Ikko Sushi

Ikko Sushi

It has been quite a while since I have blogged on a Japanese establishment.  My regular Japanese haunt folded up after there was a change of management, and consequently, the service and food quality went downhill.  Since then, it has been challenging finding a spot worth writing about, in addition to the gastronomic wanderlust that has taken my attention in many directions.  However, recently, I read reviews on Ikko Sushi located near downtown Silver Spring, MD, and I paid it a visit for lunch during a warm Saturday afternoon.

Complementary Salad, Ikko SushiSituated on the ground floor of a recently built apartment building, it holds a sushi bar and a few tables inside.  But I chose to sit in the patio facing the building courtyard in order to take advantage of the light for the photos, and to enjoy the balmy temperatures, a nice change from the frigid week before.  After taking a seat, I perused the menu which seems to cover many categories of the cuisine that I am familiar with.  With the help of online recommendations, I honed in on some of the raved dishes that this place seems to get right.  The serving of a complementary salad set the right mood, although I found it rather pedestrian and lacking in “hand flavor” or a sense of proper attention to the ingredient no matter how lowly a lettuce leaf could be.  However, the well-made ginger-miso dressing was the right element that perked the leaves into something quite palatable.

Yellow Tail Carpaccio, Ikko Sushi

Yellow Tail Carpaccio, Ikko SushiFor my first course, I ordered the Yellow Tail Carpaccio.  The beautiful plate arrived with raw slivers of the mild fish dressed up and sitting on a pool of sauce.  One bite into a piece pointed to the quality of the sushi.  The slices of seafood were cut to the perfect thickness that exuded its mild clean ocean flavors.  The accoutrements on top added more interest with the right crunch from the sweet red onion, spicy jalapeño pepper, and herbal micro green, along with some creaminess from the ripe avocado.  Each packet was perfectly liaisoned by a sauce made from citrusy yuzu juice, soy sauce, and a tinge of sesame oil, making it the perfect complement to the fish’s clean flavors.  This was a great starter indeed, and I was looking forward to the next dish.

Fire Mussel

Fire Mussel, Ikko SushiFire Mussels was high on the online recommendation list and I decided to follow the suggestion.  When it arrived, I was not too keen of the amount of stuffing on top as well as its fiery color.  But with one shell, my mind took a U-turn.  The mussel tasted fresh and was rather moist from the proper cooking and the small pool of moisture under the flesh.  The topping took me by surprise by its seasoning, replete with some spice heat, a tinge of sweetness, and creaminess in the flaked Surimi stuffing, which did not overtake the seafood despite its bright appearance.  Despite the overwhelming quantity of stuffing, which I eventually scrapped off some of it, I agreed with the online raving comments on this appetizer, and I finished off every shell with some degree of satisfaction.

Spicy Tuna/Eel Rolls, Ikko Sushi

Spicy Tuna Roll, Ikko SushiInitially, I thought of critiquing on a Ramen noodle dish.  But with the advent of Spring, I quickly changed my order to some lighter sushi rolls.  My waiter was quick to recommend the ones made with multiple of ingredients lathered with quantities of sauce, which I find such Westernized creations to be overwhelming and quite an assault to the simplicity and purity of flavors.  Getting away from the “hits list”, I went a la carte and ordered two rolls.  The first was Eel roll.   The flesh was tasting very clean in flavor, devoid of the excessive Omega oil that a less-than-fresh cut would exude.  The traditional sweet brown sauce was not too sweet or excessive without overwhelming each bite.  The other roll was Spicy Tuna.  The mashed tuna mix was spicy, had a hint of acid and a good amount of sesame oil that matched the oily seafood.  The finely julienned cucumber was the perfect cooling complement to the spicy mix, and this flavor and textural combination made each bite irresistible.  For both rolls, the sushi rice was perfectly cooked with its grain retaining its integrity and not mushy at all, properly seasoned with a hint of sugar and vinegar.  The nori weed was aromatic and slightly nutty from some toasting.  All in all, this was proper sushi and it definitely points to a skillful hand.

Complementary Fruit, Ikko SushiIkko Sushi is a wonderful find.  Despite its large menu, it seems to get it right judging by the dishes that I tasted that day.  I still recall the wonderful mild yellow tail fish that was made more flavorful by the crunchy toppings and that sippable citrus sauce, the moist large mussels topped by a fiery and creamy faux crab stuffing, and the well-executed sushi rolls with the mild tasting eel and the perfectly balanced spicy tuna mix.  Sometimes the success is in the simple details without overwhelming the senses with overly layered flavors that tend to mask the ingredients – their integrity is the canvas itself.  This attitude was even evident in the complementary fruit consisting of a single sweet slice of orange and an equally delectable piece of cantaloupe.  With such venerable approach to Japanese cooking, Nikko Sushi is definitely worth more visits on my part.

Ikko Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

San Francisco

After a chilling winter in the East Coast (it snowed in DC on the second day of my SF trip) and a two-year hiatus, I decided to spend my Spring Break holiday in one of my favorite cities, San Francisco.  It is definitely a big change of locale for me as its energy is totally different and refreshing from the East Coast vibe, who tends to get suffocating after a while. Besides the nicer weather and change of scenery, one thing I enjoy and look forward to is a wide variety of restaurants that can be attributed to the cosmopolitan feel of the city and the different culinary influences stemming from the various immigration groups that have landed in the Bay Area.  Without much further ado, here is a quick run down of places that I visited in one week.

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Since I was visiting my college buddy dating back to the first day of Graduate school in Maryland 24 years ago, he chose our first meal to celebrate his birthday at Cha Cha Cha in the Haight neighborhood.  This local chain has a few branches in the area and it serves up a menu that represents various Latino culinary traditions, or Pan Latino.  Our opener was the popular pickled seafood, Ceviche, that was brimming with small shrimp, bay scallops (the smaller ones), and squid.  The seafood morsels were sweet and tender, well pickled by the lime juice, and fragrant with some jalapeño pepper and cilantro.  A side of sweet plantains were as good as they get, accompanied by a smooth paste of refried black beans.  The seafood paella was rather decent with pieces of shrimp, tender pieces of fish and some mussels, embedded in some aromatic rice made yellow sans the pricey saffron threads.  However the Jerk Chicken was not close to any authentic version that I have savored – it was tasty but the name was a total misnomer.  Despite the last dish, this meal was a pretty good start to my gastronomic week.

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For his birthday dinner, my buddy chose Cafe Ethiopia in the Mission District.   Our orders arrived on a large enameled platter covered with the sourdough injera bread, topped by the various protein and vegetables.  I was quite impressed by the dishes since each was very tasty and held its distinctive flavor and character while setting themselves apart from each other.  The orders that impressed me most were the collard greens, the lentils, and the salmon dish that had moist chunks of the seafood covered by a tasty but not overpowering sauce.  An order of goat was a bit unfortunate as a bit more cooking would have made them less tough.  The extra pieces of injera bread were the perfect vehicle to scoop up the food and the accompanying sauces.  One of the guests exclaimed that this was the best Ethiopian food he has tasted in the Bay Area. and I must agree that it was as good as the ones found in the DC area replete with restaurants of this East African cuisine.

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Staying at the Haight district, I stumbled across this little dive serving Thai food – The Best of Thai Noodle.  I must say that such name tends to conjure up some suspicion, but I decided to give them a try for lunch.  I ordered the Combination Of Sliced Rare Beef, Beef Stew, And Beef Meatballs Noodle Soup since I was in the mood for such a noodle soup dish on a cool day.  The bowl arrived with strands of wide rice noodles swimming in a very rich fragrant soup filled with pieces of stewed beef pieces and beef meatballs.  With my first bite, I recognized the dish that I have had recently – Boat Market Noodle Soup.  Upon enquiring, the waitress confirmed my observation.  This bowl was as good as the one I had a few months back in Thai Square with the heady cassia and star-anise laced soup, the tender pieces of beef and meatballs, and the fresh noodles.  Looking at the menu, this small joint offers an amazing array of authentic dishes from this Southeast Asian tradition.  This establishment is definitely worth checking out despite its rather dingy appearance.

The Slanted Door

The Slanted DoorFor lunch the next day, I decided to go Vietnamese, and I stopped by the most reputed Vietnamese restaurant in the area located in the Embarcadero Ferry Terminal – The Slanted Door.  I had eaten at this establishment a few years back and I was looking forward to it again after the absence.  For the starter, I ordered some Chilled Wild Louisiana Gulf Shrimp.  Large pieces of shrimp came with sides of chili spiced cocktail sauce and a Thai basil aioli.  The shellfish were perfectly cooked and their sweetness in each bite was indicative of the freshness and quality, complemented by the irresistible sauces.  For the main course, I ordered the Grilled Pork Belly and Meatball Rice Vermicelli Noodles.  Basically this is the supped up version of the Bun Noodle Salad enhanced by large pieces of moist savory grilled meatballs, tender pieces of tasty pork belly, and pieces of the house Imperial Roll made with chunks of shrimp and ground pork- this was a hearty, satisfactory and flavor-packed bowl.

The Slanted DoorFor dessert, I couldn’t help but hone in on something whimsical listed on the menu despite feeling rather full after the above dishes – Lemongrass Cotton Candy.  A big cloud of this spun sugar arrived at my table that left me bug-eyed by the unexpected size – I guess I have not been to the local fair in a number of years.  When the dessert arrived, I slowly tore pieces away from it, with a bigger amount each time.  It is basically your typical cotton candy with a citrusy and slightly grassy lemongrass flavor that made this childhood favorite as irresistible to the now adult.  I literally had to stop myself from finishing the whole mass and I got the rest packed for home.  The meal at this Modern Vietnamese restaurant was worth every dollar spent with the high level of cooking, the artful presentation, and the authentic flavors that left me satisfied and dreaming of this gastronomic experience.  Btw, don’t forget the Lychee Ice Tea that made the perfect thirst quencher with the above dishes – exotic and refreshing at the same time.

Spicy Eggplant and Mushrooms.Golden Era Lemongrass "Chicken"

No where is better to try Vegan/Vegetarian cuisine than in the West Coast, and I returned to my and BFF’s favorite establishment- Golden Era Vegan Restaurant.  A vegetable dish that we have enjoyed and always ordered is Spicy Eggplant Mushroom.  Pieces of purple skinned Asian eggplant are paired with fresh button mushrooms, crunchy carrots, slivers of onion, and large pieces of green onions, all coated in a slightly sweet spicy sauce that brings all the different elements together harmoniously.  A must order is the house’s most popular dish, and rightfully so – Lemongrass Deluxe.  Pieces of mock chicken have been spiced up by a heady amount of shaved lemongrass and a dry spicy sauce, ringed by crispy bright green broccoli florets that make the perfect mild foil to the herbacious spicy “chicken” bits.  The platter comes with a generous amount of the protein, and this dish always delivers.  I have spent days dreaming before coming to the West to savor this vegan delight.  Word of warning: it is located in the seedy Tenderloin neighborhood but walking distance from downtown, hence the importance of having a dining companion with you for the walk.

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Suzu Japanese Noodle HouseWith a large population of Japanese descent, it would be amiss to not savor authentic Japanese cuisine in Japantown, located in the Fillmore neighborhood.  That is where I headed to for lunch one day to savor some Japanese Ramen noodles in Suzu Japanese Noodle House recommended by my college buddy.  Agedashi was the first order, consisting of tofu chunks that have been fried in a light batter, sitting on a pool of dashi sauce and topped with a piece of eggplant tempura, grated daikon and fresh ginger, and slivers of bonito flakes and dried seaweed.  This was a bowl of clean pure flavors that just left a serene contentment within.  For the main course, I ordered Spicy Pork and Egg in Spicy Broth Ramen. The bowl came with a mound of al dente egg Ramen noodles topped by a single sliver of roast pork (meat as a garnish, not main course), half a boiled egg, pieces of bamboo shoot pickle, raw spinach leaves, and topped by a mound of white leek strips.  The soup was a fairly rich meat stock spiced up by some slightly smoky chili paste.  The bamboo spoon to help slurp the soup added a level of authenticity in addition to the small diner that whisked me away to a cramped eatery in the Far East.  Be prepared to be patient for a table in this small establishment, but it is worth the wait.

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_6002278.jpgOne of my favorite parts of the city is North Beach where many Italian eateries can be found.  Caffe Greco is a spacious deli that serves Paninis, and my order made with Prosciutto ham, Mozzarella cheese, and Red Pepper was the perfect afternoon bite with the salty meat, mild and slightly creamy cheese, and the pickled red pepper slivers that added the acid touch and herbal oregano flavors to the airy pieces of pressed Foccacia bread that held the fillings together.  My companion’s sandwich made with turkey and large ribbons of zucchini was equally successful, albeit milder in flavor.  The accompanying side salad was well-made with the right amount of balsamic vinaigrette coating the healthy mix of a variety of lettuces, making the lunch complete. To chase the bites down, we ordered the house special, Grecco Sunrise.  A tall glass of Orangina is spiked with a shot of cherry syrup which turned it orangey red at the lower half, hence its name.  It was the perfect sip with our sandwiches in this part of town that evokes the Mediterranean.

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_6002353.jpgFor dinner, my college mate invited me for some raw seafood at Sushi Time in the Castro area.  Located in a small mall, this cramped space has only a few tables along with the sushi bar, and when we got there, a line was waiting for a table.  An opener of a Seaweed Salad and a Cooked Spinach Salad were simple but tasty appetizers.  The Avocado Tuna Tartar was delectable with pieces of spicy tune paired with creamy avocado punctuated by pieces of fresh asparagus.  The pieces of sushi tasted clean and fresh, as good as most good sushi joints, and there was a good variety for the diner.  What stood out for us was a serving of Butterfish sashimi which exuded clean yet a rich unctuous texture and flavor.  The set menus are reasonable and priced competitively. Like the ramen eatery, it is worth the wait and the cramp space has that Japanese urban feel.
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I was the honored guest of a brunch hosted by a Facebook social group that I am a member of, and we met at Catch in the Castro neighborhood.  This spacious space serves American fare with a heavy emphasis on seafood.  What caught my attention was the Salmon BLT which came with an option of a simple salad, Ceaser salad, or french fries – where else can you find a seafood BLT but in Cali!  My sandwich came with perfect sautéed salmon fillets with a crispy exterior but moist inside, topped by crispy bacon and spicy arugula leaves, moistened by a citrus aioli, enclosed by pieces of crispy french baguette.  I really enjoyed this sandwich with the well cooked and well matched ingredients.  The side Caesar salad was creamy with the rich tangy dressing and shards of Parmesan cheese.  Everyone in the group seemed to enjoy their pasta or seafood dishes.  If only I could have tasted someone’s seafood soup that looked very temptingly rich and brimming with pieces of the sea.

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For my last meal before heading to the airport, we walked up to Cole Valley to La Boulange (not Le Boulanger).  This is a local chain that has branches in many parts of town, serving up French pastries, meals, and drinks. My mini sandwich of Smoked Salmon was excellent with the quality fish paired with a slathering of cream cheese and bits of red onion and green chives sandwiched by the well-made roll.  An order of Almond Croissant hit the right spot with the short flakiness of its dough (not stretchy elastic) sweetened by the rich almond paste filling and accentuated by a plethora of toasted almond slivers on top – it is one of the best almond croissants I have tasted in a long time.  My friend’s French Toast was decadent, consisting of a round sponge cake dipped in an eggy custard (real eggs) and cooked gently to produce a light ethereal version of this breakfast staple, washed down by a decent “bol” of roasted Cafe au Lait.  For my flight home, I took out a Walnut Baguette with Prosciutto and Figs, which was an interesting tasty combination.  A dessert of Lemon Custard Turnover was the perfect flaky pastry with the rich sweet lemony filling that made me wish I had another order – it definitely sweetened the long-haul home.  Now, I see why reviewers give this chain an overwhelming thumbs-up, and deserving so.

Ah, San Francisco – The city of Beauty and Great Eats! Here is my photo essay of the city: San Francisco

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

Sushi Taro – Kaiseki Tasting Menu

Recently, I wrote a review on Maruko Japanese Restaurant, a popular sushi restaurant located in Arlington, VA, as I am fond of good and fresh seafood prepared in the Japanese fashion.  While I receive many internet coupons for various sushi restaurants, I pretty much delete them right away since sushi is one food item that I do not take chances with or play some form of culinary Russian Roulette.  However, I snatched up an offer that appeared a few weeks back for a Kaiseki Tasting Menu, and I managed to experience it for the first time at Sushi Taro, a reputable traditional Japanese restaurant located in the Dupont Circle area of DC.

Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese dinner that consists of numerous dishes that show off the cook’s refined culinary skills and the seasonality of the ingredients.  It is an art form that balances the “taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food.”  Beautiful dishes and bowls are chosen to present the small servings  in order to complement and enhance the eating experience.  Even leaves and flowers are added to imbue the sense of nature and its bounty.

Each serving is self-contained in its theme and sensory evocations.  I will present each course very much in a Zen mode – simple, direct and unadulterated.

First Course - Aperitif

First Course – Aperitif:                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Sweet  sake-like “Kinkan” wine with half of a sweet and citrus Kumquat as a chaser.

Second Course - Tsukidashi

Second Course – Tsukidashi:                                                                                                                                                                                                   Gelatinous “Goma” Tofu made from Sesame seeds paired with fermented Soy Beans and briny creamy Sea Urchin, swimming in a light Dashi broth.

Third Course - Appe

Third Course – Appe:                                                                                                                                                                                                          Tender and crispy Bamboo Shoot Tempura and Lotus Root Dumpling (Agedashi) in a light soy sauce infused with a slice of Lemon.

Fourth Course - Sashimi

Fourth Course – Sashimi:                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Thin and mildly delicate slivers of Live Flounder (I assume the flounder was alive just before its filleting).

Fifth Course - Soup

Fifth Course – Soup:                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Tender and crunchy “Wakatake” Bamboo shoots, Snapper Cake, and mineral-like fresh “Wakame” Seaweed in a light broth.

Sixth Course - Hassun

Sixth Course – Hassun:                                                                                                                                                                                                               Battered Fish Cake, Grilled Fresh Anchovy, Fish Roe, Rice-stuffed Ginko Nuts, Smoked Salmon Ball, Crabmeat Jelly, braised Octopus Tentacle, Sweet Cake, Sea Snail, Tuna in Mayonnaise.  Fresh and sweet treasures of the ocean.

Seventh Course - Imobou

Seventh Course – Imobou:                                                                                                                                                                                                                Salty shards of “Boudara” Dry Cod wrapped in smooth “Yuba” Soybean Skin paired with a soft and light Yam Dumpling in a light sweet sauce.

Eighth Course - Yakimono

Eighth Course – Yakimono:                                                                                                                                                                                                          Tender well-marbled Australian “Wagyu” beef, moist and flaky “Gindara” Black Cod, with chewy and gelatinous Konnyaku Starch bites, simmered in Red Miso on Magnolia Leaf and burning coals.

Ninth Course - Sushi

Ninth Course – Sushi:                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Braised Octopus Tentacle, sweet tender raw Scallop, and soy-marinated raw Tuna.

Tenth Course - Dessert

Tenth Course – Dessert:                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Green Tea “Hoji-cha” flan-like Pudding with a sweet-burnt Caramel Sauce.

This write-up is not necessarily a review on the strengths or weakness of Sushi Taro Restaurant but more a recounting of a fantastic gourmand’s experience of a Japanese multi-course meal.  If the refinement of this Kaiseki meal and the large presence of Japanese executives with their underlings in the restaurant are used as a barometer of the authenticity and skill level of the kitchen, I will be back in the future to sample its regular fare, beyond the $80-per-person menu (before the 50% coupon – thank Buddha for it) that I savored with true delight.   Another Oishi exclamation here.

Sushi Taro on Urbanspoon

Maruko Japanese Restaurant

The 11th day of August is an auspicious day that is well-embedded in my memory.  It is not a national holiday, a birthday, or an independence day – it is my parents’ wedding anniversary.  Every year, I am duly reminded of this date by my parents who will drop hints when I get a call from them a week or a few days before the day itself.  My parents view this date with the utmost importance, and the same expectation is expected from their children.  Forgetting to call and wish them on the 11th would warrant a slight chiding or an email stating, “You forgot Daddy’s (or Mummy’s) wedding anniversary”, depending who was the sender dropping the not-so-subtle reprimand.

To celebrate the occasion, my parents would take the family out for dinner, and their favorite place to mark the occasion was usually an elegant Japanese restaurant in a top notch hotel.  Growing up in Malaysia, Japanese cuisine was served primarily at high-end Japanese restaurants, and a visit to one was usually an elegant and fascinating dining experience, which at the same time exposed me to this rather exotic far-eastern cuisine at an early age.  These were the days before the proliferation of Sushi bars and Teppanyaki grills, which later became abundant and fashionable in major cities.   To reflect the special event that we were celebrating and to match the refined and exquisite ambience surrounding us diners, my siblings and I would dress up in our finest outfits – this was definitely no ordinary everyday dining experience.

With Sushi bars abound and Japanese restaurants everywhere these days, this type of cuisine is very accessible and has become well-appreciated by many.  My early experiences with Japanese food in Washington DC can be characterized and range from expensive but well-cooked food to inexpensive but rather inferior quality.   With a great number of these restaurants these days, competition has raised the bar, and as customers, we have started to expect more.

Maruko Japanese Restaurant has been located on a long strip dotted with some good restaurants (blog on Bangkok 54) in the neighborhood of Arlington, VA, for as long as I can recall passing down that road.   In its earlier days, it went by the name Matuba, but I suspect that a new ownership brought about the name change.  The realization of its new sign was as subtle and seamless as in the change of management, and the cooking has not suffered many bumps, if hardly at all, during this transition.

Squid Salad

Gyoza/Pot Stickers
Usually, I would forgo ordering appetizers here since I know that the main course is rather substantial for me, especially at this age of a slowing metabolism and trying to lose some weight from all this food blogging field work.  But I was feeling rather famished on one visit, and I decided to order an appetizer that was not my usual fare.  The Squid Salad was abound with strips of squid, sitting on a lettuce salad, and topped with a daikon radish, ginger, and miso salad dressing.  The strips of squid took me by surprise with their sweetness paired by their tenderness in each bite I took.  The dressing was the perfect accompaniment in this seafood salad with its slight sweetness and muted ginger-bite.  An order of Gyozas or pot stickers was tasty and good, but nothing different from what you could expect from a good restaurant.

Sushi/Teriyaki Combo 1

Sushi/Teriyaki Combo 2
One of my favorite fare here is The Teriyaki Chicken and Sushi Combination, a mixture of the hot and cold, the raw seafood and cooked chicken.  The thigh meat comes with its skin slightly charred from the grill, and it is slathered with a lightly sweetened sauce.  The other half of the order is a plateful of sushi (tuna, salmon, yellow tail and eel) and pieces of California roll.  The dish represents the best of both worlds in terms of textures and flavors, and it is quite hearty and satisfying on these levels.  A bowl of well-made miso soup as an opener is filled with slippery seaweed (wakame) and spongy bits of tofu, which whets one’s appetite for what is to come.  For less than $13, this combination is a great deal and a winner.

Sushi/Sashimi Combo

During the summer, I tend to order the large Sushi/Sashimi Combo that consists of pieces of Sushi made with Tuna, Salmon, Eel, Yellow Tail, Shrimp, and Squid, pieces of California Roll, and purses of Salmon Roe and Sea Urchin.   The dish is a feast for the eye and for one’s hungry stomach, and seafood freshness is notable here for the most part (the piece of squid was a bit too slimy for me but still edible  – perhaps a textural issue for me).   The sushi rice is cooked and shaped perfectly that they do not fall apart in the chopsticks, and it complements the seafood pieces mild ocean sweetness.  The Salmon Roe and Sea Urchin purses are bursting with a slight brininess that reflects their freshness and rich unctousness.   This dish is definitely a raw fish delight.  A friend’s order of Grilled Sea Eel (Unagi Donburi) looked great with large pieces of fish covered with a light sweet sauce sitting on a bed of rice.  However, my friend was slightly disappointed by that day’s meal as he claimed that he had had a better dinner there with that dish.

Spicy Tuna Roll

During my meal, our friendly waitress urged me to take a couple of photos of dishes coming from the Sushi Bar that looked delectable and irresistible.  One was a Spicy Tuna Roll that was not your typical version; this restaurant makes it with soya bean skin which I have never seen before.  The other dish was a Tempura and Crab Roll topped with flourescent red and green flying fish roe.  Even though they were not our orders, the visuals were so tempting for me to perhaps order them on the next visit and definitely when the weather gets warm enough.

Tempura Crab Roll

Maruko serves the customer delicious and fresh Japanese cuisine at a very reasonable price.  In time and with various restaurant visits, I have developed a sense of trust and dependability on its cooking and the freshness of its seafood, much like having one hairstylist that you would allow to have free rein with.   It is definitely one restaurant worth returning to time and time again, like the one my parents would take us to yearly for many years.  This place is surely Oishi, or good eats.

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