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.

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.

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.

Sushi Taro: Spicy Spider

Spicy Spider Roll

One shouldn’t shy away from the delicately crafted, uncharacteristically-fresh-for-DC sushi and sashimi at Sushi Taro, unless it’s for the Best Thing on the Menu (BTM):  the Spicy Spider Roll. Their soft shell crabs are on steroids – fat and moist and screaming straight from the sea. Other local sushi bars disguise previously-frozen, meager crustaceans with lettuce and mayo, but there is no need for such trickery at the Taro. The burst of spice and perfectly-vinegared sushi rice serve as a tasty vehicle for getting the crab to your mouth.

If you have the time and the cash, the kaiseki is also BTM worthy, but not for those on a budget, tricky food preferences or who wish to fit into their skinny jeans the next day.  To survive an evening at Sushi Taro on the cheap(er), go for happy hour at the bar Monday-Friday (5:30-7:00pm) and load on up half price sushi, including the BTM of course.

Spicy Spider not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.