Kushi, Mount Vernon Square

I had a broad sampling of items at the deceptively expensive Kushi last night (it, like Jaleo, can add up), starting at the bar with a happy hour special of Kuro Uma Gold Shochu ($6, normally $8). Then, on to the table …

Having been to Kushi several times in the past, I’ve learned that their high-end sushi is terrific (and terrifically expensive) – they can afford to offer this because it’s such a high-volume operation that the low-end dining subsidizes the transportation costs (think Eamonn’s, The Majestic, etc., subsidizing the Tasting Room at Restaurant Eve (although Restaurant Eve, even the bistro, has gotten very expensive in its own right)).

There was no high-end sushi last night, just a Groupon, and an assortment of small plates from various sections of the menu. In order of arrival:

A complementary amuse-gueule of Aji Nanban (two small, fried sardines in broth with vegetables) – a very nice touch, and a gracious way to start the meal.

From the Kobachi (small plates) section:

Kinpira ($3), simmered burdock root, and Niku Dofu ($5.50), simmered tofu and beef.

From the Gohan (rice & soup) section:

Two orders of Yakionigiri ($3 each), grilled rice balls, in this case fascinatingly stuffed with what appeared to be rhubarb, the crunchiness of the exterior of the rice balls reminding me of Persian tah digue (that great, bottom-scraped rice that I adore).

From the Robata (wood grill) section:

Japanese Eggplant (a bargain at $3), and Maitake Mushroom ($5), both vegetarian because some of Kushi’s robata meats are initially cooked using the sous-vide technique (which has no place whatsoever here), and merely finished on the grill; vegetables tolerate this method much better than animal proteins.

From the Kushiyaki (charcoal grilled skewer) section:

Chicken Liver ($4), Pork-Stuffed Shishito Pepper ($5), and Leek ($3) which was surprisingly the least favorite dish of the evening, the leeks being completely DOA (dessicated on arrival).

Finally, from the Maki (sushi roll) section:

Salmon & Avocado Roll ($6.50), the consensus favorite of the night, mainly because of the extraordinary sushi rice coupled with just the right amounts of salmon and avocado (both having a very similar texture), the whole thing being melt-in-your-mouth good.

Drinks throughout the meal included one major mistake on my part, the Echigo Koshihikari Niigata ($10 for 16 ounces) which tasted no better than a dilute Sapporo (I’ve had other Echigos, such as the Red Ale and the Stout, in the past, and loved them, but make sure to skip this one unless you’re a Bud drinker). Better were two boxes of sake from the Tokubetsu Junmai section: Suigei “Drunken Whale” from Kouchi ($9 for a reasonable four-ounce pour).

In reading what I just typed, I’m realizing how much of Kushi’s menu I tried last night. Everything (with the exception of the grilled leeks) was good to very good, and nothing was outstanding. Nothing, that is, except the experience as a whole: friendly service, good-quality food, a huge, varied menu, and very low price points for the budget conscious.

Kushi has done quite well for itself, and after three or visits here, I’m raising it some more in my Dining Guide (available for free, always, to participating members of donrockwell.com (which is also free – why don’t you take 2-3 minutes and sign up? You’ll love it, I promise you!))

And coming next: a review about the best Thai meal I’ve had in … perhaps several years.

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