Izakaya Seki: Kakiage

Izakaya Seki Kakiage

Izakaya Seki is a different kind of father/daughter dance: Father Hiroshi expertly slices sashimi and molds triangular onigiri while overseeing every move in the downstairs kitchen. Daughter Cizuka dances with grace around the V Street restaurant, making sure patrons are seated in precisely the perfect place and that everyone leaves full, happy and with clothes that carry the scent of Japan.

The traditional-with-a-twist Japanese pub food at Izakaya Seki ranges from raw to fried and even includes an item that’s still alive. We’ll get to that. But first, The Best Thing on the Menu: Kakiage – rock shrimp and vegetable fritters can’t be missed. Onions and other vegetables stack up like an unkempt pile of firewood inside fried batter and every few bites you’ll encounter a rock shrimp or two. This will make you rethink your commitment to traditional tempura. These pancakes are way more fun to tear apart, share and dunk into a mild dashi sauce. Just don’t try making it at home, unless you have a kevlar grease shield.

Izakaya Seki Uni

Adventurous eaters should try two things, especially if they’re sitting at the downstairs arena looking into the kitchen. The first, an order of live uni, translates to a 10-minute show. Watch as a cook tickles a live sea urchin with tweezers until all that remains is the meaty yellow flesh. The taste and texture can only be described as savory and pungent frozen yogurt.

Izakaya Seki Tuna Natto

The second challenge is tuna natto. We’re betting you’re no stranger to maguro sashimi, but its bowl co-chair is sticky, stringy, fermented and hated by at least half of the population of Japan. Fermented soy beans, known as natto, are a divisive dish (even within one Japanese family). You either love them or hate them.

Eating natto involves an acquired skill of transporting the small beans to your mouth while twirling long sticky spider web strings before they get on your nose, forehead or dining companion. They’re super healthy though, and can be attributed to a youthful looking complexion (read: eat this fountain-of-youth food and look like Jennifer Lawrence forever).

For more pictures from the meal click here.

Kakiage not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Donburi: Ebi Katsudon

Donburi

There’s nothing like a good restaurant named for the dish it serves, especially when that dish is donburi – the ultimate Japanese comfort food. Think of donburi’s soothing ways to be on par with the American grilled cheese sandwich.

On any given night at the Adams Morgan newcomer, there are about nine rice bowls to choose from ranging from raw to golden fried. The Best Thing on the Menu belongs to the latter category: Ebi Katsudon with panko coated shrimps, sliced onions and a half cooked egg with donburi and tartar sauce. Sure, they have pork  and salmon sashimi, but the humble set of four shrimp are superior and much easier to sling around with chopsticks.

The owner, Seungjoon Jang, answered the call for a quality and satisfying $15 dinner in an era of DC dining where it’s hard for a table of two to escape a small plates meal for less than $100. He does so by adding value in surprising ways, like tangy pickled jalapeños or all you can drink barley water.

Donburi Pan

The one glaring menu omission? The familial and tasty oyakudon, or “parent and child” rice bowl, featuring chicken and eggs. Here’s hoping this post inspires a menu addition, since eggs and chicken are already available. Attempts to make oyakudon at home end in failure without an adorable donburi pan. So leave it to Jang and his team of professionals.

Ebi Katsudon not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Taan Noodles: Duck Ramen

 THIS RESTAURANT CLOSED EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2014.

Taan Noodles Duck Ramen

Pork is overplayed when it comes to the meat component in most ramen. Taan Noodles takes it to the next level by going with duck confit that falls right off the bone and into your broth. The Best Thing on the Menu: Taan Shoyu Duck Ramen also contains pickled cucumbers, dashi tomato, scallions, shiitake mushroom, spicy mustard greens, crispy shallots, taan hanjuku tamago (pink egg!) and bamboo shoots.

Think fowl are foul? No problem, there are plenty of pork belly bowls to go around inside this Adams Morgan noodle shop. Like heat? They hook you up with togarashi spice flakes and spicy sesame oil, so you blast off your taste buds if that’s your thing.

Taan Noodles Okonomiyaki

If you’re ravenous and in need of a snack before your bowl arrives, there are a handful of appetizers that pull from Japanese, Chinese and Thai cuisines. The best pick here? Japanese okonomiyaki, the traditional street food of Osaka. Having downed many of these fish pancakes from street carts in Osaka, I’m a tougher critic than normal. While the sauces were nailed (Japanese mayo and savory brown sauce) the fish to cabbage ratio could have been more generous. Daikaya has a cool take on this classic.

Unlike their friends Sakuramen down the road, these folks have booze. More importantly, they have a lot of fun with their booze. We loved Second Place is not First Place (the perfect drink while watching the Olympics at the bar) made with Bulleit Bourbon, grapefruit juice, Barenjager and togarashi spice as well as There are Hippies in Asia – a tasty concoction of Nolet’s Gin, lavender vanilla simple syrup, tonic and lavender spice bitters.

Taan Shoyu Duck Ramen not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Don’t miss a bite: Keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter. You might also like Toki Underground and Zentan.

Toki Underground: Kimchi Ramen

Toki Underground

Korea and Japan play nice inside of this bowl… real nice. Traditional ramen is elevated and enhanced by the distinct flavor of kimichi in Toki Underground’s Best Thing on the Menu: Kimchi Ramen. Their other flavors are top of the line too, especially the homey and comforting red miso or the subtly sweet (never spicy) curry. But those who like heat, and a little bit of funk, should go with our pick for BTM.

Each piping hot bowl at Toki Underground is adorned with a crisp sheet of nori, breath-busting green onion, incredibly tender pulled pork and our favorite: an egg softer than a Ritz Carlton pillow. Brave customers (who have already braved a heck of a long line) can invite even more guests to their party bowl, like deep fried shrimp heads, pork cheek or “Toki Endorphin Sauce.”

All of Chef Erik Bruner-Yang’s ramen dishes are inspired by a Hakata Ramen shop in Taipei. In a fun coincidence, I spent two years living in Hakata (Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan) and can say with confidence that I prefer Chef Yang’s piping hot, flavorful bowls to even the most secretive train station ramen shops.

On a final note, it’s nice that Americans haven’t adopted the slurping system of cooling noodles. Let’s keep it that way. That sound still haunts my dreams.

Kimchi Ramen not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Zentan: The Other Side of the Menu

If you haven’t visited Zentan recently, you haven’t experienced Zentan reloaded. Executive Chef Jennifer Nguyen who has experience at Pod, Buddakan and Morimoto in her back pocket has turbo-charged and transformed the menu with innovative takes on classic Japanese cuisine.

Hamachi Sashimi

Hamachi Sashimi

Two years in Japan taught us that there is so much more to Japanese food than sushi, which is why you need at least two trips to Zentan to truly get the full experience. One night, make a meal out of their spy themed sushi rolls and outside-the-box nigiri. Another night, experience the Best Side of the Menu: Cooked delicacies including robata skewers, pork belly, black cod, hamachi kama and so much more.

Zentan Miyazaki Hot Rock

Miyazaki Beef Hot Rock

One of Chef Nguyen’s smartest moves is taking advantage of the experiential dining craze. We no longer want to just eat our food. We want to learn about it, understand where it comes from, interact with it and even, cook it ourselves. If this appeals to you, order the Miyazaki Beef Hot Rock and cook beautifully marbled beef right on your tabletop. But don’t get lost in your glass of wine, these delicate slices only need three seconds per side.

Fall Preview: Uni Risotto

Fall Preview: Uni Risotto

Best Thing on the Menu had the opportunity to “spy” on some fall menu items that are set to debut soon, including uni (sea urchin) risotto that is punctuated with edamame and grilled mushrooms and sprinkled with parmesan cheese to give it salty stickiness. We are fully confident that this will be the must try DC dish for fall. Look for our @BTMenu tweets to find out when it debuts on the menu. Also coming soon, Chef Nguyen’s ramen. DC loves its ramen.

Click here for more photos. See a recent Q & A with Chef Nguyen in the Washington Business Journal. See our previous post about Zentan.

Share your favorite Zentan dishes in the comments section.