This restaurant is in Tom Sietsema’s Hall of Fame.
No area chef brings me closer to Tokyo than Nobu Yamazaki, whose performance at the six-seat wooden counter on the second floor is the culinary equivalent of a maestro directing an orchestra. Of all the area’s fine-dining venues, this one takes us on the most affordable journey: 10 courses, featuring classical and contemporary ideas, start at $180 a person. My last feast remains etched in my mind. First, a fluffy, one-bite pâté made with monkfish liver and sticky yam. Next, a Kumamoto oyster with banana and anchovy, a startling combination that the palate ultimately green lights.
“Not very fresh,” the chef says, handing over slices of tuna the color of tar. His smile signals you’ll become a fan of fish pressed with dried tomato and aged for a couple weeks, resulting in a beefy texture and lovely tang. More old-school is rice bundled in persimmon leaf and hiding luscious cured butterfish.
The meal unfolds like a good story, quiet moments followed by dramatic ones. The highlight is when Yamazaki and his co-chef, Masaya Kitayama, set out six black lacquer boxes, each holding the piscine equivalent of jewels, and ask which they can turn into sashimi or sushi. (With luck, the display includes the uncommon white-fleshed, snapper-like golden thread.) Toward the end of the parade comes what looks like a sandwich; in reality, it’s an airy “roll” with the texture of an ice cream cone filled with a treasure chest of indulgences, including black truffle and foie gras. Inspired. And fun.
Snagging a reservation, on the other hand, is made challenging by a restrictive list of rules and a restaurant representative with the email charm of Kim Jong-Un. Get over the hump. It gets better — worlds better — once you’re in the hands of the chef.
Sushi Taro: 1503 17th St. NW. 202-462-8999. sushitaro.com.
Open: Lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday.
Prices: Kaiseki tasting $100-$180 per person (must have two people), a la carte rolls $8-$37, omakase starts at $180.
Sound check: 73 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide.
A master of the craft is as reliable as ever
Nobu Yamazaki might not have the name recognition of some of the city’s leading chefs, but for fish fanatics in particular, he’s as much a master of his craft as anyone. To catch his act, you have to book ahead for one of six seats at an oak counter on the second floor of the venerable Sushi Taro. Dinner is omakase (“chef’s choice,” starting at $140) of whatever is prime and in season: skewered Japanese ginkgo nuts stuffed with fish cake; an abalone shell nestling sea urchin and shrimp with shimmering fish jelly; panko-crusted Wagyu beef; superlative sushi, culled from pristine fish displayed in half a dozen lacquered boxes. The intimate environment means the chef is never more than an arm’s reach away and your interaction is sprinkled with pearls of wisdom. Japanese chefs, for instance, judge one another by the care they take with their knives. Yamazaki is as impressive a host as he is a chef.