Whisk and Quill Roving Reporter Samantha Lee Visits The Spot’s New Asian-Fusion Food Hall

 Featuring Mian Pull Noodles, Cheers Cut, Gong Cha, Poki DC and Alpaca Dessert

August 19, 2018
Photo credit – Samantha Lee

The Spot

On July 7, 2018, Edward Wong of Akira Ramen & Izakaya and Urban Hot Pot, partnered with Vivian Zhu and Gary Ngo (founder of Poki District) to open The Spot, a 6,200-square foot Asian-fusion food hall near the Rockville Town Square.  Wong envisioned The Spot as a destination for guests of all ages to hang out and enjoy an eclectic mix of Asian specialties. 

Seating Area

Currently, there are five out of seven food stalls open for business but with limited offerings. Mian Pull Noodles serves hand-pulled noodles and savory dumplings at 10-pieces per order.  Cheers Cut, with outlets in Boston, Philly and New York, serves huge cuts of Taiwanese fried chicken and seafood. Gong Cha serves Taiwanese bubble tea with various toppings including coconut jelly, pudding, grass jelly, pearl, ai-yu jelly, basil seed, red bean, white pearl, and milk foam. Poki DC serves made-to-order healthy, hearty, and fresh poke bowls. Alpaca Dessert is a dessert bar that serves Japanese ice cream in Hong Kong Style bubble waffle cones.

Assorted Beef Offal Pull Noodle Soup}

Mian Pull Noodles currently features Beef Pull Noodle Soup, Beef Flank Pull Noodle Soup, Assorted Beef Offal Pull Noodle Soup, Beef Tendon Pull Noodle Soup, Beef Tripe Pull Noodle Soup, and Spare Ribs Pull Noodle Soup.  All soups offer a choice of flat or skinny hand-pulled Mandarin noodles. I enjoyed the Assorted Beef Offal Pull Noodle Soup, which consisted of hand-pulled thin noodles with beef flank, beef offal, beef tendon and beef tripe in a flavorful broth. Dumplings have recently been added to the menu and I did not get the opportunity to sample them on my visit.

At Cheers Cut – Fried Chicken and Seafood combination meals are not yet on this Taiwanese stall’s menu.  Each item must be purchased individually.  After waiting over 30 minutes for my order, I tasted the Samurai Crispy Chicken, which consisted of a sliced chicken cutlet on a bed of shrimp chips served with honey mustard.  Unfortunately, it was decidedly not crispy, but sadly soggy, and definitely not worth the price or the wait. 

Purple Sweet Potato with Fresh Milk Tea
Purple Sweet Potato with Fresh Milk Tea

At Gong Cha, a franchise with outlets throughout New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Texas, pick from the menu or create your own bubble tea.  Additionally, there is an interesting selection of smoothies, coffees and an unusual milk foam tea series.  Some of my favorites include the Mango Smoothie, Purple Sweet Potato with Fresh Milk Green Tea, Lemon Wintermelon with Basil Seeds and Lemon Ai-Yu Jelly with White Pearls.  www.GongChaDMV.com

Poke Bowl
Poke Bowl

At Poki DC choose from dozens of fresh and tasty toppings to personalize your Hawaiian poke bowl.  I enjoyed my choice made with sushi rice, zucchini noodles, spring mix, salmon, tuna, squid salad, cilantro, pineapple, mango, tangerine, and crabmeat salad drizzled with citrus mayo and eel sauce and topped with roasted seaweed.  www.PokiDC.com

Alpaca Dessert
Alpaca Dessert

At the trendy Alpaca Dessert I enjoyed an Original Bubble Waffle with Vanilla Ice Cream, topped with KitKat’s, M&Ms and mochi with a pour over of condensed milk.  The bubble waffle resembled the look and taste of those I have sampled in Asia.  Choose from a variety of Japanese ice cream flavors – Vanilla, Chocolate, Matcha, Black Sesame, and Milk Tea. 

The Spot is located at 255 North Washington Street, Rockville, MD 20850.  Open daily from 11:00am to midnight.  www.TheSpotDMV.com

The remaining two food stalls – The Spot Bar and The Spot Grill – will open soon.  The Spot Bar will serve alcoholic beverages and feature live music.  The Spot Grill plans Chinese barbecue street food.

Akira Ramen & Izakaya Comes to Rockville, Maryland

Samantha Lee
Contributing Food Writer

May 10, 2018
Photo credit: Samantha Lee


Australian native and restauranteur, Edward Wong, chose the Japanese name Akira for his recently opened ramen and izakaya restaurant on Rockville Pike. The name is synonymous with the words “bright”, “intelligent” or “clear” – a very auspicious beginning for this small, appealing spot. As a graphic designer Wong was drawn to the Japanese character tsu, a kanji word meaning tsunami, and chose it for his dramatically etched black-and-white logo. Since opening the 42-seat spot last October, he has enjoyed an enthusiastic and dedicated clientele in this cheerful, window-lit eatery. Wong also owns Gong Cha, a Taiwanese bubble tea shop, and Urban Hot Pot, a Chinese-style hot pot restaurant. All three are located within the same strip mall.

Before coming to Akira, Wong’s chef Tony Lin had run his own Japanese restaurant in New York City. Working alongside noodlemaker Jerry Li, the men learned to make traditional buckwheat skinny and curly noodles from renowned Japanese soba master Shuichi Kotani – more familiarly known as “Kotani San”. Their noodles are a combination of wheat flour, water, and alkaline salt. It’s the salt which gives the noodle color and helps to control the acidity levels in the dough. Everything in the ramen – sauce, broth, noodles and meat – is made from scratch. The pork-based broth – made from pork bones, vegetables and spices – is cooked low and slow for 8 hours.

The restaurant’s decorations are simple. A feature wall has a design of pink cherry blossom trees and song birds and white paper lanterns and vintage lights hang from above. Alongside the bar, there is a navy-colored noren curtain with multiple panels of block print waves.

The menu is two double-sided pages. The main menu describes the appetizers, dessert and non-alcoholic beverages. On the reverse, it describes the ramen and ramen add-ins. A bowl of ramen is around $13.00. Another page lists the chef’s specials. Unlike most Japanese restaurants in the area, they offer unique appetizers such as Okonomiyaki (Japanese-style pancake), Geso Kara (fried squid legs), and Hamachi Kamayaki. The restaurant has an open kitchen concept that allows guests to sit at the bar and watch their ramen being prepared.

My favorite appetizers are Karaage, Tofu Avocado Salad, Poke Salad, Geso Kara, Yellowtail Carpaccio, Hamachi Kamayaki, Sashimi, Kani Salad and Takoyaki.


Deep fried chicken pieces served with lemon and two dipping sauce – Sriracha Aioli and horseradish mayonnaise. It’s crispy, tender and juicy.

Tofu Avocado Salad

Freshly chopped romaine lettuce, topped with chopped silken tofu, seaweed threads, garlic chips, and pickled radish in a sweet tangy mustard/sesame/ginger vinaigrette.

Poke Salad

Served Hawaiian style and consisted of chopped sashimi from three types of fish – tuna, salmon and yellowtail – mixed with diced cucumber, mango, and avocado with micro wasabi in a ponzu sauce.

Geso Kara

Tempura-battered and lightly fried squid legs served with lemon and sriracha aioli.

Yellowtail Capaccio

Five pieces of half-torched yellowtail topped with scallion and fish roe and served in a yuzu-scented miso-mustard sauce.

Hamachi Kamayaki

A lightly seasoned yellowtail collar, grilled and served with lemon and tart soy dipping sauce with a hint of yuzu. The meat was fatty, juicy and tender. I like how the flesh easily comes off the bone with a chopstick or fork.


A choice of two each – tuna, yellowtail and salmon served over shisho leaves and shredded daikon radish with pickled ginger and wasabi. Instead of wasabi, I prefer the sashimi with lemon. I love how the sashimi was super fresh and high quality.

Kani Salad

A bed of shredded daikon radish topped with a shower of shredded crabmeat, cucumber and fish roe and lightly tossed in kewpie mayo.


Six deep fried spheres of octopus drizzled with a Worcestershire-based sauce, with mayonnaise, green laver seaweed, bonito flakes and scallions. The takoyaki is savory, crispy on the sides, and chewy on the inside.


Five dumplings made of thin wonton wrappers filled with a seasoned pork and ginger then pan fried and served in a spicy ponzu sauce.

Charsu Bun

Two steamed sweet open-faced buns stuffed with lettuce-wrapped marinated pork belly drizzled with sriracha mayo.

Akira offers seven wonderful variations of ramen:
Akira Ramen (pork broth), Akira Volcano Ramen (pork broth), Tonkotsu Miso Ramen (pork broth, Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen (pork broth), Karaage Ramen (chicken broth), Shrimp Tempura (pork broth), and Vegetable Ramen (vegetable broth).

Akira Volcano Ramen

A dish of skinny or curly noodles, stir-fried bean sprout, onion, pork belly, egg, fish cake, corn, scallions, bamboo shoots, wood ears, nori, black garlic oil, and chili paste in tonkotsu salt flavored broth. If it’s not spicy enough for you, feel free to add shichi-mi tōgarashi, a spicy Japanese seasoning blend of ground red chili pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds, ground sanshō, ginger, and seaweed, to your liking.

Tonkotsu Miso Ramen

Skinny noodles cooked with egg, fish cake, scallion, corn, bamboo shoots, and wood ear mushrooms in a miso paste pork broth garnished with nori and torched pork belly.

Vegetable Ramen

Vegetable ramen boasts curly noodles cooked in a vegetable broth made from onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, shiitakes, bok choy, wood-ear mushrooms, and tofu and garnished with stir-fried bean sprouts, scallion, bamboo shoot, nori, and pickled ginger.

Green Tea Cheesecake

A lovely combination of smoothly blended cream cheese, matcha powder, and sugar on a graham cracker crust which is then baked and dusted with matcha powder. It is served with a scoop of matcha ice cream. It could be matcha overkill if consumed by one person, but it’s a perfect dessert for sharing.

Though not a seasonal menu, the chef introduces new items every now and then. Look for cold noodle dishes – in-house made udon and soba noodles and sukiyaki – to come on the menu this summer. If you love a Japanese restaurant that offers variety or would love to try the best ramen spot in Montgomery County, Akira Ramen & Izakaya is certainly worth checking out.

Wong plans a second location in downtown Columbia, MD later this year. It will have an open kitchen concept where patrons can watch chefs prepare the food including the yakitori, handmade noodles and ramen and where there will be a larger waiting area as well as a bar.

Akira Ramen & Izakaya is located in the Galvan at Twinbrook apartment complex. The restaurant address is 1800 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20850. Open daily – Mon to Thurs: 11am – 3pm and 5pm – 10pm; Fri: 11am – 3pm and 5pm – 11pm; Sat: 11am – 11pm and Sun 11:30am – 9pm. The restaurant does not take reservations – seating is first come, first served. During peak hours, expect a 30 to 45-minute wait. Akira is within walking distance from the Twinbrook Metro. There are a few parking spots on the side street and in the front lot. Additional parking is in the underground retail garage in the rear, and the first two hours are free.

For more information, visit their website at Akira Ramen & Izakaya.

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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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