Turning Japanese

Tiny orbs of orange salmon roe exploding in your mouth like tiny firecrackers… delicate slabs of sea urchin (uni) melting away on your tongue, so sweet and creamy, they belong on an ice cream cone… rare and precious horse mackerel magically appearing on your sushi sampler, making you feel like some sort of dignitary… you close your eyes and chew slowly, tasting the incredibly fresh, salty richness. You think, This is the very taste of the sea

Hey, this ain’t so so bad for a Monday night!

Okay, so maybe I’m going  a little overboard. But guys, I’m tellin’ ya, Kushi Izakaya & Sushi (at CityVista 465 K St NW, Washington, DC 20001, 202.682.3123) really is something to write home about. I was joined by my handsome and intelligent friend Yoshi, and since he was born in Japan, I was extra-thrilled to benefit from his extensive food knowledge. We began with the spectacular Chef’s Sashimi Choice ($40, pictured above), which is  a sampling of 8 types of fish, two pieces each (we received three pieces of most), including the aforementioned delights as well as otoro (extra-fatty tuna), shrimp, salmon, and more.

We moved onto a couple of Kobacki (small plates) including some cherrystone clams (pictured left), and the beloved subject of many of our conversations, pork belly. If you’re not familiar with pork belly, it’s basically a bacon steak. What could possibly go wrong? (In fact, the other night, Yoshi and I had a long conversation about pork belly via text message, in which we even traded several pictures. I may have met my foodie match with this guy!) Anyway, the pork belly was braised in a Japanese-syle in broth with a bit of okra and carrot, and was served with a smear of beautiful mustard. It was meltingly tender, fatty, and delicious, as pork belly should be.

Next we sampled a few offerings from the grill. Kushi grills in two styles: Kushiyaki (wood grill), and Robata (charcoal grill).

The Kushiyaki (pictured above) comes in small 2.5-ounce portions ($3 – 10), perfect for sharing and tasting. We tried the (right to left) pork belly (of course), chicken thigh, chicken liver (with a sweet and crunchy grill flavor on the outside, and a rich, dense texture on the inside), chicken breast with plum sauce and shiso leaf, and asparagus wrapped in bacon. I know what you’re thinking: how much pork fat could we possibly cram into one dinner? After this night, I’m not sure if I’m going to the gym or to hell…

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SpiceBoy’s Take 5

Okay, y’all – here are five quick, exciting things I wanted to share with you, in no particular order of coolness.

1. The Delicious Gelato and Sorbet at Pitango.

http://www.pitangogelato.com/

With appearances at local farmers markets and storefront locations in the metro DC area, Pitango offers some serious gelato. I must say I haven’t tasted anything like this since I was in Sirmione, Italy – no lie! I tried two flavors: Crema (vanilla custard) and Hazelnut (made from imported Italian nuts), and they were both absolutely heavenly. More good news – free samples on those tiny plastic spoons! Other flavors I sampled included the sublime white grapefruit and dark chocolate orange. $4.95 for two scoops (up to two flavors) and $6.50 for three scoops (up to three flavors). It’s also a really nice, friendly atmosphere – and how do they keep all that stainless steel so clean and shiny?

2. Singer-Songwriter Jennifer Haase

Super-talented and super-cute songstress Jennifer Haasse (rhymes with “classy”) is hard at work on her second album, “No More Invitations,” the follow-up to her fantastic debut “The Listening Chair.” Roseanne Cash says: “Jennifer Haase is a unique and gifted songwriter with the voice of an angel. I highly recommend her.” Well! Far be it from me to argue with the likes of Ms. Cash! “No More Invitations” is slated for release in the fall, and Jennifer has arranged a fundraiser to drum up the last few dollars for the release of the album so friends and fans can take part in the process – and she’s offering lots of fun prizes for those who participate. (Yours truly will appearing in the liner notes, y’all!) “New Pink Sweater” is the first single, and it’s perfect for a steamy summer afternoon. Give it a listen – it’s guaranteed to have you taking the top down on the Cabriolet and flirting with all the boys on the corner (or girls, if you’re into that kind of thing):

I highly recommend this folk-pop diva. Visit her on the web www.rhymeswithclassy.com. Also, you can (and should) buy her music on iTunes.

3. The Travelzoo Top 20

So much cheap travel, so little vacation time. No shizzit, Travelzoo has it all in one place, having combed all the bargain travel sites and distilling it into one weekly email. You can subscribe here:

www.travelzoo.com

Tree and I are going to Guatemala in November and we only paid…wait for it…$399 each. That’s four nights, including airfare, folks. With prices so low it sounds like a scam, I can only tell you that the majority of my vacations from the past five years have come from the Travelzoo Top 20, and while they haven’t been the lap of luxury, the deals have been incredible. You’ve got to check it out.

4. Trailer Park Queen Jolene Sugarbaker

On of my very favorite web personalities in the whole wide world is Jolene Sugarbaker, the Trailer Park Queen. When I’m stressed out at work, all I need to do is click on a Jolene Sugarbaker cooking video and I’m instantly transported to the trailer park and all my troubles are behind me. My day is immediately transformed, and I just know that Jolene loves me! Try it sometime. Here, you can watch Jolene make shrimp dip in a plastic ashtray!

Jolene’s blog – http://trailerparktestkitchen.com/ – has lots of great videos, recipes, and a fun store with tons of trailer park fashions. You’re gonna love her!

5. The Summer Menu at 1789 Restaurant

http://www.1789restaurant.com/main/index.shtml

1789 Restaurant in Georgetown (1226 36th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007, 202.965.1789), chosen as one of Gourmet Magazine’s Top Tables in America, is a real gem. In an historic, Federal period house, their dark wood walls, fine antiques, and fancy table settings make give the impression that 1789 is cost-prohibitive, but the menu is surprisingly reasonable, with small dishes ranging from $9 – 20. And did you know that they have a fabulous summer menu coupon you can print from their website, offering three courses for $35.00? (Offer expires September 15, 2010.) I tried the summer special with my dear friends Matt, Mac, and Christopher (pictured below, right, with little ol’ me). To say the least, we were not disappointed. We tried several of Chef Daniel Giusti’s thoughtful, summery offerings using only the freshest local ingredients, including the selection of country terrines (pictured, below), Wianno oyster gratin, soft-shell crab (pictured, above), crispy pork belly (with a wonderful shaved fennel salad), and day boat scallops (with roasted beets and rich Hudson Valley fois gras). For dessert, the cherry lattice and the icebox cake (pictured, below) were standouts. Be warned, jackets are required. You’ll have fun making a special night of it – we did!