Japanese flavors have replaced Argentine accents at what used to be Divino Lounge and Restaurant in Bethesda. The new Yuzu is helmed by Yoshihisa Ota, the Tokyo native who helped open Kushi in Mount Vernon Square in 2010.
There’s a subtlety to his dining room, named for the Japanese citrus fruit, that mirrors his homeland’s cooking in general. Yuzu’s walls and napkins are beige; gracing the bar are panels of pale green wallpaper framed in wood trim. A half-roof hovers over a second counter, a stage for Ota to strut his stuff via an omakase menu. The price of the parade of dishes, what the Japanese call “chef’s choice,” starts at $80.
Yuzu’s standing menu opens with a handful of tofu creations. They include dumplings made from mashed tofu, mushrooms and carrots, balls that are lightly fried and then splashed with the broth known as dashi; envision Asian comfort food. Less interesting are the mixed pickles, a rainbow of yellow radishes, carrots and cucumber that don’t deliver the tang I expect.
Tomato tempura? The fry job is nice, but the blank-tasting center compels me to double-dip the skewered fruit in its daikon-ginger sauce. Smoky from the grill, marinated black cod is easy to like, and brighter with a squeeze of lemon. Yakitori, on the other hand, is a disappointment of limp skewered chicken with a soy-and-sake marinade that overemphasizes sugar. The kitchen has a better handle on sushi, based on my supple sample of yellowtail and firm bite of squid, their sea-clean flavors pricked with wasabi.
“Anything you’d tell the next customer?” a young server curiously asks as she drops off the check. I didn’t share my feelings then and there, but I can here: Fill up on the raw fish with vinegared rice, folks.
7345-B Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda. 301-656-5234. www.yuzubethesda.com. Small plates, $5 to $15.