Japanese, Sushi
$$$$ ($15-$24)
Ariake photo
Dayna Smith/For The Post

Editorial Review

Make a Night of It at Ariake

By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, Dec. 14, 2007

At first glance: Reston's Ariake is an attractive, airy space with lots of windows, blond wood walls and the traditional blue and white hangings over the kitchen entry, but with a layered-stone wall behind the sushi bar and a pop-graphic take on a Japanese landscape. ("Ariake" can refer either to evening or to early morning with the moon still in the sky.) The warm-weather patio with a water fountain in a similar rock wall and Asian landscaping is partly shielded from shopping center traffic. The single television is usually turned to sports programming and muted.

On the menu: The sushi bar and kitchen are generous: A $14 order of ton katsu, panko-battered pork cutlet, is two hand-size, still-moist pieces (with salad, miso soup and rice), and a special seared-tuna appetizer is four longish slices for $7.50. Sushi is twice as much fish as rice, which can occasionally be tricky, as some stringier fish, such as toro, may be difficult to bite in half. The seafood is noticeably fresh, particularly the mackerel, a fish that spoils so quickly that an old saying has it rotting while still swimming. The tender anago (sea eel), which has a lighter flavor and less oily texture than freshwater unagi, is equally fresh.

At your service: Ariake's staff takes the tag-team approach, so you may be offered drinks or asked to order more than once. Dishes are delivered by any server who's free, so there is generally little waiting. Restrooms are not only large and accessible but hands-free, with automated faucets and paper towels.

On the table: One of the more unusual dishes, baked scallop roll, is two dishes in one, a six-piece roll topped with a mound of diced scallop salad then run under the broiler, something like a Japanese Norfolk. (A squeeze of lemon or soy sauce helps cut the oil.) Tempura batter is light, though not entirely blotted of oil; the vegetables, particularly the sweet potato and the broccoli, are carefully cooked. Mushroom soup is described on the menu as "udon soup with mushrooms" but refers not to udon noodles but the sort of broth, and it comes with shiitakes. Enoki rolls are a slightly blander variant on the traditional scallion rolls called negimayaki, with the beef rolled around crisp-tender asparagus and a scattering of enoki mushrooms and glazed with teriyaki sauce. Daily specials are written on a board; look for ankimo, the monkfish liver mousse, or fresh sweet shrimp (amaebi).

What to avoid: The gyoza, though available steamed, are really designed for pan-frying and come out doughy otherwise. The sushi rice is good, but the plain rice is starchy. Take the phrase "market price" seriously; one night, a single order of toro cost $11.95.

Wet your whistle: Ariake has several types of sake, wine and beer.