Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Sushi Tour

Originally hailing from mass-produced Suburbia, I was never exposed to much fine dining as a youngster. Hong Kong Take-out was about as classy as my Pan-Asian experience got. So when I arrived in DC, with enough restaurants to induce (gastronomic) vertigo, I said to my self, Self, you must do all you can to expose all this cuisine, that is. Given my love for sushi, and a friend who also appreciated this fine delicacy, The Sushi Tour was born.

Our goal is simple: To taste the best sushi that DC has to offer. Today I bring you a sampling of my favorites and least favorites.

Cafe Asia

The birthplace of our tour. We met friends for happy hour at the DC location, right across from the Farragut West metro. Instead of the traditional bamboo and ink-paintings interior of many sushi restaurants, Cafe Asia made me feel more like I was inside of a refrigerator, thanks to its sparse white and metallic interior. This wasn't a bad thing though, as the restaurant is large (also like a refrigerator), and the waitstaff quickly accomodated our large party. The sushi came out on large platters, perfect for sharing. It was scrumptious, especially the maki rolls that had special sauces on top - the eel, if I'm not mistaken. The sushi was quite fresh and the flavors were crisp.

I will make a note about Cafe Asia's Arlington location, however. I would not recommend it. The service was slower, and the waitress did not even offer me a sushi menu when I joined some friends for happy hour. There was also some confusion over the drink specials, causing some of my companions to pay more than they thought they would for their drinks. I cannot vouch for the sushi quality as I did not order any that evening. But here is my main complaint: Since it's located in Virginia, smoking is allowed inside, and we had the unfortunate luck to be seated next to a table of heavy smokers. This completely took away my appetite. What can I say? I'm a purist. DC restaurants have spoiled me with their clean air. For a good, clean sushi experience, stick to establishments in the District if possible.


As its logo points out, the name"Nooshi" comes from Noodles and Sushi. I didn't try the noodles, but the sushi is spectacular. My sushi friend and I are particularly fond of eel and tuna rolls, and the ones we tried here surpassed my expectations. They came in plentiful portions which filled me up. (Most sushi doesn't do this, and I leave wanting more.) Try the spicy scallop roll if you want to dazzle your mouth. Nooshi (in the Farragut North area, close to Foggy Bottom) has outdoor seating for warm summer evenings, which is nice.

We also tried its sister location, Spices, near the Cleveland Park stop. It has a very similar sushi menu, so its novelty factor for us wasn't as impressive. More of a good thing though! My favorite, the spicy scallop is also on this menu, hurrah! Determined to try something new too, I ordered the cream-cheese wonton appetizer, which I liked very much, but didn't seem to be as big of a hit with my companions. It's also worth noting that there' s a great billiards place right down the street from here, if you're in need of some after-diner pool-shooting fun.


Matuba, located in downtown Bethesda, wins points for its variety and good taste. The menu has plenty of non-sushi options, in case you go out with diners who aren't sushi lovers. I went with a friend who swears by this restaurant and goes frequently, so I had to check it out for myself. Even more impressive than the sushi was the seaweed salad. This isn't your normal green seaweed salad. Not only was there the standard dark-green stuff, but also purple and light green fuzzy seaweed. To top it all off, it was presented artfully with peanut sauce drizzles. As for the sushi, I ordered nigiri rolls with a variety of fresh fish. Mm mmm. My only criticism would be that the service was very slow, perhaps due to the fact that it was very busy on a Sunday evening. We weren't the only ones who liked this restaurant!

I've told you about my favorites, but do I have any least favorites?

Thai Chef (of Dupont circle) and Sushi-Ko (of Georgetown/Glover Park) both rank low on my list. As for Thai Chef, the sushi specials and drink specials were cheap, but the ambiance was terrible. We were seated right next to the bar, and the constantly-running noisy blender was absolutely egregious! Put that thing back in the kitchen!

Me: So how was your -
Friend: Uh it was --
Me: Well I ---

You get the point. And the sushi was bland too!

Sushi-Ko ranks low for more than just low ambiance. The waitstaff just cannot get their act together. My friend called ahead for reservations, and they lost them. Classy. When we were finally seated, I believe they had no idea who was supposed to serve us because two different waiters came to ask us our drink orders. On top of this, the front door was constantly opening and closing, letting in a horrendously cold draft. I don't like to shiver when I eat. It makes it harder to hold the chopsticks.

The food didn't recommend itself much better either. Instead of beautiful seaweed salad, I was served a bed of lettuce, with an afterthought of green seaweed in a vinegary dressing. The sushi menu does boast some interesting options, I will give it that. I do like to try unusual rolls whene ver possible. However, when my Washington roll (eel, crab, and mushroom) and my Rock Shrimp and Cilantro roll came out, I was less than impressed. The combination in the Washington roll was overkill, and all I tasted was mushroom. However, my companion liked it so much that she ordered seconds. More for her, I suppose. I like the shrimp and cilantro well enough, but my friend made a disgusted face upon trying it, saying it tasted like salad. To me, it was pleasantly crisp and a thoughtful combination, but I wouldn't order it on a normal basis.

If you ever end up in North Georgetown, forget the Sushi-Ko, and head right across the street to Max's Best Homemade Ice Cream! Not only is it one of the best ice cream places in DC, but it is owned and run by Mahmood Kishani, the famous Iranian soccer player, who claims to be from Tennessee, but we know the truth.

Now that I've given my thoughts on the best and the worst, I'll mention the other places I've visited so far.

Sushi Taro - Highly recommended. Friendly staff, good fresh rolls, albeit on the small side. They have an interesting plum roll which is sour and tasty. The eel and tuna are also great.
Well-Being Japanese Buffet - Located in Northern VA in Annandale, this sushi buffet is all-you-can-eat Japanese, Korean, and Sushi for under $20. They don't just stick to normal sushi - their spicy sushi finger sandwiches are quite delicious.
Kuma- cheap sushi in Tenleytown. Good for the price. Quiet ambiance.
Wok and Roll - sushi in Chinatown. Not bad.

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