Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sushi Taro

I'm very disappointed in Sushi Taro. I've lost a friend and now begins my period of mourning... This used to be one of my favorite sushi places in DC. It was big and noisy and crowded but it had quality sushi at moderate prices. Now, Sushi Taro's beautiful but snobby stepsister has come in and taken over. Goodbye old friend.

Despite being one of the most popular eateries in DC, Sushi Taro recently closed up shop and gave the restaurant and the menu a swanky new makeover. Something happened when they ripped out that old sushi bar and removed the tatami mats from the floor; they sucked the life out of the place. Sushi Taro 2.0 is pretty and quieter and has cleaner bathrooms. For my taste, I'd prefer the uglier, louder place with dirty bathrooms if I can get back my beloved sushi rolls, tempura, and udon.

In an effort to present more authentic Japanese cuisine, many of the popular "Americanized" dishes are gone. The menu now consists of three tasting menus and a small a la carte offering. We tried the nigiri tasting menu for $75 per person. For that price it seems reasonable to expect high quality sushi that is also interesting. Instead, we got 2.5 hours of very ordinary sushi. The fish was fresh and there was a lot of it, but there was nothing that blew us away. For the most part, it could be said that in the taste and texture department that there wasn't a single bite that was notably unique, memorable, or better than what we've had before at less expensive prices. Moreover, some of the nigiri had so much wasabi on it that I couldn't taste the fish.

What's more, it was served by a waitress that struggled mightily with the English pronunciations of the sushi dishes. To her credit, she tried very hard but much of the dining experience was lost when we did not know what we were eating (which is critical when you order a meal that is not pre-determined on the menu). It could be argued that our palettes are simply not sophisticated enough to pick up the intricacies and genius of our meal. On the other hand, we are far from sushi virgins and would both list Japanese food among our favorite types of cuisine. Regardless, if the primary motivator behind the renovation was to allow the talent of Sushi Taro's chefs to shine, we were left in the dark and it is our guess that we aren't the only ones.

Here is a photo play-by-play of the dishes we had (at least as best as we could determine from our waitress).

Course 1: homemade tofu with uni and sesame sauce

Course 2: Japanese rice with tofu skin sauce

Course 3: salted shrimp with daikon sauce

Course 4 (left to right): mackerel, crab, snapper

Course 5 (left to right to front): yellowtail, grouper, marinated tuna

Course 6: Soup with a shrimp ball, oyster, and Japanese noodles in shrimp broth

Course 7 (left to right): butterfish, roe, bonito

Course 8 (left to right to front): sardine, uni, fatty tuna

For the final course you can choose your own 3 pieces of sushi. I was stuffed at this point and falling asleep at the table (because of the time it took between dishes) but I chose toro and the marinated tuna. Both were above average. B chose toro, salmon, and shrimp.

If you're planning on trying out the new Sushi Taro, be aware of their reservation policy. They only answer the phone to take reservations Monday thru Friday, between 10:30am - 11:30am and 4:30pm - 6:00pm.

When we walked up on a Wednesday night we were told it would be a 1 hour wait. They took my cell phone number and explained, "we will only call you once, if you do not answer, then we give your table away. If you do not come within 10 minutes, then we give your table away." Somewhat militant for a restaurant that was half full at the time, but it gave us a chance to go next door to our beloved Mr. Yogato to "wait" (eat yogurt). We got a phone call within 20 minutes. When we arrived back at Sushi Taro our table wasn't ready (we had to wait another 15 minutes). While we waited for the table, a couple came in and asked how long the wait was. "10 - 15 minutes," said the hostess. What happened to the hour wait?

Why they couldn't keep the old Sushi Taro and open a separate upscale restaurant is beyond me. My advice? Don't waste your money on sexy Sushi Taro 2.0. Instead, if you are looking for top-notch, thoughtful sushi, go to the bar at Kaz Sushi Bistro and let Chef Kaz dazzle your taste buds with his unique creations. Sushi Taro 2.0, I don't have the energy to deal with you and your snooty new ways. Sayonara.

Second Thoughts from B

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Don't get us wrong, the new Sushi Taro is not a terrible place to eat. Expensive, yes. Uninspired, yes. But terrible? No, I wouldn't go that far. The problem is that for those of us that know and love what it used to be, the gap in quality and value is tremendous because the realization of their current vision is severely lacking. Our disappointment is more about what we lost than what remains. Unfortunately, I don't know that the damage can be undone, nor do I get the impression that management would want to go back. Bottom line: it looks like we're now in the market for a new favorite sushi place in DC.
Sushi Taro on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you two are very, very silly for turning up your noses at what has become a jewel in the city: the most authentic japenese food in DC, topping even Makoto.

Big, bustling, average sushi places are a dime a dozen. Sushi-taro is a world-class dining experience.

Cast off your mourning attire and savor it!