Guest contributor ~ Samantha Lee
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Raaga Restaurant in Falls Church, Virginia
Guest contributor ~ Samantha Lee
Raaga Restaurant, whose name means “sweet melody”, is an authentic Indian restaurant serving Northern Indian cuisine in Falls Church, Virginia. Its Chef/Owner, Paddy Rawal, who also owns Om Fine Indian Restaurant in Rockville, MD, once cooked in Bombay, India and more recently the Bombay Club in DC.
The restaurant’s décor feels like an exotic temple – yellow walls, white columns, an Indian Buddha, musical instruments, wooden elephant statues, Aladdin’s lamps and paintings of Indian musicians that grace the walls of this cozy outpost. The menu has moderately priced items – breads, meat and seafood, as well as vegetarian offerings. Dinner entrées typically range between $14 – $22. And each dish is colorful, rich, and intricately flavored.
Try a Mango lassi, a refreshing blend of yogurt, water, sugar and mango pulp. It is thick, rich, smooth and creamy – a cross between a fruit smoothie and a milkshake – a perfect complement to spicy dishes.
Rather than sharing appetizers, I’d recommend an assortment of breads. The plain naan, onion kulcha, and garlic naan are made freshly here and are served piping hot from the tandoori oven. I liked the herbaceous aroma, combination of flavors, and taste of this bubbly dough. It is served with raita, a yogurt cucumber dipping sauce made with mint and cilantro that also goes well with the Chicken Tikka Masala.
Also known as butter chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala is the most popular dish at Raaga. It consists of charbroiled chunks of tender chicken prepared in a sauce of tomato paste, yogurt, butter, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, and garam masala. Garam masala can be made in as many ways as there are cooks, but typically consists of a blend of various spices – black and white peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, black and green cardamom pods, bay leaf, cumin, and fenugreek. It is known to warm the body, mind, and soul of the diner. Ask for a spicier version if you like. Many Indian restaurants now ask you to choose your preferred heat from an index of one through five.
Shrimp Masala is made with butterflied shrimp prepared in a sauce of coconut milk, seafood stock, curry powder, garlic, stewed tomatoes and sugar. The coconut milk is what renders the sauce thicker and sweeter.
Each entrée is served with spiced basmati rice topped with green peas.
Raaga Restaurant was named the “Best Indian restaurant in the DMV” the Washington Post. So if you happen to be in the Bailey’s Crossroads area, be sure to drop in and give it a try.
Raaga Restaurant is located at 5872 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041. For reservations and information visit www.raagarestaurant.com
Photo credit ~ Samantha Lee
October 14, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
Richmond is getting a lot of ink from around the country as it blossoms into a desirable destination for seasoned travelers. On a return flight from Ireland last month I was seated next to young German headed to Richmond for the 9-day UCI Road World Cycling Championships. He wasn’t a journalist, or even an athlete (for emphasis he patted his expansive belly), this was his first trip to America and he was off to our state capitol for a world-class sporting event.
Change comes quickly to a place when creative minds are firing on all cylinders and Richmond’s renaissance began in fits and starts in the 1980’s with the careful restoration of historic portside factories into airy lofts, galleries and restaurants. Today young entrepreneurs have seized on the affordable rents for their fledgling businesses and the city has exploded with new life. Even the film industry is onto the stunning architecture of this historic city. Spielberg’s epic drama Lincoln was shot here, as was the soon-to-be-released PBS Civil War drama, Mercy Street. This is not your buttoned up Southern city any more.
Once seedy Broad Street is humming with new activity, in part due to the more than 31,000 students attending VCU located in the heart of the city. Now formerly overlooked neighborhoods like Church Hill are grabbing the spotlight. Across the city the trend shows no sign of slowing down with historic buildings being preserved and rehabbed into stunning contemporary living spaces.
New restaurants open every week – – some doing tasty riffs on Southern classics, others drawing from exotic cuisines. Many pair their food with Virginia wines or any of the thirteen Richmond-area microbreweries. Next year California-based Stone Brewing Company will open its eastern U. S. brewery operations and World Bistro & Gardens along Gillies Creek in the historic Fulton Hill neighborhood.
As for the Arts, apart from major international touring art shows at the prestigious Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, there is also a flourishing local art scene with galleries and colorful murals dotting every area of the city. Look for the new VCU Institute for Contemporary Art to open a 43,000-square-foot museum showcasing innovative exhibitions, performances and films by 2017.
(L-R) Swan Bed – Italian Garden at Maymont
Maymont offers 100 lush acres of breathtaking gardens, a nature center, and a Romanesque Revival-style manor house chock-a-block with Victoriana reminiscent of the Gilded Age. Take time to stroll through Japanese, Italian and Victorian gardens or ride a horse-drawn carriage through magnolia-lined allées. www.Maymont.org
Lewis Ginter Garden
Ranked No. 2 among America’s Best Public Gardens, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden features themed gardens including the Children’s Garden, Healing Garden, Rose Garden and Victorian Garden and the South’s most magnificent domed conservatory filled with hundreds of exotic specimens. www.LewisGinter.org Both are part of the Richmond Garden Trail as are six other sites.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Along with more than 33,000 works of art from around the world, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts houses a collection of beautiful Fabergé jeweled eggs. “Rodin” arrives in late November with over 200 works from the Musée Rodin in Paris. www.VMFA.museum
The Virginia Historical Society featuring a fascinating and comprehensive collection of Virginia history from 16,000 BCE to the present. Opened this month “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” features 36 costumes from PBS Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey series. www.VAHistorical.org
The Valentine Museum tells the story of Richmond’s early history including the women’s suffrage rights, the slave trade and civil rights. A current show, Classical Allure: Richmond Style, features select gowns and artifacts from their Costume and Textile collection of over 40,000 pieces, the largest of its kind in the South. www.TheValentine.org
The Science Museum of Virginia
Science is cool at the Science Museum of Virginia. Housed in the grandiose former Broad Street Union Station, designed by architect John Russell Pope in the neo-classical style, explore tons of interactive exhibits on space, health, electricity and the earth. A new exhibit, Alien Worlds and Androids features early TV and film robots up to present day outer space heroes. Be sure to check out the 76-foot Dome theatre – – the largest screen in Virginia. www.SMV.org
Stroll Cary Street for cute shops – vintage clothing at Bygones; gifts and more at Mongrel; and great consignment shops such as Ashby and Clementine.
TASTE THE TOWN
(L-R) Sub Rosa Bakery – Plum tarts from Wood-Fired Bakery
Breakfast – Sub Rosa Wood Fired Bakery in Church Hill where a brother-and-sister team, Evrim and Evin Dogu, use a German-made mill to grind organic flour to bake into their crusty breads, yummy cookies and rustic tarts served on eclectic plates from Tree Hill Pottery in Richmond. www.SubRosaBakery.com
Brunch – Sunday Champagne Brunch at The Jefferson hotel is prepared by Chef Patrick Ehemann and served in the Rotunda lobby. It is the pinnacle of Southern haute cuisine. Be sure to try the soufflé-like spoonbread. Reservations recommended. www.LemaireRestaurant.com
Lunch – Tucked into a residential neighborhood, Stella’s serves modern Mediterranean and Greek dishes; The Savory Grain for New American comfort food with a large selection of microbrews and craft beers; and a perennial favorite, the French-inspired Can Can Brasserie in Carytown.
Ardent Craft Ales brewery
Sips – The bar at Lemaire; Saison Restaurant cum gastro pub, or The Roosevelt for craft cocktails in a two-story red clapboard house; on-site brewed quaffs at Blue Bee Cider, Virginia’s only urban cidery in the Old Manchester district; the cool scene at Ardent Craft Ales, a brewery in the burgeoning Scott’s Addition neighborhood. Best Autumn saison, Sweet Potato & Sage. Check their calendar for open brew days.
(L-R) Roasted Beets with beet mousse and navel oranges – Sable Fish with Maitake mushrooms, charred scallions and dashi broth – Espresso Chocolate Mousse, with orange, hazelnut, and anise hyssop at Maple & Pine
Dinner – A tough call with so many to choose from. The intricate fusion dishes by Executive Chef Lee Gregory at the sophisticated and hip Maple & Pine in the glamorous new Quirk hotel; Comfort for locally-sourced, meat-and-three contemporary Southern from Rising Star-awarded chef, Jason Alley; The Roosevelt for three-time James Beard Foundation nominee David Dunlap’s snappy Southern cuisine; Mamma Zu for old school Italian; and Perly’s for serious Jewish deli.
Meat Loaf, squash casserole and cheddar cheese grits at Comfort
With 70-foot-high ceilings and a staircase long rumored to have appeared in Gone with the Wind, The Jefferson Hotel’s Rotunda lobby is one of Richmond’s most sought after spaces for important events. In his 1987 nationally broadcast Sunday morning segment for CBS News, Charles Kuralt described it as (arguably) the most beautiful (public room) of any hotel in the country
Luxuriate at The Jefferson – The Queen of American Beaux Arts hotels, this opulent jewel of an historic hotel has cut the number of their rooms down from turning the remaining guestrooms into expansive suites. For the ultimate stay, book a Grand Premier Suite that features a lavishly appointed marble-tiled bathroom with a television invisibly incorporated into the mirror, soaking tub and separate dressing room. www.JeffersonHotel.com
Quirk Hotel and Gallery – The new kid on the block. Recently opened and lovingly restored, this hip boutique hotel had a former life as a swank department store. Sip handcrafted cocktails on the rooftop terrace. www.DestinationHotels.com
Fire, Flour & Fork – October 28th – November 1st – A four-day culinary gathering with tours, special dinners, classes featuring local chefs, cookbook authors, culinary historians and beverage experts. A foodie’s wet dream. Fire, Flour & Fork
On November 13th from 7pm till midnight revel in InLight Richmond. Organized by 1708 Gallery, enjoy a free, public exhibition of light-based art and performances to be held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Watch the Community Lantern Parade along with performances, sculpture, video, and interactive projects that illuminate pathways, walls, sidewalks, green spaces, trees, benches, building facades, and more, in and around the VMFA campus.
November 27th – January 11th 2016. The nightly holiday extravaganza Dominion GardenFest of Lights: H2Whoa at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden features over half-a-million twinkling lights, hand-crafted botanical decorations, model trains, holiday dinners, firepit with s’mores, hot chocolate (for purchase) and more. This year’s “H2Whoa” theme showcases water in all its forms. Experience a dazzling 30-acre light and botanical display of magical, whimsical water events. Stroll through twinkling “rain storms” as crystal raindrops and fluffy storm clouds float overhead while you marvel at a thunderstorm of lights. In the Conservatory you’ll see a wintry wonderland, rainstorms and rainbows, and even a tropical rainforest.
For more information on upcoming events go to www.VisitRichmondVA.com
By Cary Pollak for Whisk and Quill
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts
In January Crave American Kitchen and Sushi Bar, a Minnesota-based chain, opened its newest outpost in the Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. The restaurant is living up to the ambitious expectations set for it by its Twin Cities parent company, Kaskaid, Inc. Kaskaid has created four restaurant concepts since its inception in 2007 and Crave may be its most successful, with four branches in Minnesota and a total of ten nation-wide so far, popping up in locations from the Las Vegas area to Austin, to Coral Gables and more.
At a recent dinner featuring some of the newest additions to their seasonal menu, the able staff proved that American and Japanese cuisines can fit together as comfortably as cherry trees at the tidal basin in Washington. Each course seemed like a natural precursor to the next.
The evening started out with a few specialty cocktails. The ‘Crave’ is a blend of Stolichnaya ‘Razberi’, Chambord, pineapple and Domaine Chandon Brut. If you are going to name a cocktail after your restaurant, you may as well pour my favorite California sparkling wine in case the Russian vodka and the fine raspberry liqueur don’t make enough of an impression. The ‘Angry Dragon’, a happy combination of Bacardi Dragon Berry rum, lychee, cranberry and citrus zest, was another option. In addition to these Crave creations, Bar Manager Jordan Harrington is in the process of concocting specials just for the Bethesda branch, such as a Sweet and Spicy Mojito and an Egg White and Blueberry Fizz.
Crave General Manager Michelle Went has a firm grip on the Angry Dragon
Our cocktails were followed by an exquisitely crafted sushi platter, that I pondered whether to devour or leave as an undisturbed work of art. Among the choices presented were the ‘Rainbow Roll’, the sushi chef’s version of a California roll, topped with four different types of fish, and the ‘Bamboo Bite’ which had tempura shrimp wrapped in sushi rice, crowned with overlapping slices of avocado, and decorated with a thin cross section of jalapeno. Adorning the platter were pieces of pickled ginger placed together like rose petals and wasabi molded into the shape of a leaf. Hand-sliced cucumber and apple slices were shaped into fans.
‘The Caterpillar’, sporting a fuzzy top made of bits of fried batter soaked with cranberry and beet juices, features spicy tuna, roe, cucumber, mango, avocado and sweet ‘Unagi’ sauce made with soy sauce, sugar and sake. Its whimsical appearance did not detract from its fresh and complex flavor.
Even after this delightful introduction, the main courses easily held my interest. Seared scallops with curry, caviar, arugula and papaya gastrique, showcased large scallops sliced horizontally. Grilled Mahi Mahi came served on a bed of red rice, with red pepper curry sauce, and banana fig butter. Medallions of certified Angus beef (which amounts to less than 8% of all beef produced in the U.S.) were accompanied by potato purée, pencil-thin grilled asparagus and a smooth demi glace. Each course was expertly paired with a wine chosen from the glass enclosed wine room.
Medallions of Angus beef
Executive Chef Joel Hassanali, a Trinidadian, explained that the chef at each Crave restaurant can create 25% of what goes on to the menu. Look for dishes that will reflect the chef’s Caribbean origins and his experiences growing up in the restaurant owned by his parents.
Executive Chef Joel Hassanali
Small tastes of a number of desserts were brought to the table – – fluffy coconut cake, enhanced by an infusion of coconut syrup and fresh coconut, and small parfaits presented in a decorative serving piece that held them up like horses on a merry-go-round.
Coconut cake and parfait-like dessert choices
These delicious bites included French Silk Chocolate Mousse, Tiramisu, Lemon Meringue and Salty Caramel Mousse. Everything is made in-house, down to the artistically decorated dark and white chocolate candy pieces atop some desserts that looked as though they popped out of a Godiva box.
I opted for the lemon meringue, a newcomer to the regular menu, and a particular favorite of the chef’s. I thought I noticed shreds of toasted coconut in my first spoonful, but soon realized my taste buds were not confirming what my mouth was feeling. Thin shreds of lemon zest were punching up the tartness to balance out the sweetness. Digging deeper into the glass cup, I discovered another surprise – – cheesecake filling.
Negotiating with the other guests for a taste of their desserts, was not an option. Clearly my dinner partners had fallen in love at first bite. Seems as though I’ll have to return for more taste testing. As if I needed an excuse…
Photo credit: Cary Pollak
October 8, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Art
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
For many years Ferran Adria’s now shuttered elBulli held the title of “The Best Restaurant in the World”. Since then the fiercely sought after accolade has gone to his former student Rene Redzepi, Chef/Owner of Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. Four years ago Redzepi’s publisher Phaidon sent me a copy of his coffee table size cookbook. “Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine”, which at the time I included in my “Best Cookbooks of 2010”. The book continued my interest in the science and artistry of elegantly prepared wild foods. In 2002 I’d read French chef and forager extraordinaire Michel Bras’s book “Essential Cuisine” and saw how a Michelin-starred chef could elevate wild local plants, locally caught seafood and humanely raised animals to their highest culinary purpose while at the same time employing a flower-strewn, naturalistic style.
A grazer since childhood, I munch on violets, honeysuckle and the early blossoms of the redbud tree. And if I’m lucky enough to find them I still chomp on wild ramps, dandelion leaves and the tender watercress that pops up along small streams and culverts in the spring. I consider it homeopathic and secretly believe it’s what keeps me from seasonal allergies.
Tarver King is a chef who answers the call of the wild too. When we first met he was cooking at the Ashby Inn in Paris, Virginia where he wedded molecular gastronomic techniques to simple, local ingredients and spent many hours putting up jars of glistening cantaloupe jelly, pickled vegetables and berry jams from ingredients he picked from the bounty of a small garden behind the inn.
Chef Tarver King
After gaining experience in such legendary kitchens as The French Laundry, Le Bec Fin, The Inn at Little Washington and the Woodlands Inn & Resort in South Carolina. King now has found is roost in the kitchen at the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm where he is the architect of the menu. Using the bounty from owner Beverly Morton Billand’s vegetable and herb gardens, wildcrafting “weeds” and morels from the nearby woods and sourcing from the 40-acre farm where Billand raises chickens, ducks and beef cattle, he has a myriad of options at his command, including fish from the sustainable catches of local East Coast fishermen.
King’s commitment to local, seasonal and organic, as well as his compelling artistry has not gone unnoticed by the industry. He was named “Grand Chef” of the year by Relais and Chateau, received the RAMMY award as “Chef of the Year” 2013 and this year earned the coveted title of “Best Chef – Mid-Atlantic” from the James Beard Foundation.
Reflecting his keen attention to land, sea and farm, the menu is divided into “Found”, heavier on seafood, “Grown”, some meat but largely paleo, and “Raised”, which leans more towards meat protein. Each affords the diner with amuses bouche, noted as “snacks”, and a five-course progression menu of the chef’s design.
Snacks before dinner – Gougeres – Beet Cream
Some of the menu’s descriptors – smoked kraut, cicely gastrique, lambs quarters, sorrel soda, chicory root custard and hyssop ice cream – reveal the adventure.
Seared Wahoo with ramp chimichurri
King, who spends three days a week cooking and the rest experimenting, started us off with delicate gougeres and a beet cream toast, followed by Scallop Mi-cuit, a semi-cooked scallop enhanced by creamed corn, chanterelle puree, and lambs quarters, a wild edible. Crispy Shrimp is sauced with cicely gastrique, ratatouille puree, fennel fronds and mustard cream – each element contributing to the nuanced whole of the dish. My dinner partner who opted for “Raised” was busy devouring the Pork Fried Chicken with whey and mustard butter, smoked kraut and pole beans, which preceded Beef Cheek with whipped grits, grilled beets, horseradish and nasturtium leaves. A happy carnivore, indeed.
Beef Cheeks with whipped grits and nasturtium leaves
The dining room is an enormous brick-paved, all-glass greenhouse (sans plants). A separate white-tented space for outdoor dining features a view of the river and Harpers Ferry Bridge beyond and is decorated with nosegays and candles. Very romantic.
Chicory root custard with cocoa nib crumble, puffed rice and whipped fromage blanc
Courses came swiftly delivered by attentive and gentile wait staff, who re-described each dish as it was set forth. We finished a spectacular evening of gastronomic delights and surprises with a lovely Silver Needle Jasmine white tea from local purveyor Shab Row Tea Emporium in nearby Frederick, Maryland.
Reservations, of course. www.PatowmackFarm.com