Dear Sushi Taro,
I'm sorry, but we need to break up. I have found a new sushi love that is more innovative, delicious, and attentive to my needs. I know that you are around the corner from my house, but convenience isn't going to win you this one. You are very very good at what you do...but just not good enough.
See you around the neighborhood,
I am completely in love with Kaz Sushi Bistro. It courted me at restaurant week, and I am head over heels addicted now. I will be back, again and again. Oh Kaz, how I love you and your unique flavor combinations, innovative use of tapioca in a range of forms and beautiful presentations!
A dear friend from college (in fact, my first friend from college, whom I met at orientation), was in town for one night only, from Atlanta en route to Boston, with one day of meetings in DC in between. Geoff is vegetarian (but still eats seafood), so I wanted to take him out for restaurant week but I needed to be sure it was a place that would have a good range of vegetarian and seafood options. After a lot of hemming and hawing, list making and research (thank you, DC Sara), I got us reservations at Kaz Sushi Bistro. I was a little nervous at how a sushi restaurant would handle the restaurant week structure (three courses for $30), but I figured if nothing looked good, we would order a la carte from the regular menu. Either way, I was going to have a nice dinner with an old friend.
I needn't have worried. Kaz, my new love, handled the three course structure perfectly. The restaurant week menu consisted of one of the check-off sheets usually used to order sushi, but you were instructed to choose one from a list of eight small plates/appetizers (which tended to be more cooked or meat options), three from a list of nigiri sushi (the rice overlayed with fish pieces that are ordered in pairs), two from the list of maki rolls and one from a choice of two desserts. And the choices! Such innovative, interesting pairings! Tuna with toasted almonds? Asparagus and roasted red peppers? Flounder with shiso? Yes, please.
To drink, I ordered a sake "tasting". They have two versions, each with three different sakes (and only $8 or $9). What was great was that when it arrived, the three shots were served on a little laminated card that told you what each shot was and its predominant characteristic. This was tremendously helpful in understanding the differences between a "light" sake and one aged in a cedar barrel (and there is a big difference there, the cedar barrel one tasting almost like whiskey). Now I know that I like unfiltered sake the most.
Our appetizers arrived. I had ordered a scallop ceviche. Just look at how beautiful this is:
The pink balls on top are tapioca. The shellfish was so tender and flavorful, soaked in a traditional latin ceviche of citrus, red onion and cilantro, but enhanced with salty bits of seaweed. The marinade was so sour and delicious that I was tempted to drink it out of the scallop shell when I was done. (Um, ok, by tempted, I mean I did. Geoff is not easily embarrassed. In fact, after tasting some of mine, he said he would drink it if I did not). Geoff had spicy broiled mussels, that came in a rich red curry sauce, warm and fragrant. The wooing had begun.
Next came out this gorgeous plate:
I ordered an asparagus and red pepper roll, the bitter crunch of the blanched asparagus a nice pairing with the sweet red softness of the pepper. Then a salmon skin roll, fatty and smoky, with a crunch from some carrots and that surprising, pungent and clean aftertaste from the shiso leaf.
That beautiful dark pink nigiri on the left is tuna, under which is nestled slivers of crunchy toasted almond. Why has no one thought to pair those two things before? So simple, and yet the bitter smokey crunch of the almonds and the sweet salty softness of the fish...oh my. The center two pieces of nigiri are flounder, the red sauce dotting them is made from Japanese pickled plums, and the faint green you see below is a mix of wasabi and shiso. The softness of the fish, the sweetness of the plum and its favored pairing, shiso, and then at the end, the sinus-pain-inducing wasabi. Amazing. And finally, fatty and sweet eel, done perfectly.
Geoff had some real winners too, from what I snuck off his plate. A roll with crunchy tempura'ed eel. Tuna nigiri with black olive tapenade. Two pieces of nigiri with roasted Japanese eggplant, shrivelled and purplish-black ("what is THAT?" Geoff asked me before remembering he had ordered eggplant. Indeed, if it were fish, it would be extremely disconcerting). I have never in my life liked eggplant, but I could eat that eggplant sushi every day. Which is really saying a lot.
And finally dessert. Only two choices on the restaurant week menu -- espresso tapioca with vanilla ice cream, and lychee panna cotta with mango sorbet. Geoff ordered the former and I ordered the latter. They were both beautifully presented in martini glasses.
Geoff's tapioca was a bit strange, the coffee flavor so strong and the texture of the tapioca so light, they seemed a bit mismatched. I was happier with my lychee panna cotta, which was light and creamy, with large pieces of lychee fruit, and a tangy sour mango sorbet slowly melting into it. Sigh...
The atmosphere and service were very nice, they just fall secondary to the food. I would eat that food in a shack, served by ogres. (Of course, the restaurant itself is softly lit, with inlaid bamboo colored lights in nooks, upholstered benches lining the walls and round, white table clothed tables in the center of the room. The sushi bar is at the back, where you can sit and watch these masters at work. And our service was nothing but gracious and helpful, if a bit slow). The normal, non-restaurant week prices are perfectly reasonable for a sushi place ($4-$7 for rolls, sushi pieces and other small plates).
Oh Kaz, you have have romanced me and it has worked. I am putty in your hands. I want to see you every day, and I will be back just as soon as I can. Till then, I miss you. All my love.