Kushi

DSC_2370.jpgA bit more than a year ago, a close friend invited me to partake in a coupon deal at a Japanese restaurant in an up-and-coming part of town that has recently gone through some urban development.   I found the offerings delicious and authentic, but we were rather put off by the overall value of the dishes, and we did walk out a tad hungry, partly due to the lack of a single grain of rice served with our meal.  When another coupon offer surfaced again, I quickly bought the deal and decided to pay this establishment another visit for a second look at the food.

Located in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood near Chinatown, it sits in a newly built building that hosts other new and trendy restaurants which has become the center of social life in this part of town.  Kushi toutes itself as a Izakaya and Sushi restaurant.  The word Izakaya is rather novel in the local culinary scene, borrowed from Tokyo and Osaka meaning a place that is neither a bar or restaurant, but more like a neighborhood place that caters to everyone from all walks of life, from the working professional to the local resident.  With this type of clientele in mind, Kushi offers a wide variety in their offerings and this is reflected in the cooking styles.  The menu is divided into these traditional culinary techniques: Sushi, Kushiyaki Charcoal Grill, and Robata Wood Grill.  For this review, my visit during lunch time was however limited since the menu only offered only the first two categories during the day time.

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DSC_2348.jpgThe sashimi and non-sushi dishes are categorized under the Raw Bar section in the menu.  I decided to order everything from here to get a sampling of their raw offerings. The raw oysters hail from Bedec Bay, Canada, and these medium size shells came with milky white oysters swimming in a shallow pool of briny liquor.  The oysters tasted very clean and rather mild in flavor, which is a good indication of the freshness and purity of the waters that it came from.  One not to risk any chances with raw oysters (I’ve heard enough scary stories from others), this did not feel like playing with seafood Russian Roulette and there was a sense of confidence worthy of bestowing one’s favorite hairdresser.
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DSC_2350.jpgThe next raw dish was Tuna Tataki.  A piece of tuna has been quickly seared then marinated in vinegar for a while to impart some flavor into the fish.  The dish came with slices that revealed the opaque outer ring around the raw interior, sitting on a pool of soy sauce that was imbued with some dashi sauce made from bonito flakes.  The slices tasted slightly sour from the marination, and pieces of mild-tasting garlic chips along with some spicy grated daikon turnip added the interesting textural as well as flavor components.  Soft sheets of Wakame seaweed added further interest in the dish.  This small plate was definitely a hit for me on many levels.
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DSC_2352.jpgThe other small bite was a bowl of Peel n Eat Shichimi Garlic Blue Shrimp.  The Blue Shrimp were transformed into fiery red from both the cooking and sprinkling of the red-hued Japanese Shichimi spices.  This crimson mix comprises of coarsely ground red chili pepper, Sichuan peppercorn, roasted orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, hemp seeds, ground ginger, and dry seaweed.  The cool-temperature shrimp were rather large, cooked perfectly with the flesh still moist and plump with the spices adding a distinctive slightly smokey flavor to the dish.  It is not quite as salty or heady like the typical Old Bay boiled shrimp, and I appreciated the natural sweetness coming through in these bites.

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For the last cold dish, I ordered the Sashimi Trio.  This beautiful dish arrived with small plates of maguro tuna, hamachi yellowtail, and salmon.  The pieces of nearly translucent yellowtail tasted very clean with a faint hint of its mild flavor, with a topping of spicy shaved daikon radish with bits of crispy rice pebble.  The salmon was quite fatty which imparted a certain level of lusciousness to the tongue along with the distinctive salmon omega 3 richness.  But the star of this trio was the tuna whose large pieces of ruby-like meat tasted pristine in both freshness and in the unique lean tuna flavor which peaked my interest and I could not get enough of it – if pieces of ruby stones could be eaten, this is what I would imagine what they would taste like.  For $13, I feel that this dish is worth every penny – a must order in my books.

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From cold to hot, and raw to cooked.  For the other half of my meal, I went for the Kushiyaki charcoal grilled items.  It was a pity that the wood grilled items were not available for lunch, but I was quite happy to settle for the charcoal version.  Visually, I will start describing from the right of the picture to the left.  The first item was the Chicken Breast with Shiso and Wasabi.  The pieces of poultry were mildly seasoned, enhanced by the slightly bitter minty Shiso leaves and the biting grated Wasabi. Next was the Chicken Breast with Shiso Leaves and Plum sauce.  It tasted similar to the previous skewer except in this case the plum sauce added a nearly cloying sweet tanginess to the bites.  Following it is Negima/Chicken and Scallion.  The pieces of chicken breast were well grilled punctuated by the smokiness and slight sweetness of the charred scallion pieces that added the necessary interest to the plain protein.  Next to it is the Kamonegi/Duck Breast and Scallion.  This stick proved to the most tasty among the poultry items due to the moist and dark flavors of the meat while the grilled scallion imparted the same sweet charred qualities as in the previous bite, while lacking the usual gaminess that duck may carry.

DSC_2369.jpgMoving away from poultry, I ordered the Pork Belly which had cubes of equally proportioned fat to lean meat on the stick.  The pieces of Berkshire Pork (considered one the best) were very savory with a slight sweetness and saltiness flavor in the moist and tender pieces which made the fatty parts delectable and even enjoyable and beyond sinful.  For the final skewer, I could not resist ordering the Wild Boar Sausage.  This delicately made sausage was moist and not firm with a mild tasting meat well seasoned with hints of herbs (rosemary and sage?) and a hint of sugar to round the flavors off.  All the skewered meat carried the distinctive smokey flavor imparted from having spent some time on the charcoal grill, boosted by dippings into the sides of sea salt, English mustard, and Shichimi spices.  These tasty bites took me to the city alley ways of Japan where these delights would be served for the hungry professional after a long day’s work.  For the dinner menu, the sausage is replaced by the popular chicken thigh skewer, commonly known as Yakitori.  The best deal for these grilled meats is the lunch set which serves four of your choices with rice, soup, and salad for $15 – definitely top of my list for lunch here.

DSC_2362.jpgKushi is definitely not the traditional Japanese eating establishment that most of us are used to.  It offers an amazing variety of traditional styled dishes in the cold and hot dishes, either raw or grilled on charcoal or wood.  It is one of the few places in the DMV that showcases traditional Japanese grilled dishes, which brings a breath of fresh air to the run-of-the-mill Japanese menu.  But the stars in this place are the quality ingredients and their attentive and knowledgeable treatment by the skilful kitchen, from the fresh Canadian oysters, the extremely fresh sashimi items, and to the tasty hot skewers of chicken, duck, pork, and the sausage bites.   However, here is a note to the post-carb diner: do yourself a great favor and order a bowl of rice to make the meal complete and for you to walk out satisfied.

Kushi Izakaya & Sushi on Urbanspoon

8 thoughts on “Kushi

  1. Another visual odyssey into the culinary world. The photos are always worth their thousand words. Seems that the most recent visit was more enjoyable than the very first one.

  2. I would love to know whats on the dinner menu! Lunch is wild! I could stay there for a couple hours talking and eating. If i was going alone. I’m pretty sure I would have made a fool of myself having the sausage and duck! Very cool! I want to visit this place!

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