-fudge and mint chocolate chip milkshakes. While both of them liked their choices a lot, after trying Stephanie's, Adam wished he would have follwed her lead. Mark and I decided to go with two dessert dishes, the Blonde Dog ala Mode (below, left), and the Reese's Peanut Butter Pie (below, right). I really liked my blondie, which was topped with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, caramel and whipped cream - the cookie bar, with its warm, crusty exterior and soft center, somehow managed to not be overwhelmingly sweet. Mark enjoyed his peanut butter pie, but admitted that it was a very, very rich dish. I couldn't deal with more than a bite or two. 

 

 

As we were walking out, Adam informed us that "Lost Dog" is more than a cute theme -  the owners have been rescuing, sponsoring, and placing abandoned and unwanted dogs for over 13 years, and in 2001, started their foundation to facilitate that work. Being a dog lover, I immediately let out a little "aw!" I'd go back for that reason alone, although the great desserts and beer list (by my count, their bottled beer menu lists 122 US, 25 English/Scottish, 14 German, and 53 other varieties from Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, Jamaica, Holland, Ireland, Japan, Mexico and Thailand) are great draws as well.

While I still think I prefer living and eating in the District, I'm starting to realize that the sprawling suburbs are home to probably hundreds of very good, low-to-mid-priced places to eat, drink, and meet up with friends, and that Mark and I should be willing to overcome our fear (and laziness) to explore those options. It might just be time to expand my zombie emergency plan...

Matuba Japanese on Urbanspoon

 

Lost Dog Cafe (S. Arlington) on Urbanspoon

Sunday
May022010

Kushi Izakaya & Sushi

*Post by Angela.

Figures.  The moment I leave a neightborhood, it starts to blow up, restaurant-wise.  It happened with Columbia Heights, where I used to live right after law school (now the home of Pete's New Have Style Apizza, Pho 14Red Rocks Pizza, and a number of other new eateries).  And it definitely happened with the general Gallery Place/Chinatown area, which touts Taylor Gourmet, a branch of Busboys and Poets, PS 7's, Zengo, and now DC's first Japanese gastropub, Kushi, at 4th and K.  I was super excited about this addition to the DC culinary world, and after trying it out with Mark and new friend of IFFF Andy, I was not disappointed.  Kushi offers a huge, delicious menu, and while there were a couple of misses, dish-wise, on the whole, the food is impeccably prepared, the seafood is fantastically fresh, the service was friendly and efficient, and the atmosphere is a lot of fun - it's definitely an option I'd like to hit up again in the future.

 

 

I really loved the sleek, modern design of the HUGE restaurant.  You have a number of seating options - you can sit at the robata, or charcoal grill bar, the sushi bar, or general dining room seating (which is what we chose).  Our server was ready to answer any question, and put up with us as we tried to narrow down our selections from the massive menu.

 

 

 

A complimentary amuse-bouche of marinated beets with beet greens was a refreshing beginning to the parade of dishes to come. 

 

 

We got a couple of the Kobachi, or small plates, beginning with the tako su, octopus with vinegar.  The thick slices of octopus were so fresh - not a trace of fishiness..

 

 

I got an order of chawanmushi, a dashi-based custard.  Chawanmushi is one of my favorite Japanese dishes, and this was a pretty great specimen - silky and subtly flavored, with little nuggets of savory goodness (shrimp, chicken, etc.) hidden in its depths.

 

 

From the Gohan (rice) section of the menu, we got the yakionigiri, or daily grilled rice ball, which had flakes of salmon distributed throughout.  We were intrigued by the concept of this dish, but it had a weird aftertaste that made it one of the few dishes that we didn't love.

 

 

We also ordered a number of dishes from the robata (charcoal grill).   First up, Andy ordered the oyster, which he really enjoyed - he noted that it was the freshest of the fresh. 

 

 

Mark and I split three types of kushiyaki (skewered meat): the Heritage breed chicken breast with plum sauce and shiso (left), the Berkshire pork belly (middle), and the kalbi, or Wagyu beef short rib (right).  All three meats were perfectly cooked and tender.  I loved the combination of the juicy chicken with the plum and shiso, but it was Mark's least favorite of the three.  On the other hand, he loved the pork belly and the short rib - both were incredibly succulent, and the simple seasoning let the meat really shine.

 

 

We also split an order of the mahogany quail stuffed with duck sausage.  I don't often get quail, but I loved this - it had a great crispiness on the outside, but the meat was so moist and tender.  And the duck sausage really complemented the taste of the quail very well.

 

 

Andy got an order of lobster tail from the robata, and again, the freshness of the seafood was very apparent.  He noted how well it was prepared (on the heat just enough to cook it all the way through, but not so much that the meat got tough).

 

 

We also ordered a number of items off the sushi and special menu.  The boys ordered 2 types of maki, a sundried tomato, aparagus, and Asian pear roll, and the spicy tuna roll.  Mark wasn't blown away but always appreciates unique flavor combinations, and again, the fresh velvety-ness of the seafood impressed me.

 

 

Andy and I each ordered some nigiri - I got the yellowtail special, and I loved the buttery texture and ocean taste.  Andy got the chilled tofu, which he seemed to enjoy.

Finally, Andy ordered the firefly squid nigiri off the specials menu.  I'm not sure exactly what the problem was, but he didn't like the taste as much as he would have liked, leaving one lone piece for the servers to clear.

 

 

For dessert, we collectively got a number of scoops of sorbet/ice cream.  Andy got scoops of incredibly rich and thick Valrhona chocolate and green tea ice cream.  Andy raved about the green tea ice cream, and I had no choice but to try some - it was absolutely phenomenal, creamy, and slightly sweet and nutty.  Mark also got the Valrhona chocolate, but paired it with a scoop of tart blood orange sorbet (pictured below).  I got a scoop of black sesame ice cream, which surprisingly (to me and with great happiness, to Mark), tasted almost exactly like peanut butter ice cream.

 

 

We all really, really, really enjoyed our dining experience at Kushi, and it's somewhere I could return any number of times and have a different (but tasty) experience each time - as many dishes as we tried, there were so many that we wanted to order but were forced to bypass.  Next time you have dinner plans with difficult to please (or allergy-challenged) friends, give Kushi a try!

Kushi Izakaya & Sushi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Apr202010

New York City: Ippudo

*Post by Angela.
This weekend, Mark and I were in New York for a quick visit with my sister Pam and her fiancee Jason.  We were also in town to eat as much as we possibly could, and we absolutely succeeded (if you know us at all, you know it was a ridiculous amount of food in a very short period of time).  We started our epic eating journey with a fantastic Mexican meal in Brooklyn on Friday night (which we'll post about in a few days), and after a fun-filled night, woke up late Saturday morning raring to go.

 

The day began with Lunch #1 at Ippudo Noodle Shop in the East Village.  The restaurant is the first and only American location for the Japanese chain, and Pam had been dying to try it out; unfortunately, every time she had walked by, it had been either packed or closed.  We showed up super early to guarantee seating (and to accommodate our very busy eating schedule for the day), and I'm glad we did.  Ippudo's rich broths, mouthwatering toppings, and house-made noodles combine to make a very satisfying and tasty bowl of ramen, the ideal fuel for a day of exploring Manhattan. 

 


There was already a line in front of the trendy noodle shop when we arrived a few minutes before 11 am; nevertheless, we were seated quickly once the sign was flipped from closed to open.  Like Policy in DC, the restaurant's color scheme was dominated by reds and blacks, but I didn't mind it here, as the lines were much sleeker and cleaner, creating a chic, instead of skeevy, atmosphere. 

 

 
I also liked that the receiving room's adornments announced the restaurant's focus clearly.  This is a RAMEN shop, plain and simple.
 

 

Even though it was fairly early in the day, I was already hungry (having spent the morning repeating the weekend's mantra in my head - "You will eat more and love it.  You will eat more and love it").  So I ordered one of Ippudo's "cold" dishes, the Tako Wasabi (raw octopus in fresh diced wasabi).  I loved this simple little dish - the octopus was so very fresh, satisfyingly slippery, yet with a firm bite.  And the diced wasabi shocked my taste buds awake. 

 

Tako Wasabi

 

Ippudo offers five varieties of soup (with different types of broth), as well as a number of extra toppings you can add for $2 more, including poached egg, seasoned bamboo shoots, chasu pork, and braised pork belly. 

 

Both Mark and Pam ordered the Akamaru Modern, tonkotsu soup (pork-based) with Ippudo's house-made noodles, special sauce, miso paste, and fragrant garlic oil.  Their bowls of ramen already came with a number of toppings, including chasu pork, half a seasoned boiled egg, beansprouts, kikurage (a.k.a. wood ear mushrooms) and scallions, but because we're talking about Mark and Pam (who shares my pork-belly loving genes), they both added kakuni, or braised pork belly.  Both really enjoyed their bowls of ramen, and Mark noted that he really liked the broth, contrasting it to the broth in the pho he's eaten (which he found watery and bland) - he enjoyed how flavorful and thick the pork-based tonkotsu soup was in comparison (this is because it's made by boiling pork bones over high heat for many hours, which breaks the collagen in the bones down into gelatin).  Mark and Pam also both absolutely raved about the pork belly, and upon trying a little, I agreed - the kakuni was a gloriously fatty, rich and tender bite.

 

Akamaru Modern With Braised Pork Belly

 

I broke from the pack and ordered the special, the Karaka-men.  The broth in my soup was similar to that in the Akamaru Modern (tonkotsu broth), but it had the added element of "special blended hot spices."  My ramen also came with chasu pork, kikurage, and scallions, as well as cabbage and ground pork, and I added onsen tamago, or poached egg, to the mix.  While I really enjoyed the broth from the Akamaru Modern, I LOVED my spicier broth, and the poached egg was cooked to perfection, bursting into my soup with yolky deliciousness.

 

Karaka-men
We left Ippudo feeling totally satiated and happy, but not overwhelmingly full (which was a blessing, as we still had two more substantial meals to get through that day).  I really wish DC had ramen shops like this, which met our need for a quick, filling and tasty meal perfectly.*  And with contented stomachs, we wandered out into the city to explore and make our way toward Lunch #2...
 
*If anyone knows of good ramen shops in DC, please, please let me know.

Ippudo on Urbanspoon

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