One of the most refined tasting menus around commences with a little ceremony. A chef welcomes diners with a small glass cloche containing clear dashi jelly, soft bamboo shoots, ribbons of seaweed and a sheer sail of myoga, or Japanese ginger.
A few dishes later, a tiny clay bowl appears. Inside is house-made tofu, soft as custard and covered with a layer of dashi in which roe seem to float. “Black seaweed caviar,” a server identifies the beads, which pop like beluga (only saltier) in the mouth.
Deeper into the night, congee dotted with chive oil is set before us. A fillip of shaved burgundy truffles suggests an evening at one of Washington’s temples of haute cuisine.
In reality, however, I’m in Chevy Chase at the popular Sushiko, indulging in a nine-course feast prepared by brothers and co-chefs Handry and Piter Tjan. Their collection of beautiful dishes, dispatched at a curved sushi bar, is distinctive for what it lacks: animal products.
The brothers aren’t new to such fare. Back in their native Indonesia, their mother, a vegetarian, volunteered at a Buddhist temple, where she introduced her sons to a cuisine that turns plants into poetry.
No meat or dairy makes for a vegan omakase (or chef’s choice) and a meal that’s considerably more labor-intensive than the regular omakase. Traditional dashi, an essential Japanese broth, taps dried fish flakes for flavor. For Sushiko’s meatless version, the chef relies on smoked kelp to elevate the stock.
The brothers’ parade of vegan creations also showcases crisp fingers of lightly fried yam decorated with shiso thread and salty plum sauce; fabulous eggplant that’s split, scored and filled with soft, miso-flavored namafu (refined wheat gluten mixed with mochi rice flour, then steamed); and five types of colorful vegetable sushi, the meatiest of which is a grilled shiitake mushroom pricked with lemon salt.
Introduced in November, the vegan menu ($80), which requires participants to reserve seating at least 48 hours in advance, is the first of several enhancements at Sushiko: Next spring, says Handry Tjan, the restaurant’s sushi bar will be redone to give diners a more intimate view of the chefs as they work. “I’m really into raw food,” he says.
5455 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase. 301-961-1644. sushikorestaurants.com. Vegan omakase, $80.