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

Samantha’s

Samantha's, Silver Spring, MDSome time ago, I posted on a Pan-Latino restaurant located in the Dupont Circle area (read blog), serving tantalizing dishes hailing mainly from the lower half of Latin America, notably Bolivia, Peru, and Venezuela. But another Pan-Latino restaurant had been on my mind for some time, making its presence on my radar for quite a while even before writing on the above locale. Since a former colleague lived in that neighborhood and had invited me there for lunch a couple of times, I paid a few visits to this establishment for dinner before writing this blog.

Samantha’s Restaurant is located on the traffic-laden University Boulevard, the congestion further exacerbated by its location on perhaps the busiest intersection in Silver Spring/Takoma Park, an area renown for its immigrant population especially from Central America.  But it is very easy to miss the restaurant’s location due to its shotgun building, compounded by its storefront sign blocked by a verdant healthy-looking tree. But unlike Café Citron which was featured in the above-mentioned blog, Samantha’s menu focuses on dishes from Central America and Mexico, primarily dishes from El Salvador. Here are some of their offerings.

Cashew Fruit Juice/MarañonOne senses the place’s Central American identity off the bat from its drink offerings. The usual regional drinks can be found here including Horchata (made with almond, milk and cinnamon), Tamarindo (a sweet tamarind drink), Maracuya (Passion fruit juice) and Marañon. The last item is made from the Cashew fruit which is popular in El Salvador, a juice not heard of from the region in Asia that I hail from even though only the Cashew nut is widely consummed. The flavor is a bit tart with tannin-like qualities, leaving behind a slight camphor-like aftertaste that reminded me of nutmeg juice that I tasted last year in Malaysia. I have to admit that I enjoyed this juice with each sip playing a guessing game on my taste buds due to the novelty of its flavors. This glass of fruity sip was what I needed to set the tone for my meal as it whisked me away to another world of flavors.

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Pupusa de LorocoWith a sizable Salvadorian presence in the DMV region for some time now, Pupusas have made its foray into the local diet, both to non-Salvadorian Latinos and the Gringo.  For the uninitiated, it is basically a grilled stuffed tortilla.  Here, there is a wide offering of Pupusas stuffed with either cheese, beans and cheese, meat and cheese, meat, zucchini, chicken, spinach, seafood, or Loroco.  The latter is a flowering bud that grows on vines commonly found in El Salvador and Guatemala.  A bite into my order was a complete revelation: the Loroco leaf exuded a smokiness that astounded me for being a flower that was capable of piquing my curiosity, while the mild yet creamy cheese played a complementary background partner, encased by the moist and fresh tasting corn masa harina exuding its hominy notes.  The pickled cabbage, chili and carrots strips, curtido, was the necessary acid relief to the starch and diary.  Another order made with seafood was equally eye-opening for this diner, having savored it for the first time in this restaurant.  The stuffing was a combination of mild creamy cheese, fresh shredded crabmeat and studded with pieces of small shrimp.  My tastebuds were impressed by this combination which beckoned the diner to anticipate another plateful of the same order in future visits.  My friend’s order made with zucchini was equally satisfactory for her.  Pupusas are definitely the strong suit in this house.

Tamal de Pollo

Another Central American and Salvadorian favorite offered here is Tamales.  The versions that I have eaten in other locations have usually been a bit disappointing due to its dryness and compact dough which made only a few bites the necessary quota for its tasting.  However, what landed on my plate at Samantha’s was au contraire.  This version was wrapped in banana leaves which exuded its vegetal aroma while imbedding its leafy goodness into the dough.  Each bite into this concoction only brought me a wider smile with its silky smoothness as well as the dough’s lightness, tasting savory from the use of stock and strips of moist chicken.  This well-made rendition reminded me of those prepared by the grandmother of a Salvadorian friend whose tamales are a hit in her Gaithersburg community.  Well, this version here definitely hit the right notes for me.

Chuleta de Puerco

During a visit for dinner, a companion’s order was Chuletas de Puerco.  Two pieces of fried pork chops arrived slathered with a light tomato-based sauce coating sauteed pieces of tomato, onion, and green pepper.  Cutting into a piece of his meal, I could taste that the chops were marinated and seasoned well, hinting of notes of soy sauce which is popular in some Latin American cuisines, which added to the right Umami savoriness to the meat.  The pork was well-cooked without the tough leatheriness one finds in other versions.  However, the porcine flavor in each bite was a bit strong for me, which seems to be a common reoccurring theme with this meat in this country.  But such inherent flaw did not deter my friend who enjoyed every bit of his dish.

Stuffed Chicken with Spinach and MushroomsFor my order, I decided to try the Stuffed Chicken with Spinach and Mushroom.  A huge piece of chicken arrived on my plate which seemed rather daunting on first impressions.  But cutting into it revealed its true nature: a piece of chicken breast had been pounded very thin wrapping a stuffing of spinach, mushroom, onions, and bits of green pepper.  The piece of poultry was still rather moist (amazing for sauteed breast meat), lightly seasoned with a hint of cumin in the seasoning mixture.  But what really grabbed my attention was the filling consisting of fresh spinach leaves (thank goodness not the frozen kind), woodsy mushrooms, sweet onions, and vegetal notes from the green pepper.  The thin coating of a lightly creamed spinach sauce added the necessary moisture and savoriness to the whole mix, which made for a rather quick disposal of my portion of this dish.  This was definitely a light and tasty poultry dish worth ordering.

Zarzuela Andaluza

Zarzuela AndaluzaAnother companion’s dish was Zarzuela Andaluza.  A bowl arrived with pieces of seafood gently stewed in a yellowish sauce and topped with strips of roasted red pepper and the unnecessary green pepper ring which was purely decorative – basically, a seafood paella dish without the rice and saffron, an obvious tribute to La Madre Patria, Spain.  What impressed me about the dish was the pieces of scallop, salmon, and shrimp that tasted fresh and cooked just right without getting tough.  The stew soup was very savory tasting of a good seafood stock made creamy from a hit of diary.  However, after a few spoonfuls, the hot liquid did start to taste rather one-note and it was crying for some herbal notes.  My friend did complain about the mussels and clams that appeared anemic to my eyes, which was not exactly tempting for this reviewer to give them a try.  Fortunately, with no casualty from my friend’s health the following day, I can confirm that the mollusks were just fine, just a bit sad-looking and beyond their prime.  The ubiquitious Paella is also on the menu, if you are in the mood for more Iberian-inspired cuisine.

Tres LechesFor dessert, one of my dining companions went for his perennial favorite – Tres Leches.  A taste of this standard Latin dessert revealed a skillful hand in its making.  It was incredibly light, sweet without its usual cloying quality, a bit heady from a good hit of vanilla, and creamy rich without the stodginess.  The above qualities of this uber-cake totally defied the nuclear potential that this sweet bite possessed, and the other diners, including me, were tempted to dig more into the sweet square, if were not for the protection of the orderer of his prized finale.   My motto of “Desserts should only be consummed when the calories are worthwhile” holds true here, albeit the caloric count is in the thousand.  But this is probably the best Tres Leches to this day, and worth every morsel of it.

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Samantha's, Silver Spring, MDSamantha’s Restaurant stands above the usual Central American eateries for its offering of standard fares with a level of culinary skill not usually found in most places of this cuisine.  The simple and humble Pupusa and Tamal are elevated to something exciting by the inventive addition of seafood as well as proper attention to their making.  Even the main dishes of Pork Chops, Stuffed Chicken, and Seafood Stew showed a level of refinement that elevated these rather simple dishes, notwithstanding some minor flaws.  The ending dessert of Tres Leches only confirmed that the kitchen knows what it is doing and that there is a knowledgeable hand in there.  Looking around the dining room, you sense that the customers are locals who frequent this establishment.  The decor maybe incongruent with its large Art Deco Italian/French posters but the smart and efficient service makes up for it.  Ah, not to mention the cooking and the dishes that would tempt most diners to go back for more of their delicious offerings.

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Tropical Ice Cream Cafe

Tropical Ice Cream CafeFor a number of years, I have been hearing good things about a certain ice cream store that has built its reputation on its unique offerings that are not found in most establishments.  However, I never made the trip on the busy beltway to it despite my curiosity for such tempting offerings.  But recently, I opened an e-mail with an offering of coupons for said place which I bought three of them immediately.  The reasons were twofold: to force me to make the trip to Tropical Ice Cream Cafe, and, the other, to satisfy my curiosity of what its unique ice creams would taste like.  For this blog, I made a couple of trips to Silver Spring, MD, just off the beltway, and here are the offerings that I sampled.  Advisory:  No animals were harmed in the process, except this sole reviewer who had to endure savoring these cold sweet samples.

The pictures of these twin scoops will read from left to right.

Tamarind/Lychee

Tamarind/Lychee: The tamarind version has its characteristic sourness of this Southeast Asian/Central American pulpy pod that I enjoyed in this mix.  Its fruity sour qualities are tempered by the right amount of sugar along with the richness of the cream.  Bits of the pod fruit are studded in the scoops giving off hints of clove-like qualities in each bite.  The lychee version is a floral bite with its unique exotic but quite subtle qualities, with heady gardenia-like hints on the palate.  Bits of this Far East Asian fruit in the ice cream reinforce the mild floral and exotic qualities that I particularly enjoyed savoring with each spoonful.

Rambutan/Durian

Rambutan/Durian:  The flavor of the Southeast Asian Rambutan is very subtle but containing a rather high sugar content.  The ice cream version is close to the Lychee version but lacking in the floral notes of the latter.  However, knowing what the fresh Rambutan tastes like, I could detect a bare hint of the fresh fruit qualities.  The Durian version was far from subtle.  Here, the pungency of this fruit leaves its mark without any shadow of doubt.  The assertive sulfurous flavor is much evident in the spoonful, an acquired taste that I grew up on in the tropics, without overwhelming the palate.   I indeed relished every bite of this bold flavor, but make sure to taste a sample before venturing into palatal terra incognito.

Mamay Sapote/Jackfruit

Mamey Sapote/Jackfruit:  The flavors from this Central American fruit were completely new and interesting to me.  The only way I can describe its flavor is that it reminds me of a slightly fruity bubblegum, with its pink color adding to that impression.  The slightly rough texture of the ice cream is an indication of the fibrous fruit.  I found each spoonful intriguing,  wondering what the fresh fruit must really taste like.  The Jackfruit version was brimming with the flavors of this South American and Southeast Asian fruit.  Just like the Durian, its flavors are quite heady but, in this case, not sulfurous at all.  Like the Durian, its  notes hints of something fermenting but it is more subtle with the Jackfruit.

Passion Fruit Sorbet/Soursop

Passion Fruit/Soursop:  Another fruit from the both Caribbean and Southeast Asia is the Passion Fruit.  This sorbet version packed a lot of punch with each spoonful filled with the citrusy fruity flavors tempered by its sugar content.  Its unique fruit flavors are still fresh tasting in this frozen version and I could not get enough of it.  Similarly, the Soursop comes these same tropical regions.  The flavors are more subtle than the above scoop with a distinctive subtle fruity note. A rich custard-like quality is also evident which points to this fruit’s other name – Apple Custard.  Subtle but still exotic.

Rum and Raisin/Mango

Rum and Raisin/Mango: Back to the Caribbean with this spoonful.  Rich ice cream is studded with large rum-soaked raisins tasting sweet yet boozy from the alcohol, further reinforced by the rum running through the cream, leaving a slight bitter foil to the sweet flavors.  I must say this is one of the most alcohol-tasting R&R I have ever had, fit for any adult aficionado of this flavor.  The Mango version was a bit too subtle for me at first.  After trying a few bites, I could detect its unique flavors, much like a creamy Mango puree rather than the fresh fruit bits.  This reminded me of a yogurt-based Mango Lassi I have tasted in some Indian eateries.

Mango-Lemon/Ginger

Mango-Lemon/Ginger:  This joint offers no-sugar-added ice creams and this version had a combination of mango and lemon flavors.  The taste was slightly fruity, creamy, with a mild taste reminding me of sherbet.  I must say that the lower sugar content was barely noticeable from a regular version, and this would be high on my list if I were on a low sugar diet.  The ginger ice cream vowed me with the first spoonful.  The pungent ginger bite permeates every molecule of this frozen treat with notes of mature ginger and molasses-like brown sugar, with pieces of ginger studded throughout it tasting like crystallized bits – I could not get enough of this biting treat.

Guiness/Pistachio

Guinness/Pistachio: When I saw this version made from the dark stout, I knew I had to taste this Jamaican favorite.  Since I was familiar with this alcoholic drink, I could detect the subtle dark notes along with a distinctive hopsy flavor in each mouthful.  This reminds of sneaking a few sips from my grandmother’s favorite brew (despite my father’s disapproval) but in a frozen version.  The Pistachio ice cream was green in color, well-flavored with its nutty oil.  Bits of the toasted nut punctuate the  cream with its strong heady flavor and aroma.  Green jelly bits were mixed in the ice cream that made this frozen custard more interesting than just the singular nut flavor itself.

French Almond/Harambe!

French Almond/Harambe!: Another nut flavored ice cream was French Almond.  This was not as subtle as the Pistachio as it was packed with the assertive flavor of almond oil which I enjoyed by itself – it overpowered the other flavors that I was tasting.  The creamy body is mixed with toasted almond slivers that further accentuated the nut flavor.  On one visit, the special was Harambe! consisting of Orange, Pineapple, Banana, Coconut and Rum flavors.  No individual flavor was too prominent as all the ingredients performed a well-balanced act with each individual component exerting an equal presence.  There was a slight Piña Colada and Orange flavor that made this special offering very enjoyable and worth tasting.

Ghanaian Salmon Pie

Behind the large display cases of the frozen treats, Tropical Ice Cream Cafe also offers other sweet treats like Rum Cake, Carrot Cake, and Lemon Cake.  Amidst all the sugariness, there is a large sign displaying a savory offering – Ghana Fish Pie.  This struck my curiosity and I had to try it.  Very short flaky pie dough encase a rather moist stuffing made from salmon, flavored with sweet onions, spiked with bits of fresh chili, and colored and flavored with the ever-present West African ingredient – palm oil.  I did enjoy these crumbly bites that brought back memories of a similar version made with sardines which I grew up on.  I can see why the owner, who hails from Ghana, is proud to sell these warm turnovers, and look out for these while you are there.

Tropical Ice Cream CafeTropical Ice Cream Cafe is the United Nations of ice cream for it offers frozen treats that are skilfully made with the bold flavors of fruits from all regions of the world, from the Lychee of Far East Asia, to the Durian, Rambutan, and Soursop of Southeast Asia, to the Mamey  Sapote, Passion Fruit, and Tamarind of Central America and the Caribbean, and to the Jackfruit of South America.  In addition to the exotic flavors, I also enjoyed the standard fares with the nutty French Almond, Rum and Raisin, and Pistachio versions, amidst the low-sugar or no-diary offerings.  The seasonal specials too were worth tasting, like the Rambutan and Harambe!  This is indeed a most unique ice cream store that makes a gourmand’s eyes like mine light up and go into a frenzy with indecision.  I’m sure after a few samplings you will be returning back to explore the other missed flavors.

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