For me, suburban sushi joints are burdened with an inverse risk-reward ratio compared to other foreign-minded restaurants that call our hinterlands home.
Not to get all Tyler Cowen here, but the Washington suburbs, with their lower rents and dense clusters of immigrants, come loaded with some of the best Chinese, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Korean, Indian, Mexican, Bolivian and Bangladeshi restaurants in the D.C. area. Your chances of wandering into a good one is probably better than 50-50, even without professional or amateur assistance.
But all bets are off when it comes to sushi, no doubt for some of the reasons I detailed in an Immigrant’s Table column back in January. Suburban sushi, when it’s cheap and unskilled, is one of the most dispiriting experiences one can have in a restaurant; I still remember the evening I ordered a sushi platter in suburban Maryland and one of the nigiri pieces was topped with an imitation crab stick. I think Jiro died a little that day.
I say all this as a lead up to the Masa Japanese Steak House Hibachi & Sushi, which is now enjoying a soft opening in the former Ceviche space in downtown Silver Spring. The ever-evolving name of the place has been a source of consternation for the owners, not to mention the lawyers of celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa. The opening name does not exactly conjure images of New York’s Masa, but recalls the Benihana era of performance-art cooking, part teppanyaki-style cuisine, part Samurai-esque knife demos.
When I called Masa in Silver Spring for more information on the place, a helpful woman named Audrey Tan (she describes herself as “acting manager”) answered the phone and provided plenty of details. The trio of owners, all related in some way, also operate the East Moon Asian Bistro locations in Alexandria and Bowie, Tan says.
Tan confirms that Masa will feature a Benihana-like demonstration zone, where head chef Ben Wang and others will prepare your choice of vegetables and proteins on a blazing hot teppan grill. Eight tables will be dedicated to Masa’s hibachi menu — or about 70 to 75 seats total. The hibachi menu runs from a simple vegetable entree ($15) to a seafood combo ($36 for lobster tail, shrimp and scallop).
“It’s really fun,” Tan emphasizes. “It’s for families.”
Masa also will feature a small, nine-seat sushi bar under chef Savon (Last Name Unknown) whose list of “special rolls” runs 20 deep, including the Yan Kee Roll (“shrimp tempura and crab meat with cucumber wrap”), the deep-fried Hotel California Roll (“crab meat and asparagus...with eel sauce, spicy mayo, scallion, fish egg”) and the Million Dollars Roll (“spicy king crab inside with tuna, salmon, yellowtail, avocado”).
The acting manager says Masa buys most of its fish from True World Foods, which will deliver product three times a week to the Silver Spring restaurant. Some fish, Tan adds, will be sourced locally.
Masa’s soft opening started on Sunday, April 15, and will run about two weeks — until the owners can get the bar stocked and ready to serve. Montgomery County just approved Masa’s liquor license today, Tan says.
Meanwhile, downtown Silver Spring’s other sushi operation, Sushi Jin on Fenton Street, remains closed following a January fire in the restaurant. Sushi Jin’s phone returns a busy signal every time I call, but a sign on the door, in part, says the owners are “working very hard and fast in order to bring back and rebuilt [sic] Sushi Jin.”
They may need to rethink the “very fast” part of the statement, given it’s now three months after the fire.
Masa Japanese Steak House Hibachi & Sushi, 921 J. Ellsworth Drive, Silver Spring, 301-608-8989.