Sushi Taro - utter disappointment
I am mourning at the loss of my favorite Japanese restauarant in DC. When Sushi Taro announced its intent to renovate awhile back, I remained optimistic and hopeful despite some criticism from the foodie community. In hopes to confirm my optimism, I ventured out to Sushi Taro recently.
I don't even know where to start. I am so distraught and utterly disappointed by the "new" Sushi Taro.
First, Sushi Taro "lost" my reservations. They never "lose" my reservations, ever, and I immediately gave up any hopes of dining at Sushi Taro that evening. But much to my surprise and delight, they were able to accomodate my party even though it was a Saturday evening. That should have been my first red flag that I was in danger of losing my favorite Japanese restaurant in DC. As I feverishly thanked my oh-so accomodating hostess, I gently stepped into the new dining room to be amazed by the new decor and zen setting. I was shocked. Did they hire an interior decorator, or did they attempt to decorate themselves? Am I in a Japanese restaurant? What happened to my Sushi Taro? I breathed deeply to calm myself and proceeded to review the menu since food is more important to me than ambiance.
I opted for the kaiseki (the classic, not sushi or sashimi kaiseki). Having lived in Japan for about 3.5 months and visited at least a dozen times, I was looking forward to rewinding back to my days in Japan sipping on a daiginjyo sake. Little did I know that I was going to experience one of my worst meals in my life.
The first course was homemade tofu topped with uni, sprinked with soybeans. The best way to describe the tofu is fat-free soymilk Jell-O. It was flavorless and difficult to consume due to the texture of the tofu. Eating my meal should never be difficult unless I want to get down and dirty breaking Maryland blue crabs or perfectly crisp buffalo wings. Sushi Taro, you may want to consider getting a lesson from Aburiya Kinnosuke (NYC) or Morimoto (Philly) on the art of tofu-making.
Second course was oshi tashi-like dish with greens in dashi broth topped with soybeans. Wait a minute, do I see a recurring theme? Have I seen soybeans in the last two, and only courses? Is the economy in that bad of a shape that my $75 kaiseki meal is flooded by soybeans? And wait.. what is that strong herb that I taste that overpowers my dish? The culprit was sansho, and it was not going anywhere; rather, it was to remain with me for the remained of my 9-course kaiseki.
From that moment on, I think I lost my memory, deliberately. All I remember is a course of "shabu shabu" with one piece of red snapper, shrimp ball and fish cake. Mind you, shabu shabu is a hot pot dish where one gently swishes a piece of meat in the dashi broth; hence shabu shabu (it supposedly is the swishing noise). There was, however, no shabu shabu-ing at Sushi Taro. In fact, I had an overcooked piece of fish limped in the broth that wasn't going to be making any music with me or my taste buds. Oh, did I forget to mention that the shabu shabu contained sansho leaf too? I think I just declared war with the sansho leaf. I demand a moratorium on use of sansho if one does not know how incorporate it into a dish.
The sashimi course was one course that I didn't expect utter disappointment. Uni was present again - is variety too much to ask- as well as seared snapper and sea snails. Note, I don't want anything seared on my sashimi course.
Next, the assorted tempura course consisted of shiso leaf, oyster mushroom, fish (perhaps a red snapper?), and kabocha. The server brought a block of Himalayan salt and asked if we would like some. I requested the salt but only recieved 1/20 of a pinch of the beautiful pink Himalayan salt. Please don't tease me with salt. Oh and by the way, there was a piece of sansho leaf with the fish tempura.
The gohan (rice) course consisted of rice topped with fish that resembled the small dried anchovies that usually accompany Malaysian dish nasi lemak, and...... you got it.. the culprit of the evening.. sansho leaf.
Dessert was a chaotic array of macha (green tea) ice cream, rice cake, azuki beans, another flavoreless Jell-O like glob that didn't do a thing to excited my senses. Granted, Asian cuisine is not known for their desserts, but I was expecting more creativity out of Sushi Taro.
In short, soybeans on three of the 9 courses, sansho leaf on every course, I don't think I will be returning. Instead, I will spend my dollars next door at Komi for a phenomenal meal that blows my mind away with every bite.
Even when I lived in Atlanta, I was a walking advertisement for Sushi Taro. I took my best friend that was visiting from Japan here. I recommended it to anyone that was traveling to DC and considered it in the leagues of Sushi Yasuda (NYC) and Sushi Ota (San Diego) for no-frill Japanese experience. I can't write anymore because I exceeded the max. Sayonara Sushi Taro.
That is a shame since Sushi Taro really did fill a void in the area. Even though the last time I went, I waited 45 minutes for my sushi entree while my husband was served his chicken teriyaki about 10 minutes after we ordered. When my husband was done eating and I asked the waitress where my sushi was, the manager came over and said the sushi chefs were backed up because all of the Americans order sushi. It was really rude and the whole experience left a sour taste, but we did return just because there are limited local options. In my opinion, before it had a nice casual atmosphere, and I think they are just trying to rip off their American clients after seeing the success of next-door Komi and the tasting-menu trend.
They fucking ruined this restaurant. They might as well have turned it into a McDonald's. 1/3 of the seating, triple the price, 1/10th the menu. Will never go back. I live and work nearby and used to be a regular.
And oh yeah, I was a walking billboard for this place too before the renovation. I guess I will just have to get off my ass now and trek to Sushi-Ko, Kaz and Makato/Kotobuki.
Brilliant point about Komi. It is like one day the owners were talking and suddenly the Sushi Taro owner (Nobu) decided to copy the Komi model -- tiny, expensive, fixed-price small dishes. Except that the Komi concept works for high quality "regular" food -- there are dozens of high quality restaurants around and this is how they stand out. Maybe new Sushi Taro would work in NYC. But DC (and Dupont) still has room for top quality sushi in a normal atmosphere, even if slightly expensive. Now it is crazy expensive and the menu is ridiculously limited.
They might have lost a few customers but they gained a few as well, including me. The $100 omakase is something you cannot experience elsewhere in DC (nor at Morimoto in Philly). 6 trays of seafood each containing 3 to 4 different seafood to choose from just for sashimi and sushi. 1 welcome drink, 4 appetizers, 4 mains (fried fish, grilled fish, soup, and steamed prawn), plus sashimi and sushi. Not every dish is perfect but if you love raw seafood, get yourself a seat at the sushi bar pronto.
I recently had omakase at a top NYC sushi place and it is so much better than Sushi Taro it is mind boggling. They had a amazing sushi restaurant at 125% the price of good sushi, but worth it (and more). They turned it into a lousy omakase restaurant at 80% of the price (of high end NYC sushi).
This was the worst decision any restaurant has ever made in the history of time.
If you can get that fancy NYC restaurant here in DC, please let me know, or at least open one so I can go. Without it, I will take what we have. I am very happy going to Sushi Taro here, and whenever I have a chance, to the numerous Japanese Izakayas in NYC (as I do miss the old Sushi Taro.) Face it, this isn't NYC and I don't have the time to travel all the way to NYC for sushi, regardless of how much I want or don't want to spend.
Finally went for lunch at Sushi Taro and WOW! I have not had fish that fresh in years. We started off with grilled eggplant and octopus sunomono and ordered the sushi Mori--a nice assortment plate (tuna, salmon, shrimp, squid, a tekka roll, and mackerel)--just wonderful. Beautiful presentation and the taste made up for years of sketchy sushi in DC. Top grade stuff--head and shoulders above what they used to serve. They have a daily lunch special (fried oysters today) but we wanted to try the sushi and were NOT disappointed. Prices a bit higher, but worth every penny. Beautiful space with great attention to detail. The restaurant was full and for good reason.