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Mar 28, 2009 11:05 AM

Sushi Taro is OPEN!!!

This is a continuation of the Sushi Taro thread now Sushi Taro has reopened. You can read the first review by MrGenius in the link below.

Below is my review.

Sushi Taro opened on the 23rd. We called on the first day to reserve for this weekend. We had a small debate as we worried that Sushi Taro would turn into likes of Sushi Ko and others, as another fancy sushi place with high prices, catering to business dinners and people with money who care mostly for the fancy decor fitting for the "class." We feared Sushi Taro would lose the authentic Japanese character in the name of free enterprise (beside seeing the only Izakaya in DC disappear). But as regulars, we had to check it out.

Parking arrangement was same. Except now it's free.

We entered the new clean looking stairs, with only a pot of beautiful orchids on top to attract our attention (and no one waiting.) When we turned the corner, I was surprised to see a spacious reception area with no one crammed at the desk (relief). The owner and hostess greeted us warmly, as they showed us the bar area immediately to the right where the bathroom used to be (fancy.). With new age? "calm" music overhead, we walked down the spacious hall with booths on the left, and a few tables on the right (see new website). I was drawn by the beautiful white chandelier hanging (see new website) at the main dinning space at the end of the hall. The main dinning space has 2 sets of table for 6 in the center and 5 small tables on the side. It has a wonderful tall ceiling, with support beams painted black very reminiscent of Japanese shrines and old building.

We were seated with a drink menu, a Kaiseki menu and a small dish menu. I didn't look at the drink menu (probably the same extensive selection). The Kaiseki menu (could have been condensed into one paragraph), features classic Kaiseki (for two only) $75 pp, Sushi Kaiseki $75pp and Sashimi Kaiseki $65pp. The small dish menu features limited selection of Japanese dishes from the old menu on the left, daily specials like before in the center (special fish flown from Japan) and a la cart sushi on the right. The price is about 20% higher.

They got rid of the semi-American and "touristy" dishes that you can get at any neighborhood pseudo-Japanese shop. Stuff like steak, California & dragon rolls...etc.

We ordered the classic Kaiseki (as I had plenty of their Sashimi Omakase before and expect similar). 5 minutes after the drinks came, the first dish arrived. Saseme seed tofu with Uni and Natto in a light fish broth (I think most of the broths for the Kaiseki dishes were the same). The sesame seed tofu is somewhat gelatinous, smooth in texture, has excellent sesame aroma and flavor. The Uni is FRESH and sweet that even my seafood weary wife loved. They blended well and melted in my mouth, with a little bit of flavor from the fish broth to keep it balanced. Good start, we both gave it a 8-9.

The second dish was two pieces of broiled eel made in-house on a tabletop grill. They were bite sized and unlike the regular eels (that came from China with all the food concern), they didn't taste sweet like candy, and the natural taste of the eel showed through the delicate flavoring. I gave it a 6-7. My wife gave it a 5 as she didn't like eels.

The third dish was Ankimo (monkfish liver) in small pieces, wrapped in soft cabbage in fish broth. The rich taste of the Ankimo balanced well with the cooked cabbage, with moisture from the broth. The portion was small enough not to get sick of all the ankimo (like the bowl they gave in the old menu). They went well, and made a convert of my anti-ankimo wife. We both gave it an 8-9 and would probably order it separately in the future.

The fourth dish was shabu shabu with two individual charcoal stoves, metal bowls with fish broth. You were given three pieces of snapper, two pieces of bamboo shoots and thick flat seaweed. I made the mistake of not waiting for the broth to heat up. But the fish was sweet, and the rest of the soup was excellent. The broth had good delicate flavor. We both gave it a 7-8.

The fifth dish was the sashimi on a bowl of ice and bamboo leaves. There were three pieces of chu-toro, two pieces of snappers and two shrimps. For a guy who is past his toro eating phase (min 10 pounds) and actually sick of anymore toro, the toro I got was the BEST toro I have ever eaten. A third of the toro slice was not fatty, and the other part was quite fatty. It (truly) melted in your mouth like butter, with a balance of fat and fish flavor. No connective tissue. My wife liked the shrimps. The snappers are standard for Sushi Taro. The most beautiful of their new ware is their soy sauce bottle. Beautiful subtle crackling glass pattern.

The sixth dish was a large plate consisting of pieces of tiny flavored cubes of bamboo shoots which were excellently flavored and tasted like magic (8-9), two tiny skewers of tamago with shrimp (plain 3), two small slices of chicken meatloaf (could use more flavor 4), a piece of sashimi with interesting nori over it ( standard 5), two tiny cooked squid – best most tender squid we’ve both had with thousands of squid under our belt– (9), 6 tiny grilled “minnows” (6-7), and a whole 8 inch grilled fish which we loved, but I fear many western diners wouldn’t know how to negotiate the spines (7-8)

The seventh, was a cold dish of two pieces of medium duck breast (excellent soft, tender 7), a piece of pumpkin (sweet 7 ), a piece of Taro (plain 4), a piece of Japanese ?jello which was excellent and probably the most spicy of the whole course (8-9) and large octopus tentacles, which were good (7) We thought the temperature should be hotter…for the cold dish but everyone has their preferences.

The eighth was clam steamed rice, with cold cooked napa/carrot and other vegetables in broth on the side. We were a bit disappointed as the clam rice was compacted into the bowl, it was cold, and the clam had some sand and tiny remnants of shell (3). It had a light flavor which a higher temperature could have brought it out. The veggies were decent in broth (5).

After the courses, our dessert was hot tea with tea flavored custard in a cute glass bottle. The custard/crème brulee was excellent with a caramel bottom. The cream flavor was intense, the texture and the thickness was just right, mixed with a hint of tea flavor. I noticed the caramel bottom at the end, and it was a good finish. We’d both give it a 9.

Overall, the entire meal was very authentic. My wife says it felt like you were eating in Japan. The service was good, with each dish paced and presented in a very timely manner. The hostess returns and asks how each dish was, shortly after serving each of them. The place was full, but it didn’t feel crowded or noisy. The kitchen may need to quiet down, however.

We walked out of there averaging 100 per person with tip and taxes.

Sushi Taro made a big stride towards likes of Komi in terms of food. I think they could refine their Kaiseki to include a “main dish,” shore up the weak spots in their courses, train their waitstaff to readily introduce what the dishes are in a professional manner, and perhaps appoint a lookout waitstaff to immediately spot diners in need while their waitstaff is busy serving others to make this a top level place. But so far, they've done an excellent transformation.

Midway into the meal, we realized that the make-over is the owner’s will to excel in his class of food, going from Japanese bar food to a level of much more refined Japanese cooking. It’s like an artist that gives up mass producing mediocre pieces meant for the market and income, to now focusing on very few quality pieces that he or she really excels in. In the process, customers who demand the value bargain may be left out for customers who demand a more Japanese and refined fare. It’s like if a popular Chinese takeout place were to forgo the P.F. Chang’s model of serving popularized American foods, and go straight for the authentic 5 star level. You'll wind up with angry old customers who demand return of two for one dollar eggrolls, 5 dollar chop suey lunch specials and all-you-can-eat buffet fare. One can easily get their 8 dollar dragon roll, and 5 dollar California roll at any neighborhood me-too shops. But to find a place that truely excel in their food in DC, is tougher.

In conclusion, I am glad that instead of turning into an American place like Sushi Ko and others, Sushi Taro strive to excel in their art of authentic Japanese dining. Excellence in food is what good diners appreciate right? The food so far is on par or better than Makoto, with similar value (as Taro’s dishes often contain multiple items). The experience however, is entirely different, as it is relaxed and very enjoyable. Kind of reminds me of going to a good resort like Pamilla or Four Seasons on the big island. To find a truly Japanese place, that gives up an already successful business model, at the risk of tremendous financial failure in these economic times, to strive to excel in the quality and authenticity of their food, is inspiring. I will continue to be a regular at Sushi Taro.

I do look forward to what other diners have to say (besides that it's not bargain basement anymore).

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  1. Wow, I totally missed this thread before, but what a great review! Made me salivate :)

    I understand what you're saying about giving up the "mediocre" stuff, but unfortunately, there is no one else around to replace the niche that Sushi Taro occupied before the renovation. If there were another option, I wouldn't mind Sushi Taro going all high-end.

    Really interesting that you say it's equal to or better than Makoto, too....

    2 Replies
    1. re: kallisti

      In my opinion, the tasting menu was better and more food than Makoto...with excellent dessert. We were most impressed with the feel of the place. It felt similar to being in a top vacation resort...very relaxed. Very different from Makoto's very tight rigid controlled atmosphere.

      1. re: cfoodie

        The one time I've been to Makoto I liked it a lot but wasn't super impressed with everything I had. Like the snails, they weren't that interesting.

        One time when I was at Momo Taro (up Rockville pike) I had ankimo and it was disgusting, really turned me off it. It was my first time trying that too. Hopefully whenever I go to Sushi Taro if I get that, it'll change my perspective completely!

    2. Nice review. Reminds me of some of the meals I had at ryokans in Japan.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jaydreb

        I've been hearing a lot about this place. I'm interested in going to check it out!

        1. re: DiningInDC

          such a well-written and informed review. i've never been anywhere in the states, save calif, that has excellent shabu shabu. usually i prepare it myself. i will have to go just for that...

      2. Kallisti, I had similar experience with Momo Taro. Their stuff is not fresh, and the place did not feel authentic Japanese to me. It took us another 3 months until we found Temari down the block. That was good, and we go there just about every week. It's interesting, the Japanese folks we randomly ask did not volunteer Temari. Perhaps to keep it from being over-crowded.

        We had a preview of the Sushi Taro's "private" sushi bar this weekend. It is quiet, and had the "private" feel to it. The bar space is pretty wide and spacious (wider than the old bar). Chairs are very comfortable. Unlike any other sushi places (and certainly the old sushi Taro) the barrier is very low and you can observe exactly how the sushi chef makes your sushi. It was a delight to see the Omakase come out in the old days, now you can see it being made in front of your eyes. The sushi bar is very comfortable, especially with the door wide open to the main dinning room area. (most likely they will keep it closed in the future). The thing I think makes the sushi bar so comfortable is the spaciousness of the area behind the bar. It's wide, so you are not staring at the wall right behind the chef. Behind the sushi bar, is a bunch of bamboo for that "tranquil" atmosphere. But if you peek behind the bamboo trees, you'll find an entirely empty room (at least 300-400 sq ft) with something painted in the back wall. The conclusion is, there is a lot of space (and they are paying rent on it), but they purposely limited the space for service to match their kitchen. Their kitchen is new, and their food down to the nori wrap are different (and tastier) we noticed.

        They have a lunch menu now on the weekdays with smaller dishes like noodles, and I believe bento boxes that range in the teens. I will have to check that out in the next few days.

        I suspect that if sushi was your thing, and you are not into the idea of Kaiseki, the new sushi bar may satisy your appetite without grossly stretching your budget (provided that you make reservations, and stay away from their specials that are like 12 dollars for two pieces of fish like the special menu before - even though my belt fish was fantastic). I will update more when the bar is fully open.

        6 Replies
        1. re: cfoodie

          As a follow up, I went out of my way to Sushi Taro for lunch today. The place was half empty when I went in by myself at 12:15. I was offered the bar, but obviously I wanted to sit in the main dinning area. To reiterate, the entire setup is much nicer, down to the napkin. The menu consist of sushi combinations and other rice dishes on the left, and noodles on the right. I tried hot soba $12 for a change, and picked the Chirishi add on option for $5. I was given a small plate of seaweed "snacks" that are more cylindrical and was fairly standard. The Chirashi arrived and i was just shocked. It's a miniature version of the real thing, with lots and lots (at least a dozen) mini thick bite size pieces of sashimi ranging from raw mackerel, organic salmon to taro. Even though it was only five bucks, you got an excellent excellent variety of fish, on top of strands of tamago and very tasty nori over nicely flavored rice. Yes, I'd pay at least double for it by itself, but you do have to order it with the soba. The soba was excellent. Solid work. Very flavorful and nicely done with good ingredients and taste. Even when the place was fully by 12:45, the restaurant still had a very relaxed and quiet feel to it. What a quiet break from a busy day!

          Overall, I walked out spending less than $20 and extremely satisfied with each dish. I only wish I work near Sushi Taro so I can have this every day. That would be a blessing.
          I believe if you are having issues with their transformation, try the lunch and you'll get what they are trying to do without having to pay as much. Enjoy!

          1. re: cfoodie

            Thanks for the update (I was out of town all last week so didn't see this til now!). Did you happen to see what bento boxes were available?

            1. re: kallisti

              Well, we made a reservation for this Friday, but will have to cancel. Some lucky couple will have our seats Friday night. But I still want to go tomorrow for lunch, so hopefully I can take home a lunch menu to list on this website. I remember there are bento boxes there. Mmmm, thinking about ST just makes me salivate....even close to midnight....

              1. re: cfoodie

                I'm definitely itching to try it for lunch sometime... I do find it a little irritating, though, that they will only answer their phone for 2.5 hours a day, from 10:30-11:30 and 4:30-6. That's a pretty small window in which to remember/have time to call! Let us know if you go....!

                1. re: kallisti

                  See, I just remembered now and they're not answering their phone! Annoying!!!

                  1. re: kallisti

                    I went there on Friday. It's annoying that even during the hours, their phones are still quite busy. Sorry I forgot to get a copy of lunch menu, will try to remember that next. The jist of it: you have Udon and Soba (hot and cold) in different flavors, from 10-14 dollars. Add 2-5 dollars for side dishes. The Katsudon, curry rice, and a few other rice dishes are about 12 dollars. Then there's three choices of Sushi combo of 6,8 &8 pieces each with tuna roll ranging from teens up to 35 dollars. Me and the stranger next to me both love sushi, so both ordered Omakase for 50 bucks each (as I was having it instead of dinner, and the other guy had no clue) and it was excellent. I would prefer trading a couple of "exotic" pieces for common ones like regular tuna and Hamachi to bulk up the volume.

                    Let me get on them for not answering the phone all the time. It is annoying. BTW, I don't think reservation is that crucial for lunch, esp if you go at 12:00. (not after 1230)

                    Kallisti, if you or anyone else on this thread is going for lunch next week, let me know when.

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. I called at 10:17 this morning and got faxed a lunch menu. This is what it says:

            Today's Lunch Special, 12
            Bara Chirashi, 18
            Tekka Chirashi, 18
            Sushi Mori, 15
            Sushi Jo, 25
            Sushi Tokujo, 35
            Katsu Don, 12
            Tem Don, 12
            Saba Shioyaki, 15

            Cold Soba/Udon w/one topping:
            Topping: Tempura, 12
            Tororo, 12

            Hop Soup Soba/Udon w/one topping:
            Topping: Tempura, 12
            Tororo, 12
            Beef, 12
            Wakame, 10
            Kitsune, 10

            Add to your noodle order:
            Inari Set, 2
            Chirashi Set, 5

            Seasonal Tenshin Bento available with advanced order, 40

            1 Reply
            1. re: kallisti

              The hot beef soba with 5 dollar chirashi option is good.