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Monday, May 14, 2007

Thing 34: Sushi Taro

For now, I put away the search for the perfect Italian restaurant and indulged instead in a really delicious Japanese meal at Sushi Taro. I had never been to Sushi Taro, despite its being a stone's throw from my front door, but the Roommate swears by it. And it seemed the perfect venue for a double date for two sushi lovers whose other halves could do without the raw fish bit, since it boasts a full menu of cooked meats, too.

We arrived at the restaurant on a Wednesday evening at 7:30. I had called ahead earlier that day to make a reservation for four, but they don't take reservations, and upon arriving we were told the wait was to be about forty five minutes. The place was completely packed -- we couldn't even wait at the bar with a drink, and were asked to wait outside until our table was ready. This was fine, it gave my friend and I some time to catch up, but unfortunately the Boyfriend gets mighty moody the longer his meal is delayed. Lesson learned: Sushi Taro is busy, and you are best advised to get there a good half hour to an hour before you will begin to suffer from low blood sugar.

Once our table is ready, we are guided through the spacious restaurant, which is far larger than you might expect from the cramped stair case/waiting area. The walls are painted a warm, rusty red color. The restaurant begins with small bar, then expands into a large seating area. On one side, a long sushi bar extends nearly to the back of the room, behind which a small army of sushi chefs are busy at work. All kinds of fresh fish, shellfish, and raw ingredients are visible through the glass of the bar. Plates of nigiri and maki sit atop the bar for the patrons, and it is tempting to steal pieces off their plates when you walk by. Everything looks beautiful.

Part of the seating is at low tables where you sit on the floor on mats, but we are shown to a table for four with chairs, near the large windows that look out over P Street. We set to work on the hefty menus plus the two sheets where you order by the piece -- one for sushi and one for yakitori.

We start with drinks. They have a good selection of moderately priced Japanese cocktails and beers. I love hot sake and almost never drink it, so I order a small beaker of it. The Boyfriend orders an Asahi. Our two companions order soft drinks (note: no free refills).

Once our thirsts are quenched, our appetizers arrive. We've ordered shumai, which are steamed shrimp dumplings, a seaweed salad, and a yakitori sampler of three skewers. The shumai are amazing, the delicate dumpling casings are so soft they actually melt in your mouth. They are filled with a subtle filling of ground shrimp and scallion. The yakitori are also delicious. For the uninitiated, yakitori are grilled skewers of meat, and can be made of almost anything. Traditionally chicken, but also beef or pork, 'normal' cuts or other parts such as tongue, skin, hearts, or liver. Our small appetizer sampler comprises of nothing out of the ordinary, two skewers of chicken, one of pork, all glazed with a sweet BBQ teriyaki. The chicken is good, but the pork is wonderful: fatty and sweet and rich and satisfying.

Sushi Taro: Seaweed SaladThe seaweed salad is not what you might expect. Instead of the regular plate of mixed seaweed with an Asian dressing, sprinkled with some stray sesame seeds, this salad is a work of art. It is beautiful to look at, with a mix of colors and textures. Unfortunately, the most pervasive of the textures is 'jellied,' which I'm not very good with, but the flavors of salty, sour and sweet are delicious so long as the texture doesn't bother you.

As I've said already, this double date consisted of two sushi lovers, and two who prefer their protein cooked. For our main courses, John and I order a large tray of nigiri and maki rolls, which come beautifully arranged on a large wooden board for the two of us to share. The Boyfriend and Karen each get teriyaki, Sushi Taro: Chicken Teriyakione chicken and one beef. The beef arrives sizzling on a hot plate, the chicken arrives with a heaping side of rice and vegetables. We dig in.

For the sushi, you can order chef's choice, but instead we chose to select the pieces we wanted from a long list, a mix of tried and true pieces and some new ones we hadn't had before. We had a spicy tuna roll, a salmon skin roll, a dynamite roll and a plum and shiso roll, and sweet fried tofu, yellow tail, salmon roe, and BBQ eel nigiri pieces. The dynamite roll was packed with crab, the plum and shiso roll was a unique combination of sweet, bitter and sour, and the salmon skin roll was rich and delicious. But the highlight, oh the marvelous highlight of the whole meal, was the fatty, rich, buttery eel. John said it was the best eel he'd ever had, and yes, yes I agree. I am nearly drooling at the memory of it.

Sushi Taro: Sushi! Glorious Sushi!

By the end of all this feast I was stuffed and happy. John and I toyed with getting another couple pieces of the eel, but in the end decided to listen to our already full stomachs. When the bill came, it wasn't even so bad. Sushi can get very expensive but all told, with several appetizers, drinks, more sushi that anyone should reasonably eat, tax and tip, it was about $35 a person.

The service wasn't great but wasn't bad either. The only major misstep was that the Boyfriend's entree came out several minutes after everyone else's, making for an awkward pause in the pacing of the meal, and not really helping with the low-blood-sugar-crankiness thing. But the quality of the food was enough to keep me coming back. Next time, I think I will treat myself by sitting at the bar and ordering the omikase, the chef's choice. Or maybe trying all kinds of new yakitori. Or perhaps just ordering heaps and heaps of shumai and eel...Oh dear, is it lunchtime yet?

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