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Nibbles and Sips Around Town – June 2, 2015

Jordan Wright
June 2, 2015 

Sushi School; Dine-N-Dash in Penn Quarter; Fabulous Animals Art Exhibition at iCi Bistro; Kaz Okuchi, Bonny Wolf and Yoko Isassi at the National Museum of American History 

Back to Class with the Master 

It’s been two years since I sat down with Tokyo-born Daisuke Utagawa, owner of Daikaya and Partner and Creative Director of Sushiko.  Our last dinner was a lesson in izakaya a style of Japanese cooking that I wrote about then and that you’ll find at Daikaya.

Daisuke Utagawa at Sushiko

Daisuke Utagawa at Sushiko

While we dined on many unique dishes there Daisuke spoke of the dozens of specifically descriptive Japanese phrases pertaining to the taste and mouth feel of every dish.

For my second lesson we met up at Sushiko, the posh and stylishly subdued Chevy Chase restaurant where Indonesian sushi chefs Piter Tjan and his brother Handry Tjan were ready to dazzle with the freshest fish to be found without my using a spear and scuba gear.

Piter (left) and Handry Tjan of Sushiko

Piter (left) and Handry Tjan of Sushiko

Sushi and the long-tapered temaki afford an even more intense experience, as the seafood is raw.  It is crucial, nay imperative, that the fish and crustaceans are of the highest quality and that the chef is highly trained in the ancient art of preparing and serving it.  Though Daisuke trains new chefs from time to time, it is years before they are permitted to cut the fish.  Usually they are relegated to making the vinegared rice and pickled vegetables, two decidedly different techniques that also must be perfected.  “Rice grains should be independent,” Daisuke insists, impressing upon me the meticulous care in which it must be prepared. 

Offering omakase, a nine-course chef’s tasting menu, is a new concept for this restaurant.  One Daisuke hopes will catch on – – and for good reason.  It is the optimal adventure in Japanese sushi dining and defers to the expertise of the sushi master who seeks out only the finest seafood available within each season.  “Every fish has a different window of freshness,” my sushi sensei reveals.  “Big bluefin tuna has a window of seven to ten days after it is caught before it is ready to serve.”

Cured Flounder Three Ways

Cured Flounder Three Ways

Our tasting begins with kombu jime hirame, a beautifully cured flounder prepared three ways in aspic and using kombu, a spongy, kelp cultivated on ropes in the seas of Japan and Korea.  The smoky fish is dressed with dashi gelée and adorned with shiso, a type of mint, and myoga, Japanese ginger.  It is followed by a very delicate and creamy dish shiro ebi tartare with white sturgeon caviar, bonito flakes and shimmering gold (yes, real gold!) flakes.  The servings are small, tantalizing, and easily eaten in one or two bites.  A smoked Hama oyster quickly appears with ponzu gelée.  “ As long as the food has your attention your palate is always being challenged,” Daisuke gently advises.

Poached Monkfish Liver

Poached Monkfish Liver

Up next is unagi sunomono, grilled freshwater eel salad with wakame (a woodsy tasting seaweed).  It is tart and refreshing and leads us on to ankimo saba, poached monkfish liver dotted with tomato seeds, cured mackerel and a shower of black truffle shavings.

Sea Bream with its roe in dashi broth

Sea Bream with its roe in dashi broth

For me, uni is the very essence of umami.  Tonight its briny luxuriousness comes from Hokkaido and is prepared tempura style – lightly battered and fried and wrapped in seaweed, oozing with creaminess in a warm crackly crust and seasoned with green tea salt. Hard on its heels is madai suimono, sea bream with its roe, enoki mushrooms, myoga in dashi broth.

The restaurant can do omakase for four people every two hours.  It is a pleasantly intense and focused experience with the sushi master in full view.  Sake, Japanese beer, or as Daisuke would have it, wines from the Burgundy region of France, are the perfect complement.

Bird's Nest

Bird’s Nest

More uni arrives.  This dish is called “bird’s nest” and it is paired with squid, fried leeks, a marinated, velvety egg yolk from jidori hens, and umeboshi, a salty, tart, fermented plum.

Then we digress for a thin slice of seriously marbled Miyazaki wagyu beef prepared by ourselves by laying it flat atop a hot stone for seconds per side.  Pop in the mouth and it’s memorable.

Nigiri board

Nigiri board

A glamorous plate of nigiri is proffered.  Six single bites of scallop, golden eye snapper, masu (aka “cherry” salmon), spot prawn, flounder with uni (you cannot have too much of a good thing) and chopped toro, the fatty part of the blue fin tuna, wonderfully marbled, not oily, and looking like a precious jewel.

After travels with fish, we have come to dessert and it is a surprising bit of Francophilic decadence – – foie gras ice cream with huckleberry jam.  We linger over a spot of tea while Daisuke shows me IPhone photos of his latest interest – – “snow cabbage” aka etto a cabbage that looks like any other yet it is buried in waist-deep snow and harvested in the middle of winter.  The taste, he assures me, is delicious.  He is utterly enamored by this highly prized, rare and very expensive vegetable.  Another lesson.  Another night of secrets from the master.

José Andrés Dine-N-Dash Event Slated for June 9th 

A culinary tour of Penn Quarter restaurants and food trucks beckons the adventurous diners in this super cool World Central Kitchen fundraiser.  Drawing on his mission to feed the world and train chefs in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and now Zambia, Andrés has designed the perfect evening for the socially conscious to drink, dine and have fun at 17 participating DC restaurants in one fabulous evening and with all proceeds benefitting World Central Kitchen.  It truly describes our core philosophy of nibbles and sips.

A press preview at three of the participating restaurants gave us a tempting taste of what’s to come.

Dine-N-Dash at Jaleo

Dine-N-Dash at Jaleo

At Jaleo we sampled little bites of endive with orange bits, almonds and goat cheese, and a lavish paella.  China Chilcano, Andrés’s new and exceptional Peruvian-Asian influenced restaurant, had more yummy tastes and delicious cocktails, finally ending our 7th Street jaunt at Oyamel.

Dine-N-Dash at China Chilcano

Dine-N-Dash at China Chilcano

Here’s how it works. From 6 to 9pm an estimated 2,500 eventgoers will stroll through the city’s Penn Quarter district, enjoying specialty dishes, craft cocktails and live music at all participating restaurants including China Chilcano, Cuba Libre, Del Campo, Jaleo, OYA, Oyamel, Partisan, Ping Pong Dim Sum, Poste Brasserie, Proof, SEI, Zaytinya and more.  Then from 9 to 11pm guests are invited to join Andrés at an after party at the Carnegie Library with desserts, live music and, you guessed it, more drinks.

Nibbles for Dine-N-Dash from China Chilcano

Nibbles for Dine-N-Dash from China Chilcano

“I am so excited to be hosting the third annual Dine-N-Dash!” said Uber Chef José Andrés, “What’s better than enjoying the amazing Penn Quarter restaurants, all in one night, while helping the many around the world who need our support.  This is one of our biggest fundraisers to support the work of World Central Kitchen, which finds solutions for hunger and poverty worldwide. I believe that food has the power to change the world, and I’m thrilled the people of DC continue to support this unbelievable event!”

Dine-N-Dash at China Chilcano

Dine-N-Dash at China Chilcano

General Admission tickets are $129 and include food and drinks at all participating restaurants plus access to the after party with José Andrés. VIP tickets are $299 and include food and drinks at participating restaurants, including VIP-only areas and dishes, pedicab rides, and access to select VIP-only areas and premium desserts and cocktails at the after party.

Tickets are available through Living Social. For more information about the event, visit www.dinendash.info. 

World Central Kitchen is an action-based, non-profit organization finding smart solutions to hunger and poverty.  “Today WCK is hard at work in Haiti, Dominican Republic and Zambia, empowering the people to be part of the solution – with a focus on smart school kitchens, clean cook stoves, job training, and job creation.” Visit www.worldcentralkitchen.org to learn more.

French Artist Hervé Maury’s Animals Delight at iCi Urban Bistro

At the Hervé Maury opening reception

At the Hervé Maury opening reception

Fantasy animals ruled the roost at iCi Urban Bistro at the Sofitel Hotel and artist Hervé Maury was at the opening reception for the show that will run through June 14th.  So dépêchez-vous if you want to catch this whimsical exhibit.  More than 20 pieces are displayed throughout the restaurant and by evening’s end a few of these had been purchased.

One of Hervé Maury's Polar Bears

One of Hervé Maury’s Polar Bears

Opening night proved to be one of the hippest gatherings in town.  Guests were issued selfie sticks at the door to photo-record the experience and Pernod pastises were offered along with endless flutes of champagne and a dizzying array of delicacies.

Food art at iCi Urban Bistro

Food art at iCi Urban Bistro

Maury, a cheerful, bespectacled artist with no actual pets of his own, is a self-taught artist who resides in Marseille.  Nonetheless he has a sincere passion for polar bears, cats, dogs, fish and elephants that he renders in both adorable and comical poses.  His paintings are reminiscent of the sun-washed colors of the French Mediterranean, reflecting a sense of tenderness and texture in his use of marble powder, sands and ochers.  Most of the work is painted on linen, though he has sometimes incorporated recycled marine sails.

Maury Butterflies at iCi Urban Bistro

Maury Butterflies at iCi Urban Bistro

Featured in exhibits around the world, including the South of France, Paris, London, Barcelona, Rabat and Hong Kong, his “Polar Bear” series once adorned the windows of Hermés boutiques worldwide.

Executive Chef Franck Loquet puts his artistic imprint on raw fish

Executive Chef Franck Loquet puts his artistic imprint on raw fish

Inspired by Maury’s paintings, Executive Chef Franck Loquet has created his own epicurean artwork and offers several specially designed dishes throughout the length of the exhibition.  “I love to create artistic dishes for our guests to enjoy, and Hervé Maury’s artwork was a great inspiration for me,” said Chef Loquet.  The 3-course prix-fixe menu is available in iCi Urban Bistro for lunch and dinner from May 14th through June 14th for $45 per person.

Director of Sales and Marketing Alexandra Byrne says,  “We are so excited to offer this unique exhibit this summer.  We strive to offer guest experiences that enhance our Sofitel pillars: design, culture and gastronomy. This will bring all of those pillars together in one place to satisfy all five senses of our guests.”

For reservations call 202 730.8700 or visit www.iciurbanbistro.com.

Kaz Okochi and Bonny Wolf Star at America After Hours: Sushi for Sale 

In the last of their “Food After Hours” series, the National Museum of American History invited three culinary icons to speak on sushi – – Kaz Okochi, award-winning Chef/Proprietor of KAZ Sushi Bistro and Chef/Partner with Richard Sandoval in Masa 14, and NPR Commentator Bonny Wolf of American Food Roots, whose riffs on American food are well known to fans of Weekend Edition Sunday and her Web-only weekly food column, Kitchen Window.

The evening's panel. Bonny Wolf (l), Kaz Okochi (center), Yoko Isassi (right)

The evening’s panel. Bonny Wolf (l), Kaz Okochi (center), Yoko Isassi (right)

They were joined by FoodStory founder, Yoko Isassi in a conversation about the rise in popularity of sushi in America.  Afterwards, guests were treated to an inspired Japanese buffet supper and classes in sushi making by Okochi, sake tastings by Christian Choi, San-J soy sauce samplings, Japanese snacks from Bourbon, and beer from Sapporo.

Sushi rolling class

Sushi rolling class

Notes from the Notables

Quote of the day.
Japanese Prime Minister during his recent visit to the US.  “America got sushi and we got House of Cards.”

On the invention of sushi.
Isassi.  Fields flood in the rainy season and they get a lot of fish in the rice fields. That’s how sushi started – – the fish and the rice  – – and then pickling with salt to preserve it.

On how early sushi was introduced to the US.
Isassi: The first sushi restaurant in the US was opened in San Francisco in the early 1800’s.

On the proper way to eat sushi.
Isassi: You can use your hands or chopsticks, but dip the fish side into the soy sauce.

On sustainability.
Okochi: I just change the subject.

On keeping the fish fresh.
Isassi: My grandmother packs sushi in magnolia leaves and keeps it for a few days.

On wasabi.
Isassi: Wasabi is more like an antibiotic and bamboo leaves kill the germs.
Okochi: The vinegar protects it from bacteria.

Arigato, everyone!

At the Food After Hours Sushi night -- Baby bok choy At the Food After Hours Sushi night

At the Food After Hours Sushi night — Baby bok choy At the Food After Hours Sushi night

Food After Hours programs will start up again in August.  To learn more about these diverse offerings that feature food demonstrations and discussions on the nation’s food systems, visit www.AmericanHistory.si.edu.

All photo credit – Jordan Wright

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