When I found out that (Sushi) Chef Yoshihita Ota was now at Yuzu, I was very optimistic and excited. Chef Ota opened Kushi which had terrific sushi when it first opened (many readers here might not remember that, but it did), and he became Head Sushi Chef at the Chevy Chase Sushi Ko after Kushi began having tax problems, making that location one of the most serious sushi restaurants in the area (Koji Terano himself told me that he is tremendously talented).
So I walked into Yuzu with an enormous amount of bias that it would be fantastic. However, remember that Yuzu is a full-blown Japanese restaurant, meaning that there’s a Sushi Chef and a Kitchen Chef, and that sushi is only half the game here. And it just so happens that my dining companion wanted mostly cooked food, so we were to essentially “test” the kitchen chef.
I perused the list with a Kirin ($6.50) and ordered a Kaki Moto Yaki ($6.50 for 2), what Yuzu’s sandwich sign outside called “Oyster Bake,”) but were two large baked oysters with egg and spinach, and one of the hits of the night, and well-priced, too.
Corn Tempura ($7) was actually not a tempura, but crusted with panko; nevertheless, I loved it, and thought it was one of the highlights of the entire meal.
Next was Hirame Usuzukuri ($15, and the most expensive food item of the meal), flounder carpaccio, Japanese style, with ponzu, shichimi oroshi (start Googling), wakame “salad,” and green onions. We had a divisive split over this; my *extremely knowledgable* Japanese dining companion insisting the fish has been frozen and reused as quasi-sashimi, and I rather liking it, while at the same time acknowledging its expense – it was only five pieces if I recall. This, perhaps more than any dish, angered her, and her antenna went up for the rest of the meal.
Age Nasu Dengaku ($8) was eggplant, dengaku style: baked eggplant, topped with minced chicken marinated with sweet miso sauce. Especially because we got two half-eggplants with this, and the stuffing was quite good I liked it a lot, especially for the price. When we were finished with it, I happily ate the skins which is optional.
Mushidori ($10) was a salad platter of steamed-boiled chicken breast, sliced, arranged around the center of the plate rimmed with sliced japanese cucumber and tomato, the whole thing resting on an abundance of watery miso sauce. if done right, this was supposed to be Ban Ban Ji (a Japanese take on a Chinese dish of steamed chicken with a sesame miso sauce and cucumbers, but it wasn’t done right.)
Ganmodoki ($7) was tofu dumplings with wood-ear mushrooms and carrots in a dashi broth with hot mustard, braised eggplant, kabocha squash, and shishito pepper. Something of a dashi, this was perhaps the dish of the night.
After some of the unbelievable tsukune I’ve had in this town of late, in particular Izakaya Seki’s (the best I’ve ever eaten in my life), Yuzu’s Tsukune ($6 for two chicken meatballs) was soulless and somewhat vapid. Although it was technically “okay,” it had no love in the process of making it, and therefore was very boring, especially in comparison to what I know is out there.
Similarly, a Vegetable Tempura Assortment ($8) was pleasant, but simply humiliated by the tempura I’d had earlier in the weekend at Sushi Yoshi in Vienna which was as good as any I’ve had in Northern Virginia, or maybe even the entire DC area. While this was pleasant, the shishito (decent), broccolli (no), red pepper (no), asparagus (decent), eggplant (decent), zucchini (no!), was ultimately only average-to-good, and its dashi dipping sauce was too salty (soy-saucy), and there was no grated daikon or ginger.
All this, if you’ll notice, came from the kitchen; I insisted we try something from the sushi chef, Chef Ota, so we got the simplest of orders: Tamago ($4). The omelet came out as just a plain old piece of egg, not nigiri, unless you want to consider the almost unidentifiable wedge of rice on the inside, “rice,” and one piece was cut into two to make it look like we got two pieces. It was also icebox-cold, as the kitchen was clearly trying to close early on this Sunday night (we were, at this point, the last diners in the restaurant, and surely caught them off-guard by ordering this dish).
So, no conclusion at all on the Sushi Chef (Yoshihita Ota) here, but somewhat of a disappointment on the kitchen food.
This was all washed down with a bottle of Suigei Tokubetsu Junmai Sake ($53) which is several dollars more expensive than you can find downtown, but that’s not surprising since it’s Bethesda.
In all, a disappointing meal that I cannot justify putting in Italic in the Dining Guide. This meal was $145.95 before tip in an empty restaurant, and it was by no means distinctive. Maybe I wasn’t fair not testing the Sushi Chef, and next time, I will. Yuzu is maintained, for now, in plain text.