Sushi Taro: Kaiseki Edition

Sushi Set 1

Tasting menus are all over town, whether at supper clubs, pop-ups or even grocery stores (Glen’s Garden Market!) But what about the OG (original gangster) of tasting menus? We’re talking about kaiseki, a multi-course, visually stunning display of the best Japanese cuisine has to offer.

somen noodles

Modern kaiseki, like the kind on offer at Sushi Taro, pulls from many historical and cultural references including imperial court cuisine, meals devoured by samurai warriors, the Japanese tea ceremony and healthy Buddhist temple fare. If you decide to take this adventure in the care of Chef Nobu Yamazaki, you will face a choice of four different kaiseki tasting menus: Traditional, sushi, suppon (soft shell turtle!), or wagyu beef/lobster surf and turf.

Unless you have yen to burn, the traditional or sushi kaiseki courses are your best bets. We couldn’t decide…so instead, we bring you the tale of two kaisekis. Here are their merits:

Sushi Tasting:

Sushi Set 2

+ You’ll get to try types of nigiri you’d never think to order like succulent sweet shrimp, bursting ikura or raw abalone.

+Your nigiri sushi comes with a paintbrush and premium soy sauce so you can embrace your inner artist.

Ichigo Daifuku

+ Your dessert choice includes ichigo daifuku (a fresh strawberry lovingly wrapped in mochi) which is arguably the best dessert on earth (zero hyperbole here).

Kaiseki Tasting:

Hassun

+ You are privy to the “hassun” a hodgepodge of morsels arranged to look like a landscape in miniature.

+ If you’re a big eater and it takes a lot to fill you up, take comfort knowing that the traditional kaiseki has an entrée-sized finale. In this case it was pork belly shabu-shabu. Diners whisk raw slices of thinly sliced meat through a hot pot of delectable spicy soup before drinking the broth at the end.

+ At the end you’re asked to select your final sushi course from the menu. Only the traditional kaiseki menu allows you to choose a roll, like the Best Thing on the Menu: spicy spider roll.

Verdict? Go with a friend and get both – they actually let you do that. If you ask really nicely, they’ll even give you a sharp knife to slice nigiri sushi in half. Just ignore the stares and head shakes from the Japanese embassy officers seated at the adjacent table; they’ve never seen such things.

Click here for more photos from the meal. Learn more about Sushi Taro’s kaiseki options.

Capriotti’s: The Bobbie

Capriotti's

Tax-free shopping, Ryan Phillippe and Dogfish Head aren’t too shabby. But, do you know what else comes from dot-on-the-map Delaware? Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop. Visit them in Dupont Circle…or soon, several other locations in the DMV. They serve 20+ hot and cold hoagies/subs/heroes/grinders, depending on where you’re from.

Every night, the M Street location roasts a rafter of Butterball turkeys. And no, they’re not serving Thanksgiving to a football team in March. They’re preparing for a full day of making their top selling, award-winning sandwich and Best Thing on the Menu: The Bobbie with Homemade Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Stuffing and Mayo. In fact, take a short trip back in time and check out their baby-faced CEO talking about The Bobbie being the #1 sandwich in America. It has all of the bonuses of Turkey Day leftovers, without the whole “I’m so sick of turkey, I don’t want to look at it until next year,” feeling.

Other top picks include the cheese steak (be sure to add sweet & hot peppers!) and the Capstrami loaded with hot pastrami, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and cole slaw. It seems the Russian dressing has not yet been embargoed… Click here for more sandwich pictures.

The Bobbie not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

You might also like Bub & Pop’s, Stoney’s or Taylor Gourmet.

Bub and Pop’s: Pop’s Beef Brisket Sandwich

Bub and Pops Brisket

It would be ludicrous to tell you that this is a mom and pop kind of place. But, we just did. You feel like family the moment you walk in and receive a warm welcome from Arlene, who by the way will thank you for even the most standard of tips. This is more curiously refreshing than Schweppes. Plus, just about everything, including the pickles and chips, are homemade at Bub and Pop’s.

The first bite into any sandwich on the menu will have you wondering, hey, is a serious chef behind this operation? Yes. Chef Jonathan Taub, formerly of Pound the Hill and Adour, is at the helm of the shop named for his grandparents who started a deli business in Philly after World War II.

Only a chef could create The Best Thing on the Menu: Slow braised beef brisket sandwich with apple-horseradish cream, 5-year aged Gouda, and veal jus. The real show stopper in this sandwich is not the fried egg, which you can add for $1 extra. Rather, it’s the Gouda that comes straight from Holland. It’ll have you picturing windmills, tulips and wooden shoes in no time.

While this sandwich is scrumptious, there are several ways to be a more adventurous eater. Like trying The Real Obama, or taking on The Challenge: “Eat the entire Li’l Petey, and whatever drops on the tray, including the potato chips it is presented on in 15 minutes and you get your sandwich for free, plus your picture on the Wall of Fame.”

Bub and Pop’s completes the trifecta of sub shops located in the Golden Triangle part of town that bridges Dupont and the Farraguts. Hoagie lovers can choose from Taylor Gourmet, Capriotti’s and Bub and Pop’s. Caution: Once you go Bub and Pop’s, you may never go back.

Pop’s Beef Brisket not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Restaurant Nora: Beef Tenderloin Tartare

Restaurant Nora's Steak Tartare

When a maître d’ asks how I’d like my steak cooked, I always answer tartare. This usually warrants a laugh or a snarl, because no one likes an off-menu order, especially when it involves making a rare meat mush and folding in delicate herbs. So when I do find a nice tartare on the menu, I rarely (pun intended) pass it up.

After tartaring my way around the District, I have found the best version this city has to offer. It’s The Best Thing on the Menu at Restaurant Nora: Grass Fed Beef Tenderloin Tartare with preserved lemon salad, harissa and lavash crackers. Unlike other local takes on the dish, Restaurant Nora’s tartare is smooth in texture, making it easier to spread on crackers and stack on bites of salad. When steak tartare is as chunky as tuna tartare it can be off-putting. The other factor that makes this appetizer a stunner is the touch of Middle Eastern spices found in a delectable mahogany colored paste.

It’s not surprising that the grass fed cows participating in this dish lived  happy lives, given that Restaurant Nora holds the honor of being America’s first organic restaurant in the country (this went down in 1999).  The cattle (Scottish Highland or Ancient White Park) hail from Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, VA, where they avoid nasty habits like antibiotics and sitting in pens.

Nora's Hot Pot

Not a meat monster? Restaurant Nora has one of the more inspired vegetarian options I’ve seen in a while: A Japanese style nabe hot pot filled with shichimi crusted tofu, soba noodles, bok choy, shiitakes and crispy yams. This is precisely what I was eating when Ralph Nader walked by, so hopefully it made a good impression. …

Great news for Nora fans: This month, the restaurant is celebrating their 35th anniversary. Not too many places can say THAT these days! Head in on any Wednesday in March to enjoy a special  “retro” 3-course menu for $35. Give them a call for more information. 

Beef Tenderloin Tartare not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Duke’s Grocery: Lomito ‘Completo

Guest Post by Cassia Denton and Devin Maier

Guest Post by Cassia Denton & Devin Maier

Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of Duke’s Grocery is that the Best Thing on the Menu is bound to change; the menu switches daily and is entirely dependent upon what the chefs find at the market that morning. In a refreshing nod to a truly sustainable table, once an item on the menu is sold out, it is finished for the day.

On a particular chilly night, the Best Thing on the (ever-changing) Menu: Lomito ‘Completo was a tasty pile of schweinebraten roast pork, spicy sauerkraut, smashed avocado, tomato, and garlic aioli on a brioche bun. A German take on the Chilean fave, it is the perfect ratio of pork to vegetables to bread, with everything cooked to tender perfection.

All of Duke’s sandwiches come with a hefty pile of fresh greens to balance the savory meat. Plus, pairing our sando with their extensive craft beer collection left us feeling as though we were in the German/Chilean countryside (that’s a place, right?).

The guys at Duke’s have modeled themselves after the neighborhoods of East London, where you’re likely to find global fare like an Indian curry or Bahn Mi, a Vietnamese classic. They have achieved this funky food cultural melting pot admirably, serving items like white truffle mac & cheese (gruyere AND gouda!) alongside hummus (which our Lebanese companions assured us is top notch). It makes for a unique meal. Definitely visit with friends to maximize how much of the menu you can cover in one night.

Lomito ‘Completo not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Firefly: Goat Cheese Gnocchi

Firefly: Goat Cheese Gnocchi

Escape for an evening of enchantment and whimsy when you enter Firefly, a true fairytale of a restaurant. Adorned with beautiful birch bark and a central tree, you get the sense that you are in for an ingredient-centric meal that features sustainable food as the star.

Thanks to local-born Chef Daniel Bortnick’s strong command of produce, you can enjoy four seasons of flavor no matter what the month. Spring claims our favorite dessert of warm zucchini bread with basil corn ice cream as well as the halibut served with carrot puree, spring pistou, fingerling potatoes and snap peas. Summer highlights include fried green tomatoes and a farro salad full of a garden’s treasures. There are hints of fall in the smoked lamb shoulder, another winner. Finally, winter is represented in one of Firefly’s signature dishes, a personal pot roast, which we would likely be writing about if it wasn’t 100 degrees.

But the Best Thing on the Menu: Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Morel Mushrooms, Sweet Corn, Squash and Truffle Vinaigrette stands alone atop of the flavor pyramid. Replete with earth-driven umami goodness, this winning dish combines elements of all four seasons. Needless to say, it warranted multiple orders from our table.

In a city that loves customization and catering to dietary needs, Firefly takes their menu options to the next level by offering gluten free dinner, lunch, brunch and dessert menus in addition to the cutest kids menu you’ve ever seen. It appears Chefs Danny Bortnick and Todd Wiss know their clientele, which is made up of primarily locals despite being housed in a Kimpton Hotel.

Think you’ve experienced all the magic once dessert is through? Just wait for the whimsical way they deliver the check.

Goat Cheese Gnocchi not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Veritas Wine Bar: A Deal on Fun Finds (CLOSED)

VERITAS IS NOW CLOSED. STAY TUNED FOR A NEW COCKTAIL BAR THIS FALL.

Veritas Wine Bar Ganeta Rose   Veritas Wine Bar Sexual Chocolate

Our Mission: Complete a six-person takeover of a corner of Veritas Wine Bar in Dupont Circle and determine the Best Wine on the Menu. But there’s more. We weren’t looking for a face-melting Cabernet or a seductive Bordeaux blend. Instead, we were seeking fun, off-the-beaten path wines with great value. Read on because you can get a dollar off the winning wine on your next visit to Veritas …

Wine bars in DC are few and far between. That’s why we’re extra grateful that we found a true gem that we want to return to time and time again. Because you climb down a few stairs to enter, instead of up, Veritas reminds us a little of the romantic wine “cuevas” you find in Spain.

What else sets Veritas apart from other vinotherapy spots in DC? They have 70 wines by the glass, a great mix of old world and new world styles, unpretentious wine-tenders, and unfussy snacks that are simple, gourmet, fresh and pair perfectly with what you’re drinking. We enjoyed delicious charcuterie, cheese selections with a lot of personality and freshly caught crab served three different ways. Oh, and the best chocolate truffles we’ve ever tasted.

Veritas Charcuterie     Veritas Wine Bar Truffles

When it comes to wine, we sampled:

  • Gañeta Rose from the Basque region of Spain (2012)
  • Geil Scheurebe Kabinett from Germany (2011) that tasted like its cousin, German Riesling
  • Vasse Felix Chardonnay from Margaret River region of Australia (2011) that even “anything but Chardonnay (ABC)” people enjoyed
  • SLO Down Wine’s Sexual Chocolate composed of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petit Sirah from California (2011) which was bold but also enjoyable for every day drinking
  • Coriole Vineyards Sangiovese/Shiraz blend from Australia (2010) that had a big nose of plum and spice
  • Cuvée Del Maule Cauquenes from Chile (2010). This very special wine carries the phrase “Earthquake Harvest.” Immediately after the grapes were picked in 2010, a massive earthquake struck Chile, leaving winemakers to carry out their craft without modernity. No water, no power, no irrigation. In the end, they threw all of the grapes together creating an “everything but the kitchen sink” blend comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carigan, Carmenere, Pais, Merlot and Zinfandel. Kudos to surviving a true make-it-work moment, because this wine was powerfully earth-driven and delicious.

Veritas Wine Bar Wine    Veritas Wine Bar Wine

When the time came to fulfill our mission, we flirted with the success of choosing just one wine, but simply couldn’t pick from our two favorites. So instead, we feature the Best WINES on the Menu: The perfectly balanced, refreshing Gañeta Rose from Basque Country and Sexual Chocolate from SLO Down wines.

Napa Valley’s SLO Down Wines actually began as a bootleg operation and they’re not afraid to say it. A couple of college guys started making wine “knowing it would be used for late night drinking and that the French are annoying,” says the bottle label. The bottle label also recommend that “This be drank immediately, and shared with girls.” They even have entertaining, (Not Safe for Work) videos to enjoy.

Because we love these two wines so much, you can get $1.00 off each glass of the Gañeta Rose or Sexual Chocolate on your next visit to Veritas. Simply mention that you saw this post on Best Thing on the Menu and the secret code: BTM. This offer comes to an end August 31st or until these delicious wines run dry.

Other ways to enjoy Veritas include a wine tasting with Mario Montecelli from Trinchero Vineyards in Napa Valley (July 25) as well as an upcoming class on the wines of Australia (July 27/28). Both events are held at Veritas in Dupont Circle.

Special thanks to Veritas General Manager and Sommelier Jamie Smith for his wisdom and generosity!

Top Five Eats to Beat the Heat

DC is at the height of swelter season and so we thought we’d provide some recommendations on five treats to eat in the heat. If you venture out in the humidity, head to the following five spots for these cool dishes.

Mari Vanna's Borscht1. Mari Vanna’s Cold Borscht

Borscht is the perfect chilled, colorful summer soup. Unlike its hot winter counterpart, laden with beef, potatoes and sour cream, this vegetarian version is light and refreshing. Just don’t wear your best summer whites to eat beets. For more on what to order at this charming Dupont Circle Russian establishment (besides vodka), click here.

B TOO's Fried Orange Sherbet2. B TOO’s Fried Orange Sorbet

This is like the tempera ice cream you would beg your parents for when they “dragged” you to a sushi restaurant to “expand your horizons” when you were little. Fried ice cream is back with a bang at B TOO. This temperature impossibility sits atop sweet, candied fennel and is surrounded by fried basil leaves. Quite simply, it’s summer on a plate. For more on this Top Chef-studded Logan Circle restaurant click here.

Sushi Taro's Sashimi Omakase3. Sushi Taro’s Sashimi Omakase

You may not know the meaning of the Japanese word omakase, but chances are you’ve eaten a tasting menu or two in your time. Omakase essentially means you’re getting the top, chef-recommended selections of the day. And at Dupont Circle’s Sushi Taro, where they fly in a large portion of fish from Tokyo, you’re in for a wild ride. Sometimes, it’s far more fun to let the experts decide! There’s nothing steamy about sashimi, it’s light and fresh and the perfect summer eat. For more on Sushi Taro, click here.

Del Campo's Scallop Ceviche4. Del Campo’s Grilled Scallop Sushi Ceviche

It’s sushi, no it’s ceviche, no wait, it’s both! Del Campo continues to turn out great grilled items and this one in particular is perfect for warm weather. The scallops sit atop nigiri sushi-like rice mounds and are adorned with a smoked uni sauce. A little bit of raw, and a little bit of heat. We just visited Del Campo in Chinatown and had the special opportunity to interview Chef Victor Albisu. Click here to hear his thoughts on the most popular, and most daring, menu picks.

Teddy's Crab and Avocado5. Teddy’s Crab and Avocado

Teddy’s is a great second edition to the presidential-themed dining establishments in DC. We admit that Dupont Circle’s Teddy might be a little more fun in the winter, when it’s time to pack on the pounds by eating game meat, carbs from the heartland and rich desserts. However, there are a couple items on the menu today that are ripe for summer consumption. The best of which is their crab and avocado dish served with grilled corn and a sauce that’s worth soaking up with their homemade breadbasket. See our pick for Best Thing on the Menu here.

Agree/Disagree with our top dishes? Tell us in the comments section or on the BTM Facebook page.

Urbana: Short Rib Cannelloni and Leeks

Urbana Cannelloni

Southern France and Northern Italy meet for a unique date in a foodie dungeon in Dupont Circle at Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar. We knew we loved the luxurious lounge that locals have been happy to hunker down in for years, but what took us by big surprise was the food.

Urbana has truly upped the ante when it comes to refined flavor and artful presentation. The Best Thing on the Menu: Cannelloni – Rolled Pasta with Red Wine Braised Beef Short Rib, Leeks and Truffled Pecorino is a knock out. The shape of the oversized leeks are a play on the shape of the tubular cannelloni and their pickled, tangy flavor goes perfectly with earthy, tender short ribs.

The leg of lamb was a close second, as were many of the other dishes we sampled. We’d love to see Urbana creep up to the upper echelons of cuisine and ratings in DC because they are most worthy.

Urbana has been celebrated as one of DC’s best bars for treating regulars like royalty (see DC Eater article). It’s not too often that you find a hotel bar (Kimpton Hotel Palomar) and restaurant as beloved or frequented by locals. Urbana has also been named as one of DC’s hottest restaurant bar scenes. So, next time you’re ready to dine in Dupont, take a turn down the other side of P Street for some great eats.

Cannelloni not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

DGS Delicatessen: Holishkes

photo

DGS Delicatessen, a.k.a. District Grocery Store, brings a dose of originality to Dupont Circle. This reimagined Jewish deli brines, cures, smokes and pickles on premise and lots of love goes into every dish. DGS doubles as a sandwich shop and a sit-down restaurant. The only thing missing? Perfectly crafted bagels and schmear. Those with tips on where to get a good bagel inside the beltway, please share in the comments section. The quest is ongoing.

DGS is owned by third generation cousins, Nick and David Wiseman, who say DGS is a nod to the mom-and-pop grocery stores that lined DC street corners at the turn of the 20th century. They’ve seen success so far, and even got a nod in the  New York Times.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Holishkes are unique because they fuse Ashkenazic and Sephardic ingredients. DGS Chef Barry Koslow’s holishkes recipe calls for brisket stuffed cabbage, sweet and sour tomato sauce that’s as thick and sweet as ketchup, orzo and rye bread crumbs. Holishkes are a traditional dish for Sukkot, an autumn harvest festival. The stuffed cabbage leaves symbolize abundance.

What’s in a name? It’s hard to believe how many names can be given to this succulent stuffed cabbage dish. Popular terms include galuptze, praakes and bolopches. Sephardic Jews make a very similar dish but with lamb instead of beef and call the concoction sarmas or mishi malfouf. Whatever you call them, we dare to say they compete with your bubbe’s.

DGS is a great change of pace for dinner or brunch and they have an unbeatable happy hour. Mazel tov DGS, we hope you’re here to stay.

Holishkes not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.