Izakaya Seki

Samantha Lee
November 16, 2016
Photo credit – Samantha Lee

  • Samantha Lee is a contributing restaurant reviewer for Whisk and Quill. We are pleased to share her experiences dining in the trendiest local Asian restaurants.  

Walking from the U Street Metro Station to Izakaya Seki, you may notice a prominent chōchin beside a two-story brick townhouse’s front door.  Made of shōjigami (a special type of paper), this traditional red lantern, constructed with a wooden or bamboo frame, is lit by a small candle and hung from bamboo sticks.  In Japan these lanterns are commonly found outside shrines and small bars where the color red is said to bring good luck to the business.  The term izakaya denotes a type of Japanese drinking establishment people visit after work, most notably for sake.

Before opening this restaurant, Chef Hiroshi Seki spent more than two decades as chef/owner of Seki, a successful sushi restaurant in St. Louis, MO.  More recently he left the St. Louis area, to be closer to his daughter, Cizuka.  Once here, the father-daughter team laid plans to for their partnership.  While Cizuka didn’t attend culinary school, she did gain valuable experience working one week of 16-hour shifts at Den, a two Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo.

In August 2012, they opened Izakaya Seki, serving authentic Japanese comfort food and drinks.  On the first level the Sushi Chef’s counter accommodates ten guests while on the second level, a dining room with small tables seats up 26 in a more intimate setting.  Chef’s counter seating is hard to come by and it’s a great place to sit if you like to watch how your food is prepared.  However, I prefer the upstairs dining room, which is quieter and has a more relaxing atmosphere.

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The simple first floor décor features wall-hung vases and a few paintings.  Along the stairway is a denim quilt and upstairs, among shelves of assorted sake bottles, are a pair of smaller paintings – one of a bear fishing and another of a bear eating.

The subject of the two paintings by Japanese contemporary artist Ryota Unno derive from Japanese folklore of the upland regions.  One is of a polar bear and the other is an Asian black bear, also known as a “moon bear”, or white-chested bear, because of its crescent moon-shaped marking.  In Japanese literature, the Asian black bear is associated with the mountain spirit.

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Check out the drinks menu to find an extensive array of choices including sake, Japanese whiskeys, wines, Japanese craft beers, shochu, and cocktails.  Shochu is a Japanese distilled alcoholic beverage made from rice, barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat or brown sugar.  It can also be made from chestnuts, sesame seeds, potatoes or carrots though those are less common.

You’ll note the food menu is separated into categories: ‘Raw’, ‘Grilled’, ‘Fried’, ‘Noodles’, ‘Rice’, and ‘Specials’.  Our group consisted of five adults who shared many dishes from each menu.

Tuna Tataki

Tuna Tataki

Omakase Sashimi

Omakase Sashimi

From the ‘Raw’ category, we chose the Tuna Tataki and Omakase Sashimi.  The Tuna Tataki consisted of seared yellowfin tuna with ponzu sauce, topped with scallions and garlic chips.  The Omakase Sashimi was a generous chef’s selection of assorted fish (including salmon, tuna, red snapper) and other kinds of seafood (including clam, octopus, squid, oyster, and shrimp).  The plate was garnished with cucumber slices and lemon curls, and served with wasabi and pickled ginger.  I enjoyed the freshness and wide variety of the sashimi.

Saba Marinated in Sake and Miso

Saba Marinated in Sake and Miso

From the ‘Grilled’ category, we selected the Saba Marinated in Sake and Miso.  Saba is a fancy name for a Spanish Mackerel and is usually prepared with five ingredients – mackerel, miso, sake, mirin (sweet rice vinegar), and sea salt.  In Asian cultures, a salty miso marinade is used to preserve foods.  The caramel-colored mackerel is served with head intact on a banana leaf and accompanied by grape tomato, wasabi cream sauce over mountain of grated ginger and wedges of lime and lemon.

From the ‘Fried’ category, we opted for Vegetable Tempura and Baby Octopus.  The vegetable tempura consists of seasonal vegetables – ours had pumpkin, eggplant, zucchini, onion, and purple sweet potato – battered in tempura batter.  Its accompanying dipping sauce is made from a blend of mirin, soy sauce, and dashi stock.  The octopus dish is five pieces of baby octopus breaded and deep fried, served with lemon wedge and sweet, but mildly spicy, shishito peppers.

From the ‘Meats’ category, we enjoyed the Kakuni, described as “slow braised silk pork’ it arrives as lean slices of pork belly slow-braised in a sweet soy sauce and garnished with grated ginger and handful of chopped scallions.

In the ‘Rice/Noodles’ category, Chahan is a savory blend of fried rice, shallots, shiso, soy, dashi broth, garlic, and butter with garlic chips and shiso leaf.  Personally, I didn’t enjoy it as much.  I found it to be too bitter.  But my fellow dining partners loved it.

On the evening’s ‘Specials’ menu was Tamagoyaki, thin layers of pan-fried eggs rolled into a log and placed in rectangular tamagoyaki pan.  It was served warm and you could tell each layer was seasoned.  I was surprised that it wasn’t sweet like the tamago sushi, but rather natural tasting.  Despite the eggy taste, it was one of my favorites.

Warm egg omelet

Warm egg omelet

Instead of picking one of the desserts, we decided to try all the desserts on the menu – Purin with Sesame Sauce, Ginger Ice Cream and Mochi Rice Cakes with Red Beans.  These desserts are small and not the best for sharing.

Trio of desserts

Trio of desserts

Purin is a cold custard pudding dessert similar to a flan but much silkier, creamier and firmer.  It is made with four simple ingredients – milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla.  It is shaped like a plumeria – a five-petaled flower symbolic of grace, delicacy and beauty.  It is served in a sheer black sesame sauce and garnished with a slightly burnt plumeria-shaped butter cookie embossed with ‘SEKI’.

Ginger Ice Cream is two melon ball-sized scoops of homemade ginger ice cream garnished with the same cookie.

The Mochi Rice Cakes with Red Beans are made with red bean paste and topped with three powder-dusted mochi rice cakes garnished with sweet chestnut pickle.  These rice cakes are made of sweet white flour, sugar and water and shaped like golf balls.  The texture is soft and chewy at the same time.  The sweet chestnut pickle is made of cinnamon bark, caster sugar, chestnuts and water.  I enjoyed this dessert the most because it was very authentic and it brought back memories of my recent visit to Japan.

Overall, I liked The tuna tataki, omakase sashimi, saba, tamagoyaki, and mochi rice cakes with red beans, though you may want to try their cold buckwheat noodles, aka soba, which are hard to find in our area.

Izakaya Seki is the perfect venue for parties of all sizes, whether couples, friends or family.  If you find yourself in the Cardoza neighborhood craving quality Japanese cuisine, I highly recommend you go.  I know I’ll be back soon.

Izakaya Seki, 1117 V Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. 202 588.5841 www.sekidc.com

Nibbles And Sips Around Town – June 9, 2016

Samantha Lee, Guest Contributor
June 9, 2016

Suma Restaurant + Bar

Suma Restaurant + Bar

Suma Restaurant + Bar is an New American style restaurant located near Bethesda Row.  Suma translates to “born in the summer”. Boasting an outdoor 20-seat patio with sectional sofa and basket-woven chairs, the indoor dining room comfortably seats up to 57 people.  The large windows give off an airy feel to restaurant, while French doors bring in more natural light.

Suma Patio

Suma Patio

Chef Gene Sohn has been in the DC hospitality industry all his life. Eschewing a path to business school, he chose to become a chef. Moving up in rank and responsibility from dishwasher to Chef de Cuisine, he worked for the Robert Wiedmaier Restaurant Group including the prestigious Marcel’s and the ever-popular Mussel Bar in Bethesda for almost 8 years.  Eventually he teamed up with Jay Evans, the former General Manager of Mussel Bar – Bethesda, and Jennifer Day to open Suma.  Sohn aims at mastering simple, classical dishes with a modern twist.

Suma Interior

Suma Restaurant Interior

 

Suma Art Decor

Suma Art Decor

The restaurant is modern with an art deco vintage theme. Some of the quirky artifacts include a Japanese Pagoda, green pear-shaped candles in a lantern, decorative lamps with spiral-patterned shades, metal sculptures, and a golden glass bowl. In one of the corners of the restaurant a Vermouth Bianco poster oversees the room. Booths sport a honey brown pattern and lighting comes via vintage lightbulbs.  Six bar stools create an intimate feel to the small spot.

Vermouth Bianco

Vermouth Bianco

Suma Bar

Suma Bar

The menu reflects the chef’s seasonal approach. In lieu of bread service, expect a plate of homemade pickled vegetables – spicy cucumbers, onion and cauliflower.

Pickled Platter

Pickled Platter

For my appetizer I chose Maryland Crab Dip – a slightly creamy, mix of fresh lump crabmeat with butter and Old Bay and topped with panko bread crumbles.  It arrived in a cast iron skillet on a wooden plank with slices of warm baguette.  I found it to be light and savory with no discernible filler.

Maryland Crab Dip

Maryland Crab Dip

Of particular pleasure are the Deviled Eggs garnished with goat cheese, bacon bits, and chives and served over chipotle aioli.

Deviled Eggs Close Up / Deviled Eggs

Deviled Eggs Close Up

On the day I visited the specials featured Lobster Bisque, Salmon Burger, and Seared Tuna, all of which sounded delicious but I had my eye set on the Pan Seared Halibut, an entree of line-caught halibut fillet lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and dressed with a buttery tomato and caper sauce.  Light in texture, it was accompanied by lemon-accented whipped Yukon potatoes and asparagus.  The dish was perfectly prepared and delicately seasoned.

Pan Seared Halibut

Pan Seared Halibut

Desserts were luscious sounding – Vanilla Creme Brulee, Banana Nut Bread Pudding, Chocolate Chip Brownie, Mango Sorbet and Pistachio Parfait – and it was difficult to decide. I opted for warm Vanilla Creme Brûlée made with freshly scraped vanilla bean pods and topped with a scoop of creme fraiche – a shareable portion that was light and not too sweet.

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee

Suma Restaurant + Bar,  4921 Bethesda Ave, Bethesda, MD 20814.  301 718-6378.  For information and reservations visit sumabethesda.com. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily (except Monday’s).  Happy hour is from 4-7 pm and brunch on the weekends is from 11 am-4 pm. Happy Hour specials include $2 off drafts, wine by the glass, all products from Maryland, and $1 oysters. The restaurant is three blocks south from the Bethesda Metro station. There is not a private lot but there are multiple public parking garages within a 0.5 mile radius.

Photo credit ~ Samantha Lee


Blue Star Families Neighbors Organization Benefits from Top Area Chefs’ Partnership

Jordan Wright
April 18, 2016
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts 

Chefs with their military chef partners

Chefs with their military chef partners

Chefs from some of our area’s leading restaurants participated in a fundraiser last week for Blue Star Families, pairing up with military chef counterparts to prepare some scrumptious nibbles and sips.  With a view of the White House across Lafayette Park as backdrop, guests were treated to an array of fabulous food.  The splashy red carpet event was filled to capacity with the extraordinary Americans who donate their time to support military families.  Guests recorded the moment in selfie photo booths, using patriotic-colored bead necklaces to place around the necks of the chefs whose dishes they liked most.

Just to give you a little background on this amazing organization, there are over 50 chapters around the world serving military families and providing assistance through education, empowerment and employment programs in civilian communities.  Chapters partner with the general public and other services to address the challenges of military life and reach over 1.5 million military families every year.  Can I get a hooray?

Hosted by Co-Chairs Sheila Casey and General George Casey, prominent members of the organization along with high-level military and politicians and their families, gathered in the grand reception room of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce for the celebration.  The evening’s emcee, author, TV and radio host and speaker, Mary Matalin, joined in the tastings before the ceremony began.

Chef Robert Wiedmaier with military chef Jennifer Medeiros

Chef Robert Wiedmaier with military chef Jennifer Medeiros

Partnering with and representing the Air Force was TSGT Jennifer Medeiros who created a dish with Robert Wiedmaier of Marcel’s restaurant.   Wiedmaier’s father was a “Full Bird” Colonel in the U. S. Air Force.  Together they served up Chicken and Pheasant Meatballs with Creamy Polenta and Tomato Red Wine Sauce.

Cathal Armstrong (left) with military chef partner Marine Sargent Joseph Hale

Cathal Armstrong (left) with military chef partner Marine Sargent Joseph Hale

Representing the Marine Corps was Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve, named a “Champion of Change” by the White House, who partnered with Marine Sgt. Joseph Hale to prepare Northern Thai Flank Steak Salad reflecting his recent attention to Asian cuisine.

Northern Thai Flank Steak Salad

Northern Thai Flank Steak Salad

From the Coast Guard, FSC Derek Johnson was paired up with Nicolas Stephanelli of Masseria to prepare Burrata with Rappahannock Oysters and Caviar, and divinely decadent combination.  Stephanelli, whose brother-in-law is a retired Ranger, noted that he enjoyed “seeing something outside our culinary community.”

Burrata with Rappahannock Oysters and Caviar

Burrata with Rappahannock Oysters and Caviar

Representing the Navy was Derrick Davenport who paired up with David Guas of Bayou Bakery.  When asked where he worked, Davenport hinted he didn’t have far to walk from his current employment, but couldn’t say more.  Hmmmm.   Could it be the White House?  Davenport, who cooked on a submarine for six years before transitioning to the Executive Dining Room of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the 2015 American Culinary Federation USA Chef of the Year and as Team Captain for the U. S. Army Culinary Arts Team will compete at the IKA Culinary Olympics in Germany this year.

Gulf Stream Shrimp Maison

Gulf Stream Shrimp Maison

The dynamic duo made a dish of Gulf Stream Shrimp Maison to reflect Guas’ New Orleans’ roots.

Todd Gray puts the finishing touches on his dish

Todd Gray puts the finishing touches on his dish

Showing off his skills as a representative of the Army was SSG Marc Susa who along with Todd Gray of Equinox restaurant conjured up Rigatoni with Cannellini Beans, a Smoked Mushroom Bolognese, and topped it off with fermented black radish.

Beef Filet with Alaskan King Crab and Asparagus

Beef Filet with Alaskan King Crab and Asparagus

In the Guard + Reserve category were MSG Vilaykone Saynorath, Army, and Chris Morris of Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab whose dish precisely represented the restaurant’s luxury ingredients of Beef Filet with Alaskan King Crab with a soupcon of bearnaise sauce.

Macchu Picchu Roll

Macchu Picchu Roll

There was even a category for Military Brat that paired Chris Clime of PassionFish with CS1 Frida Karani, Navy.  Together they presented Frida’s Freedom Macchu Picchu Roll made with flounder, kampachi, chipotle and lime.

“Love Thy Neighbor” and “We Are Family” killer cocktails crafted by "Mixtress"

“Love Thy Neighbor” and “We Are Family” killer cocktails crafted by “Mixtress”

Gina Chersevani, of Buffalo & Bergen and Suburbia, who calls herself a “Mixtress”, crafted killer cocktails for the special occasion, titling them “Love Thy Neighbor” and “We Are Family”.  To echo that sentiment and cap off the evening’s award ceremony, Sister Sledge sang her chart-topper, “We Are Family” to the assembled guests.

Awards were presented for Civil Leadership to Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Richard Burr; as well as Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr.  Dr. Peter Long, PhD, President and CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation, received The Connie Milstein Philanthropic Award and Joy Goulette accepted The Blue Star Neighbor Award.

For more information about the organization visit www.BlueStarFam.org

Photo credit ~ Jordan Wright

SPRINGTIME ON THE TERRACE AT BLUE DUCK TAVERN

SPRINGTIME ON THE TERRACE AT BLUE DUCK TAVERN
April 16, 2016
By Cary Pollak for Whisk and Quill
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

Celebrating the bounty of Spring at the Blue Duck Tavern

Celebrating the bounty of Spring at the Blue Duck Tavern

Some sure signs of spring in the Washington, DC area are the cherry blossoms, opening day at Nationals Park, and the opening of the charming terrace at the Park Hyatt’s Blue Duck Tavern.  Last week’s media preview of their newest seasonal menu featured salads, entrees, cheeses, desserts and cocktails – many of which celebrated the strawberry.

Strawberry Salad

Strawberry Salad

Two of the newest dishes planned for Spring will be Rack of Lamb and Strawberry Salad.  Chef de Cuisine Brad Deboy will offer a unique combination of ripe and pickled unripe strawberries with thinly sliced raw almonds, radishes, granola, mint and his own house made farmer’s cheese with a drizzle of balsamic strawberry vinaigrette.

Executive Chef Franck Loquet prepares rack of lamb

Executive Chef Franck Loquet prepares rack of lamb

And Executive Chef Franck Loquet, formerly Executive Chef with the Sofitel in DC, will sear rack of lamb from Elysian Fields Farm in Pennsylvania pairing it with a lemon yogurt sauce and miniscule spring vegetables.  The French-born Loquet spent three years working for legendary chef Alain Ducasse, and his elegant style of cuisine is reflected in his delicate handling, and expert choice, of the finest ingredients.

Seared Lamb with Baby Spring Vegetables

Seared Lamb with Baby Spring Vegetables

Cheese Specialist Sophie Slesinger showed us an impressive array of domestically produced seasonal cheeses from the pasteurized milk of goats, sheep and cows and offered them with Strawberry Rhubarb Mostarda.  Among these was the tangy Sandy Creek Cheese from the Goat Lady Dairy in Climax, North Carolina, featuring a distinctive vein of vegetable ash.  If you’d prefer raw milk produced cheese, you may be tempted by one made from the raw milk of cows and ewes.  Patmos Peak is a mild, semi-hard cheese produced by the Bonnie View Farm in Albany, Vermont.  It is a lovely option for those who believe that both flavor and nutrients are sacrificed during the pasteurization process.

Cheese Specialist Sophie Slesinger displays her wares

Cheese Specialist Sophie Slesinger displays her wares

Meanwhile trays of tasty tidbits were offered by servers swirling around the pretty patio.  The Strawberry Gazpacho is particularly refreshing.  And one of the most delectable is the goat milk ricotta gnudi (which means “nude” in Italian).  These luscious ricotta “pasta” are graced with a rich sauce, enhanced with roasted garlic, radishes and shitake mushrooms.  Another warm weather option is the Maine scallop crudo with buttermilk panna cotta, cucumber and American smoked trout roe with squash blossoms.  A lovely combination.

Maine Scallop Crudo with Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Maine Scallop Crudo with Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Two gin-based refreshers will be on the Spring/Summer cocktail menu – the “Strawberry Gin” with rhubarb, espelette and tonic, and “The Lady Bird” made with rosemary, pineapple, verjus and house made grenadine.  A third is “The Oak Park” featuring rum blended with kiwi and lime.

Newly hired Pastry Chef David Collier, a James Beard Award semifinalist for National Pastry Chef of the Year in 2009, brings his talents from the famed Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Texas.  His Strawberry and Rhubarb Shortcake with strawberry sorbet proved picture perfect for dining al fresco.

Chicharone with Spring Pea Hummus and Minted Strawberry Gazpacho

Chicharone with Spring Pea Hummus and Minted Strawberry Gazpacho

A peek at the new menu revealed more seasonal delicacies.  Look for soft shell crabs, English peas, morels, asparagus and King trumpet mushrooms to make an appearance.

Strawberry and Rhubarb Shortcakes

Strawberry and Rhubarb Shortcakes

Make reservations now for next week’s Masters of Food & Wine “Garden in a Glass” on April 23rd when Bartender Alex Gordon and Chef de Cuisine Brad Deboy will teach guests how to make four distinctive cocktails using herbs from the terrace garden while enjoying delicious hors d’oeuvres.  For reservations and information visit www.Hyatt.com or call 202 419.6755

Photo credit: Cary Pollak and Jordan Wright

New Tokyo Japanese Restaurant ~ Gaithersburg, MD

Guest contributor ~ Samantha Lee

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New Tokyo is an authentic Japanese restaurant in the Potomac Valley shopping center.  Despite its less than prominent location, the restaurant manages to attract devoted customers seeking unique Japanese cuisine.  Among the wide variety of unique small plate offerings, I particularly enjoyed Roasted Nigiri, Takoyaki, Fried Japanese Tofu, Octopus in Honey Vinegar, Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura.

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The restaurant is owned by Chef Eizi “Jackie” Nakazima, who studied at the Culinary Institute of Tokyo Busashi School.  Nakazima, an award winning chef, has over 28 years of culinary experience.  In 2004, he opened his restaurant specializing in kaiseki (multi-course meals).  He also serves sashimi, sushi, grilled fish, teriyaki marinated grilled meats, sukiyaki, ramen and many more delicious dishes.

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The restaurant is small and homey and can accommodate 45 diners.  It reminded me of a small café in Japan, but with nicer décor.  I was particularly intrigued by the faux crustaceans – lobsters, crabs, crayfish, and fugu – dangling from the ceiling and hanging from the walls.   There is also a vast array of unique Japanese artifacts – Daruma dolls, shoji screens, paper lanterns, and framed artwork.

I believe New Tokyo is the only restaurant in the area that prepares nigiri in the Aburi style, in which the top side of the fish is partially grilled or seared, while the bottom side of the fish is partially raw.  After the seared fish is placed on the oval shaped cooked rice, it is drizzled with a sweet mayonnaise, making each bite of the Roasted Nigiri both sweet and savory.  My favorite part about this dish was the strong char-grilled flavor.  Among the Roasted Nigiri, I’d recommend the Scallop, Salmon, or Fatty Tuna.

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Miso Soup

Takoyaki is a small dish consisting of three fried wheat balls, filled with diced octopus and tempura scraps, topped with bonita flakes, and drizzled with a special mayonnaise and takoyaki sauce tasting like sweet, thick Worcestershire.  I liked the crispy outside and soft inside.

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The Fried Japanese Tofu comes in 5 pieces, each tempura-battered and deep fried, then topped with bonita flakes. The dish is served in a sweet dashi broth – one made from boiled hot water, kelp, and preserved fermented skipjack tuna.  The tofu is silky and smooth inside.

Among the Makis on the menu, I favored the Lava Roll with spicy sauces on the side. It comes to the table in ten rolls consisting of a raw seafood medley of scallop, smoked salmon, shrimp, crabmeat, white tuna, and avocado rolled in dried seaweed then sticky rice and sesame seeds. The rolls are baked or deep fried and drizzled with mayonnaise, spicy mayonnaise and Rooster sauce. My favorite experience about the Lava Roll is that it is served warm and deliciously crunchy.

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As compared to other local Japanese restaurants in Montgomery County, MD, I’ve found that the sashimi/sushi at New Tokyo are very fresh. The sashimi entree is served with lemon, wasabi and pickled ginger on an ice boat, which adds a delightful visual effect.

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The ramen at New Tokyo is absolutely delicious too. It consists of freshly made wheat noodles, imitation crabmeat, scallion, miso-marinated sliced pork, and fried wheat gluten in salty miso, fish or pork broth.  It is served with shrimp and vegetable tempura that includes two shrimp, sweet potato, zucchini and kabocha squash served with tempura sauce, a nice blend of dashi stock, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar.  I liked the ramen because it was cooked perfectly – not salty or heavy.

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The Grilled Striped Bass is one of the featured items on the menu and is a whole striped bass with head and tail intact, marinated with seasoning, coated with flour, grilled over high heat.  It is served over lettuce with a lemon wedge and seasoned sticky rice topped with sesame seeds. The rice was a nice complement to the fish which was fresh, crispy and not greasy.

Beverages include assorted Japanese beer, Ramune (Japanese carbonated beverage), sake and freshly brewed hot green tea that tastes like roasted rice tea (Genmaicha).  The green tea is served in a cup made of earthenware with Japanese characters engraved on it; the hot or cold sake is served in sake cups with sushi patterns.

To finish off a meal at New Tokyo, you can order rice pudding or green tea ice cream. Overall, New Tokyo Restaurant offers a great variety of delicious Japanese food at a reasonable cost.  The atmosphere is relaxing and comfortable.  Drop by for an authentic Japanese meal when you are in the area.  12115 Darnestown Rd, Gaithersburg, MD 20878 www.newtokyorestaurant.com  

Photo credit ~ Samantha Lee