Thursday, November 4, 2010

Kushi Izakaya and Sushi

If you want a place to live up to its hype, don't go on a Friday night. Everyone has been telling us that we needed to check out Kushi and, when Groupon offered a 50% off deal, I jumped on it. Apparently so did 7,295 other people. We didn't make a reservation so we called ahead and learned that the wait for walk-ins was thirty minutes. By the time we arrived, the wait time had stretched to 40 minutes, but we decided to stick with our plan and wait it out. Besides, we couldn't go to neighboring Taylor Gourmet because they were out of bread AGAIN. The wait gave us time to explore the bustling restaurant which is part izakaya (Japanese gastropub) and part sushi restaurant. Kushi offers rare sushi finds such as live uni (sea urchin).

The other half of the restaurant is dominated by a large wood robata grill. You can ask to be seated at the counter where you can watch the chefs grill up kushiyaki (skewered items such as pork belly and chicken skin).

After waiting our 40 minutes, we started to notice that walk-ins who arrived after us were being seated. I inquired with one of the four hostesses and she asked me whether my whole party had arrived. I told her that it was a party of two and both of us had been sitting about 2 feet away from her for the last 40 minutes. Unfortunately, so many people manning the door led to confusion. We were seated shortly thereafter at a table that was jammed less than a foot away from the neighboring tables on each side (yes, B measured). Twice, our table neighbors dropped items on the ground and we got their faces in our laps as they retrieved their belongings. Nice to meet you....

Excited to be seated and a bit overwhelmed by the lengthy menu, we explained to our waitress that we wanted to order from the robata grill and small plates menus. We asked how many items per person we should order. You'd think this would be a question she gets every 3 minutes, but she looked at us like we were aliens. Without the waitress as a guide, we used helpful suggestions from Twitter friends and just went for it.

It was a chilly night and I was craving soup. We each ordered the chicken and rice soup. Expecting a miso soup-sized portion, we were surprised to see large udon soup-size bowls set before us. After a dozen or so slurps of the soup, we both opted to save room for more interesting courses.

Our grim mood was erased by the majesty on the next plate. Grilled pork belly, wagyu beef, and jumbo shrimp were tender, packed with flavor, and worth a return visit.

I was also a big fan of the eringi mushrooms and their fun meaty texture and charcoal flavor.

The seaweed salad was not your ordinary pile of green seaweed in soy sauce. It featured a really interesting array of seaweed varieties with contrasting flavors and textures.
The dish on the specials list that I was most excited about turned out to be the biggest disappointment. I thought that the spicy soy miso fried chicken nuggets would change my life. Instead, they had me reaching for the water glass because they were so salty!

In the vegetable department, the eggplant with chicken miso had a nice smoky flavor and crispy/soft combination of textures.

The tofu beef was a bland version of mom's beef stew. Better to save room for more skewers and skip this one.

We ended up ordering too much (thanks waitress!) and did not have room for dessert, but our blog buddies at I Flip for Food recommend the black sesame ice cream.

Overall, I think I'd like to come back on a slow night (perhaps a Tuesday during a snow storm) to experience the food without all the craziness. As we were leaving, we noticed that we never received the amuse bouche that all the surrounding tables received. Walking out the door, we couldn't elicit a "good night" or "thanks for coming" from any of the four hostesses. On this cold night, Kushi wasn't doing much to make us feel warm inside. However, the next time Taylor Gourmet runs out of bread, chances are good that I'll return for more from the grill.

Second Thoughts from B

I think J is being the nice, sweet, glass-half-full girl that I love, because Kushi is not a restaurant I'll be placing high on my list for a return trip. The grilled items, especially the wagyu beef, were outstanding and the eggplant was pleasingly bold in the flavor department. Other than those two highlights, it was a disappointing evening. Not the worst, but certainly not the best. This made me thankful for the Groupon rate...

Have you ever found yourself flipping through channels looking for something to watch on TV only to land on TBS which is inevitably in the middle of a movie you've seen 100 times and might even own on DVD? It's usually a bad sequel or something starring Nicolas Cage. You probably have no real desire to see this movie again, yet somehow it sucks you in and 90 minutes later you wonder where your Sunday afternoon went.

That's how I feel about Kushi. If someone asked where I wanted to eat on any given night, I would not think of Kushi. But if someone else suggested it (programmers at TBS or otherwise), I'd not object. When that happens, I hope I remember to order the skewers.
Kushi Izakaya & Sushi on Urbanspoon


Angela said...

Aah! This is the problem with reading D.C. blogs - I want and can't have now! That mushroom dish looks incredible. Yeah, Kushi is a little hit or miss, but I'm glad you guys had some great dishes!

J said...

I have the same problem reading your LA blog! Glad you are finding tasty places.