Monday, August 27, 2012
Kushi Izakaya & Sushi
Washington, DC 20001
There's this phenomena that I've noticed in DC where upscale apartment buildings also house retail shops, restaurants, grocery stores, and any other conveniences that a resident may want or need. It's like a hotel but on a larger scale. I guess this may be what they refer to as "bethesdafication" and it was in one of these types of "bethesdafied" buildings that I found Kushi Izakaya & Sushi. It's in a neighborhood caught in between the trendiness of Penn Quarter and the cool hipness of H street. The building also has Chipotle, Safeway, Busboys & Poets (which I very much need to visit) and so much more. I guess if you're aiming for one-stop shopping, you'll want to live here.
Buddakan or even a Colicchio and Sons where I've enjoyed meals but I've always found restaurants with big spaces like these to be impersonal and lacking atmosphere or character. That being said, Kushi is a big, beautiful space with nice, clean lines. It's so big that it almost feels like 2 1/2 restaurants with the big grill space in the middle, the sushi restaurant off to the side and the bar all occupying three distinct spaces in the layout. I hope that it's usually a popular place because that's an awful lot of seats that need to be filled on a nightly basis.
The main reason for my visit besides that I was hungry was that I read a comment on donrockwell.com about my Izakaya Seki post saying that Izakaya Seki "looks like what I had hoped Kushi would be (not to knock Kushi, we go there often, but it's a different vibe)". I didn't know what that meant since I assumed that most Izakayas would be similar so I was curious. Well, then. Where Seki is a small, serene and intimate space, Kushi is big, brash and anything but intimate. I guess that's what that meant. Check. Let's get to the food. I started with an order of a reliable Sapporo complete with a glass with a logo in case I forgot what beer I ordered. I stuck with the small plates for dinner but the sushi looked great. My choices for dinner were the grilled pork belly skewer, day boat scallops, crispy duck thigh, crispy honey banana, and couple of fresh oysters from British Columbia.
I was hoping that the dishes didn't come out in rapid fire succession like they did at Seki (which I thought was just from the newness of the restaurant but maybe this is the norm) but the day boat scallops before I could finish the pork belly. The scallops came out on a charred shell served in yuzu kosho butter sauce with a slice of lemon. Yuzo kosho is a Japanese condiment of citrus, chili pepper flakes and salt (I love the internet). The flavors of the scallops were just as bold as the pork belly with the richness of the broth and scallops being cut by the bitter from the yuzu. The lemon seems to be a bit of overkill on citrus bitterness if you squeezed it over top of the scallops. I thought the scallops were slightly overcooked as I thought I lingered a bit too long try to chew them through. Overall, though, a nice presentation with a nice burst of flavor.
The crispy duck thigh came out just as I was chewing the last scallop and I was convinced that there were side bets on how quickly patrons can finish their dishes before they rush out the next one. The duck was served, thankfully with a steak knife to be able to cut through it but the only other utensils you had at your disposal were chopsticks that were on the table. So, I could cut through the duck to get the flesh off the bone but probably looked like a fool stabbing it with a chop stick in order to get the proper leverage. The duck itself came out with a nice char and crispiness and was like the pork belly. Nice, fatty flavors with crispy skin and juicy tender meat. It was served with a nice fresh slaw if you need to cut the fat a bit.
I did backwards land and finished off the meal with some green tea and a couple of oysters. I saw them come out of the kitchen and they looked fantastic and since they were from the west coast, I felt that they would be an appropriate sweet finisher for the meal. I've always preferred Pacific Northwest oysters and these didn't disappoint. They were sweet, smooth and clean. I especially enjoyed the accompanying sauce that had some soy, chiles, and garlic (I think). I've never finished a meal with oysters before but maybe I should do that more often.
The boldness of Kushi's space and atmosphere is reflected very well in the food that it serves. The place itself is a big statement of a restaurant and the food doesn't hold back with its big, brash flavors. The dishes I tried, while nice, didn't quite have the subtlety that I enjoyed so much at Seki. But, why should they? Upon leaving, I understood what that forum comment meant. If you want your Izakaya experience to be a bit more on the quiet and intimate side, you should visit Izakaya Seki. If you want a bit more rock & roll and a scene then on those nights, Kushi Izakaya is the place for you.