Shangri-La Restaurant ~ Bethesda, Maryland

Samantha Lee
Contributing Food Writer
Photos by S. Lee

I discovered Shangri-La, a Nepali and Indian Restaurant, at the Taste of Bethesda.  Though opened in 2008, it went under new management in January 2016 and is named after the Nepalese paradise of Shangri-La with its stunning white peaks in the Kunlun mountains.

From the outside, you’ll notice the front window frames of the modest spot are neon-lit with the orange and green colors of the Indian national flag.  Inside the décor reveals framed pictures of life on the hillsides of Nepal, temple scenes, and the signature wooden windows of the old heritage houses in Nepal.  On top of the cash register there sits a golden statue of Ganesha, the god of prosperity.  Though small, the dining room can seat up to 60 people comfortably and can accommodate larger parties with some advance notice.

General Manager Babu Subedi and Chef Singh Maharjan co-manage the restaurant.  Babu Subedi, who received a BBA and a MBA in Hospitality, has been here since it opened.  Prior to working at Shangri-la, he worked in European and Indian restaurants.  Chef Singh Maharjan is from the Newari ethnic group in Nepal.  With over 15 years of culinary experience, his passion for cooking was learned from his mother. Prior to cooking at Shangri-la, Maharjan worked at Tandoori Nights from 2006 to 2015.

Chef Singh Maharjan

The menu is broken down into several categories: Appetizers, Soup, Salad, Specials, Thali, Seafood, Tandoori, Chicken, Rice/Biryanis, Lamb, Vegetable, Breads, Sides, Children’s Menu, Dessert, Tea/Coffee, Soft Drinks, and Wine. Each dish is made with high quality fresh ingredients, locally grown organic produce and blends of Nepalese and Indian spices.

We started with drinks.  My friend ordered Kingfisher, the world’s number one selling Indian beer while I ordered the Masala Chai, a Darjeeling milk tea served with sweetener on the side, and Mango Lassi, a sweet yogurt drink with mango pulp.  The Kingfisher tasted like a generic beer with a fuller body than an American lite beer and a hint of sweetness. The Masala Chai, served hot, has a sweet aroma and creamy texture. The Mango Lassi was semi-sweet, refreshing, and not too thick.

Kingfisher Beer – Mango Lassi

We started our meal off with the Cho-E-La, a boneless duck marinated in a blend of ingredients that includes Nepalese herbs and spices. This dish was cooked with onions in a clay oven and served with beaten rice. It was good but bitter at times when you combined the meat with beaten rice.

Cho-E-La

We also shared the Chicken Momos, steamed dumplings filled with minced chicken marinated with fresh ginger, garlic, and Nepali spices and paired with a mildly spicy tamater chutney.  It was served with shredded lettuce, cucumber, carrots, and julienne of red bell pepper. The Chicken Momos had strong, sweet overtones of fenugreek.

Chicken Momos

For entrees, I ordered the Butter Chicken – boneless white meat chicken prepared in a deliciously creamy tomato sauce.  It was sweet and savory, and mild enough for people who don’t care for spicy food.  In addition to the Butter Chicken, I ordered Garlic Naan, freshly baked white bread topped with garlic, butter and fresh herbs.  It was salty and savory and paired nicely with the chicken.

My friend ordered the Lamb Biryani, which consisted of lamb cooked to perfection and served with basmati rice richly flavored with saffron, nuts and raisins.  The dish gave off a floral aroma and was served with Raita, a fresh yogurt sauce of cucumber, tomatoes, onions and herbs. When consuming the Lamb Biryani, the raita brings the heat of dish down.

Clockwise from the left – raita, naan, lamb biryani, basmati rice, butter chicken, and chai tea

Unfortunately, we didn’t save any room for dessert. Overall, the service was very good and our meal was delicious, leaving us with the urge to return.

Shangri-La is located at 7345-A Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814.  Buffet style lunch is served on weekdays from 11:30am to 2:30pm, regular lunch on weekends from 11:30am to 2:30pm, and dinner daily from 5:00pm to 10:00pm.

In Search of Israeli Cuisine

Jordan Wright
March 26, 2017 

In director Roger Sherman’s latest documentary In Search of Israeli Cuisine (Menemsha Films) we learn there’s a lot more to Israel’s culinary culture than just milk and honey.  Our guide is the James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov who leads us on a journey throughout Israel from an obscure mountaintop restaurant and a city-centric restaurant where Palestinian cooks work the line beside Jewish cooks to seaside cafés, where dozens of varieties of fish are found in vast outdoor markets, to discover the “true” Israeli cuisine through its people.

Roger Sherman - Producer/Writer/Director founder of Florentine Films

Roger Sherman – Producer/Writer/Director founder of Florentine Films

Best known for his two Philadelphia restaurants, Zahav and its sister restaurant, Abe Fisher, where he expresses his passion for modern Jewish cooking, the young Israeli chef shows us it’s about more than hummus or falafel and deeper than kugel or chopped liver.  The film gets at the root of a culture and its history through its cooks – both amateur and professional – revealing the complexity of a country whose traditions and customs have deep roots, many which descend from outside its borders.

Chef Michael Solomonov - James Beard Award Winner and owner of Zahav

Chef Michael Solomonov – James Beard Award Winner and owner of Zahav

We learn that Israel’s cuisine is informed by dozens of other countries and traditions over centuries of immigration – Jewish, Turkish, Arab, Muslim, Spanish, Mediterranean, Moroccan, Indian, Bulgarian, Christian, Syrian, Lebanese – in a mosaic of 150 different cuisines.  The documentary is a love story of sorts – one of the self-determination of immigrants, the rejection of the old ways by Jewish newcomers and the culinary influence of those who reached its shores with their grandmother’s recipes.  It is told primarily by chefs and local journalists – and it’s as much a tribute as it is a learning curve.  We learn that “Food is not political,” and “Food makes peace.”  May it be so.

Solomonov purchasing fresh local ingredients

Solomonov purchasing fresh local ingredients

Solomonov takes us into the hills to Rama’s Kitchen, a French-inspired restaurant that forages for sumac to flavor its dishes and sources all its ingredients locally, before traveling north to listen to chef Uri Geremias of Uri Buri in his restaurant by the sea.  And there’s a tender segment in the simple home kitchen of a woman preparing the sacred Sabbath meal for her extended family.  Noted Jewish-American chef and cookbook author, Joan Nathan, weighs in with her extensive knowledge about the changes in Jewish society where 80% of its citizens are non-religious.

Solomonov visiting country farm ingredients source.

Solomonov visiting country farm ingredients source.

To understand the inspiration for many of these chefs as well as Israel’s home cooks, Ezra Kedem of Arcadia Restaurant in Jerusalem clarifies, “I cook my memories.” From Moshe Dayan’s hybridization of the cherry tomato to the sophisticated irrigation system of stepped dams that water fruit trees, vineyards and olive groves, their gifts to our kitchens are endless.

Running time two hours.

The film will be released in the Washington, DC area this Friday, April 21st at Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. For more information please visit https://www.landmarktheatres.com/washington-d-c/bethesda-row-cinema/film-info/in-search-of-israeli-cuisine

Himitsu Wows in Petworth Neighborhood

Samantha Lee
March 2016
Photo credit – Samantha Lee

Early last November Carlie Steiner, owner and beverage director, and Kevin Tien, owner and executive chef opened Himitsu – a Japanese restaurant with a Latin American and Asian flair, in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, DC.  The duo met at ThinkFoodGroup’s Oyamel on 7th Street where Steiner was bartending and Tien was cooking.

Himitsu – Exterior

The name “Himitsu” came to them by accident.  As curiosity-seekers dropped by during construction, they told them the restaurant’s name was a secret.  This was entirely true.  In Japanese, the word himitsu means secret.  The two liked the name and felt it represented their ideas well.

Himitsu – Interior

Himitsu enjoys an open kitchen concept that lets diners interact with restaurant staff.  With a total of capacity of 24 seats – eight at the bar and 16 in the dining room, it’s cozy and friendly and lightly decorated with potted plants hung from the ceiling.

Carlie Steiner, co-owner and beverage director, and Kevin Tien, co-owner and executive chef

Carlie Steiner, co-owner and beverage director, and Kevin Tien, co-owner and executive chef

Prior to opening Himitsu, Chef Tien had graduated from Louisiana State University with a business administration degree specializing in finance.  He had cheffed at Tsunami Sushi; was Sushi Chef at Uchi in Houston, TX; Oyamel in DC; Momofuku CCDC; and the crazy-hot noew resto, Pineapple & Pearls.  Steiner graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and was Chef of Spirits at Minibar by José Andrés.  Their stated philosophy is to operate a kitchen with a smile and a heart full of love and see that translate into their food.

The menu changes daily combining freshness, acidity and herbs, leaning heavily towards Latin American and Asian flavor profiles.  The first page features a drink menu with a selection of seven beers, five temperance mocktails, classic cocktails with a twist, and contemporary cocktails.  The second page lists an expansive variety of nigiri, makimono, cold appetizers and hot appetizers.

I began with the “Baransu”, a cocktail of sake, smoked green tea, pineapple vinegar and a touch of shisho.  I continued with two other cocktails – “Smoked + Iced”, made with lightly sweetened Japanese cherry wood and smoked matcha tea, and “Cinnamon Soda” made with lemon, cinnamon, sparkling water and rose water.  My dinner companion remarked that the Cinnamon Soda was a unique and pleasant combination of ingredients.

Baransu, Smoked + Iced, Cinnamon Soda

The food menu peaked our curiosity due to combination of ingredients and we felt that we should try as many of the items as possible.  Chef Tien’s personality and cultural upbringing influenced some of the dishes, especially the Hamachi Kama, which was prepared with lightly deep fried hamachi collar, topped with a variety of herbs, and tossed in a slightly spicy fish sauce vinaigrette and served with two glasses of Manzanilla “Pasada Pastrana” sherry.  It was reminiscent of fried catfish dinner from Hanoi with its complement of Thai basil, mint leaves and fish sauce.

Hamachi Kama

Hamachi Kama

The kitchen proved quite versatile with sushi offerings like Supaishi Tuna and Hamachi Zen. The Supaishi Tuna consisted of bigeye tuna, jalapeno, sriracha, avocado, cucumber, and shichimi togarashi (Japanese spice mixture) wrapped in roasted seaweed and rice vinegar-infused Japanese sticky rice with sesame seeds.

Supaishi Tuna

Supaishi Tuna

The Hamachi Zen consisted of roasted seaweed topped rice vinegar-infused Japanese sticky rice topped with fresh Japanese yellowtail, micro mustard, crispy shallots, and avocado rolled and sliced.  These rolls were served with a yuzukosho, a fancy term for yuzo chili paste.  The sushi rice used in the rolls had the perfect texture and temperature and proved to be a satisfying and unique sushi experience.

Hamachi Zen

Hamachi Zen

From the five “Cold Plates” I sampled the Hamachi + Orenji, Akami + Gohan, and Kawaii Salad.

Hamachi + Orenji

Hamachi + Orenji

The Hamachi + Orenji consists of sushi-grade Japanese yellowtail and orange segments. The dish was served in Thai chili fish sauce vinaigrette and garnished with orange and yuzu tobiko. It was a nice balance of sweet and spicy.

Akami + Gohan

Akami + Gohan

The Akami + Gohan is a dish of cubed bigeye tuna tartare mixed with shoyu, ginger, scallion and quail egg, topped with sesame rice cracker.  This was my favorite dish of the night.

Kawaii Salad

Kawaii Salad

The Kawaii Salad consists of baby lettuce greens, radish, yuzu-pickled golden raisins and almonds, evenly tossed in a miso-creole mustard vinaigrette.  It reminded me of a salad I had in Tokyo two summers ago.

Among the six “Hot Plates”, I tried the Agedashi Tofu, Ton Ton + Mame, and Karaage.

Agedashi Tofu

Agedashi Tofu

The Agedashi Tofu has deep-fried salt and pepper battered tofu served in a traditional Japanese dashi stock with Chinese scallion ginger and garnished with bonito flakes that moved with the air current.

Ton Ton + Mame

Ton Ton + Mame

The Ton Ton + Mame is braised honey-hoisin Chinese pork belly with pork jus marinated ginger-garlic white beans that are garnished with both fried shallots and pickled shallots. This dish reminded me of my childhood eating roasted suckling pig with hoisin sauce as well as my uncle’s braised pig knuckles with rice.

Karaage

Karaage

The Karaage was a delightful combination of Korean gochujang-marinated tender chicken dipped in buttermilk and deep fried, and served with house made sweet pickles and kewpie mayo.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

We ended our meal with a Buttermilk Panna Cotta, which was certainly not your typical panna cotta.  This panna cotta was rich in flavor and served in a shallow bowl topped with fresh plum, ginger Szechuan honeycomb candy and matcha oil.  Not only was the combination of flavors unusual, but the honeycomb candy was more chewy than expected.

Overall, I enjoyed the various aspects of the restaurant – atmosphere, service, food and drinks. I highly recommend the Himitsu Zen, Hamachi Kama, Akami + Gohan, Kawaii Salad, Ton Ton + Mame, and Karaage.  I look forward to returning to Himitsu to explore my taste buds, try new dishes, and enjoy these dishes once more.

Insider’s Tip – The restaurant opens for dinner service at 5pm, Tuesday – Sunday.  However, they do not accept reservations and seating is strictly walk-ins.  If there isn’t a table for your party size, join the waitlist and they’ll notify you when there’s an opening.  Three weeks after opening the place was packed and there was around a 45-minute wait.  Since then, it’s gotten rave reviews.  Prepare to go early and stand in line.

Himitsu is located at 828 Upshur St. NW, Washington, DC 20011. Ample street parking along Upshur St and its cross streets.

http://himitsudc.com/

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.

i-interior

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.

i-menu

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