the Kaiseki tasting at Sushi Taro

I’ve got a real soft spot in my heart for two things that, at times, seem diametrically opposed. A many-course tasting menu and a deal. It was with luck and the assistance of one of the recent entrants to the group-buying site Village Vines that I ended up the opportunity for both. Kind of. Somehow, I’ve ended up with a bunch of free credit on Village Vines which can be used towards 30% discounts at a number of top-notch restaurants around DC. The 30% more or less covers your tax and tip. You just have to make a reservation through their site, and keep in mind some of the places have time and day restrictions (as did Sushi Taro) and some other stipulations, but nothing too overwhelming.

With some credit about to expire, I opted to make a reservation at Sushi Taro, where I could use my discount toward one of their tasting menus. First a word about Sushi Taro. A couple of years ago, this was the no-brainer go-to sushi and yakitori place in DC where the a la carte menu was ample. The prices were reasonable and the sushi and grilled offerings were best-in-the-city excellent. Since then they’ve remodeled which resulted in less seating and higher prices and a smaller a la carte menu and the addition of several higher priced tasting menus. Well, to be honest, this was infuriating and disappointing. Our favorite sushi place, just got more expensive and more exclusive. This is no longer the weeknight sushi place it once was. Since the remodel, we’d only been back twice before — for restaurant week lunch and dinner that were quite great and actually, a relative bargain. But with 30% discount in hand, it was time to take on the big guys, the Kaiseki tasting menu. To be fair, while our trips back to Sushi Taro are less frequent as a result of all of these changes, it is still the best sushi and Japanese restaurant in town. But, just not an everyday kind of place. (For that distinction, check out Kushi.) And, so without, further ado, I give you the play-by-play of the 10 courses that made up this tasting menu (the sushi tasting was 11 courses and featured several more courses of sushi and sashimi.)

signature dish

sesame seed tofu with sea urchin in dashi broth

sesame seed tofu with sea urchin in dashi broth

Right out of the gate, this was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The tofu was soft and delicately flavored and perfumed with the dashi. The sea urchin, tofu, and dashi all together were just so perfect. And ever since another many-course dinner (that time 21 courses!) at Volt, I’ve been won over by sea urchin.

zensai

bamboo shoot, lotus root mochi, and crispy asparagus

bamboo shoot, lotus root mochi, and crispy asparagus

Very interesting flavors. The bamboo shoot tasting of wood and earth, the lotus root mochi with a surprise taste-explosion on in the inside. Again, served with a very flavorful dashi.

winter dish

small delights of winter - smoked salmon and dried roe

small delights of winter - smoked salmon and dried roe

The delicately smoked and cured salmon and the pickled daikon was great. The dried fish roe on top was salty and chewy, but not a flavor I enjoyed all that much, admittedly.

sashimi

fatty tuna, yellowtail, horse mackerel, prawn, and sardine sashimi

fatty tuna, yellowtail, horse mackerel, prawn, and sardine sashimi

This was a knock-out course of sashimi. All of it very tasty. I ate it in a clockwise fashion, starting with the fatty tuna at 12 o’clock. Even the raw shrimp was great, which made me a little squeamish, but upon eating it, I was converted.

soup

Ozoh-ni New Year traditional mochi & duck soup with prawn ball

Ozoh-ni New Year traditional mochi & duck soup with prawn ball

Another one of my favorite courses. The broth was just plain delicious. The 2 slices of duck and prawn ball were a bonus, and the mochi, perhaps, unnecessary. But, man, that broth was good.

hassun

Osechi assortment of traditional new year ingredients

Osechi assortment of traditional new year ingredients

This is the point where I realized I was only about halfway through, and if I had any chance of enjoying the last few courses, I had to start choosing wisely. To be honest, while this course was quaint in its presentation and intent, there wasn’t a lot on the plate that I actually liked that much, except the cooked spanish mackerel which was real good. I ended up eating only about half of everything except the mackerel. From the left you’ve got burdock root with sesame paste, salmon roe, lotus root with mustard, two things I’m forgetting now, steamed prawn, and cooked spanish mackerel.

fukiyose

simmered winter vegetables

simmered winter vegetables

A cute little plate with not a lot happening on it. Nice nonetheless. A little more bamboo shoot, prawn, some pea pods, a sphere of squash, and some tourneed potato.

sushi

For some reason I failed to snap a photo of this course. The waitress provided a list of about 12 options from which I was to pick three. All of them were quite interesting, and I had a little bit of a hard time narrowing it down, but I ultimately opted for house-grilled freshwater eel, uni (sea urchin), and zuke soy marinated tuna. Each of these were splendid, the tuna and eel especially.

sukiyaki

sukiyaki simmering away over a charcoal fire

sukiyaki simmering away over a charcoal fire

This is the reason I ordered the Kaiseki menu and not the sushi menu. I love sukiyaki. When I see it on a menu, I order it. Period. By this time, I was already quite full. But, I mustered up a second wind for this. And it didn’t disappoint (except I prefer the thin, clear cellophane noodles over the udon noodles used here.) The beef was wagyu and simmering away in the clay pot. Separate bowls were brought out containing the udon and a poached egg, both of which I slipped into the beefy bath in front of me. Rich and sweet, this sukiyaki did not disappoint. (and still a day later, it hit the spot, since I couldn’t possibly finish it that night, and took the rest home.)

udon and poached egg for sukiyaki

udon and poached egg for sukiyaki

dessert

kokuto coffee ice cream

kokuto coffee ice cream

Once again proving the axiom that “there’s always room for ice cream,” I opted for the coffee ice cream choice for desert. Very delicious, and I probably ate a little too much of it. But I’m glad I did. A nice way to end an all around great meal.

Sushi Taro
1503 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

http://www.sushitaro.com/

Slow Cooker Pork Belly Confit

Some people’s holiday wishes are about fancy new cars or expensive vacations or ipods or video games. Mine tend to be far simpler. They usually involve pork, and it’s usually cooked for a long time.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when I opened a Hanukkah gift — a crock pot. It pretty quickly conjured up one image. Confit. Confit of something. Anything. Then I started thinking about pork belly. Pork Belly anything. And thus, the vision was complete. I turned to my seemingly most often referred to cookbook, Ruhlman’s Charcuterie, and sure enough, there’s a recipe for pork belly confit which is actually borrowed from Jim Drohman.

The prep work started Wednesday afternoon when I placed an order at my local butcher, Let’s Meat on the Ave, here in Del Ray, for a crazy amount of locally raised pork belly. Half would go in the crock pot for confit, the other half in the freezer for bacon futures.

On Thursday afternoon, I picked up the belly, threw together the simple cure (which included such sweet and spicy ingredients as clove, cinnamon, and allspice,) and put the belly and cure in the refrigerator to cure for the next day.

all the cure ingredients

all the cure ingredients

And Friday night is when I deviated from the original recipe. Drohman’s and Ruhlman’s  version has you putting this in a 250° oven with rendered pork fat. Lacking sufficient lard and wanting to put my slow cooker to the test, I put my pork pieces in the slow cooker and topped it off with olive oil. 2 hours on the high setting, 2 hours on low setting. (Or, you could do 6-8 hours on low, if you wanted to leave it unattended.) Then I let this cool overnight. And, finally Saturday night, pulled out two portions and crisped them up in a saute pan.

cured belly ready for the slow cooker

cured belly ready for the slow cooker

More than a week had passed since the first inception, and preparation and anticipation lasted 4 days. But here I was with a crisped up confitted pork belly which I served with a reduction of apple cider, cider vinegar, and the last of the New Year’s Eve champagne from the night before. And, boy, was the wait worth it. Tender, but still meaty, and not greasy in the least. The remaining pork fat that didn’t render off was soft and pillowy, and the meat itself was deliciously spicy  from the cure. Six more portions left to sit in the fat/oil in the fridge for another day. Now, I’m thinking cassoulet for at least a couple of them…

crispy pork belly at last (with glazed carrots, parsnips, and turnips)

crispy pork belly at last (with glazed carrots, parsnips, and turnips)

Slow Cooker Pork Belly Confit

(from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book, and slightly adapted for a smaller yield and available ingredients)

  • 10 grams ground black pepper
  • 3 grams ground cinnamon
  • 1 gram ground cloves
  • 1/2 gram ground allspice
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 25 grams kosher salt
  • 3 grams pink salt (curing salt that includes sodium nitrite)
  • 3 lbs. fresh pork belly, cut into eight 6oz. portions (about 1″x2″)
  • white wine (I used a gewurztraminer I had on hand)
  • olive oil or rendered pork or duck fat
  1. Mix the first 8 ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Toss the belly pieces in the bowl with the cure.
  3. Place all of the belly pieces in an airtight container, cover with white wine. Let sit for a day, day and a half.
  4. After the pork has cured, remove the pieces and wipe off any excess cure.
  5. Place in your slow cooker and cover completely with oil or rendered fat.
  6. You can set your slow cooker to low and cook for 6-8 hours. Or run it on high for 2 hours, and then low for 2 more hours.
  7. After the all of the total cooking time, remove the pork and rendered fat or oil to cool. Place in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight.
  8. When ready to serve, crisp each piece in a hot pan. You shouldn’t need to add an oil to the pan.
  9. The remaining pieces should keep in the oil in the refrigerator for several months.

… with tacos from Taqueria El Charrito Caminante

Despite living within walking distance of about 5 places where I can get tacos, I almost always prefer to take the 10 minute drive down to Washington Blvd. in Arlington, when I get a hankering for tacos.

Trio of tacos

Trio of tacos

Taqueria El Charrito Caminante is a store-front on the outskirts of Clarendon. The story goes that they used to have a taco truck, but opened up this brick-and-mortar joint several years ago. There’s not a lot of seating, just a short formica counter with a handful of stools, so most orders are carry-out. These guys do a steady business during the lunch hours (except on Tuesday, when they’re closed,) slinging tacos, burritos, pupusas, tortas, tamales, and a variety of mexican sodas (Jarritos and Inca Cola.)

I’ve been countless times and I’ve only ever gotten one thing. Tacos. If I lived within walking distance, I’d gladly jump around the menu, but since it’s only every couple of months that I end up going here, I really only want one thing. Tacos. For me, these are the prototype for a taco. So simple and pure. Two warm  soft corn tortillas, a modest amount of meat filling, radish and scallion, and some salsa verde. No cheese. No crispy shell (not that I don’t love a crunchy taco.) No lettuce or tomato. No nonsense. When I make tacos at home, this is what I’m trying to approximate. They offer a variety of fillings — pork, beef, chorizo, chicken, beef tongue, and goat. My usual order is  a trio of goat, pork,  and chorizo. And since this has become somewhat of an addiction/habit, I end up eating them in that order every single time. And wash it all down with a tamarind Jarritos. At $2 a taco and $1 for the soda, the bill runs $7, tax included.

Tamarindo Jarritos

Tamarindo Jarritos

The goat is slow-cooked and shredded. It’s not the least bit gamy, and occasionally a little greasy. Think shredded beef or lamb. The pork is similarly slow-cooked, probably shoulder, but the pieces are cubed, so they’re a little more substantial. Think carnitas. Lastly, the chorizo, my favorite (which is why I save it for last) is minced and, kind of greasy, but in the best possible way; the grease tasting of the spicy sausage. As bad as it sounds, think about the tacos you had at your school cafeteria texture-wise. I swear that’s a good thing. Each of these little guys are dressed with a simple radish and scallion salad and then a little of the spicy salsa verde. If I were ever challenged to some sort of eating competition, I would pick these. I’m pretty sure I could a thousand of them.

Taco de puerco

Taco de puerco

Whenever anyone suggests tacos, this is immediately where my mind goes. These warm little rolls of simplicity and tastiness.