The chefs at Minh Restaurant pay homage to the diverse culinary heritage of North Vietnam with a menu that showcases more than 100 dishes from the region. Inside the elegant dining room, servers bear specialty plates such as pan-fried rice noodles, grilled shrimp and thin rice, or sour catfish soup, along with traditional Vietnamese staples, such as beef noodle pho and eggrolls. And even though the soft amber lanterns and Asian sculptures already add an air of authenticity to each feast, the chefs here go one step further by serving their savory dishes in a traditional manner, whether inside a rustic clay pot or atop a sizzling cast iron plate.
At Hikaru Sushi, seasoned chefs mold the sea's freshest specimens into more than 70 types of maki and nigiri. In addition to constructing classic California rolls from crab sticks and cucumbers, they whisk taste buds to the frontier of the sushi realm with colorful fruit maki and a deep-fried Virginia roll stuffed with asparagus, cream cheese, and yellowtail. The eponymous Hikaru bento box pairs a choice of five sushi rolls with hot teriyaki and an Asian amuse-bouche such as gyoza or shumai, and the Hikaru maki teams crispy shrimp tempura with a mayo that has more kick than a Rockette who took tae kwon do lessons as a child. To end the meal on a sweet note, guests can nibble desserts such as mango sherbet and tempura ice cream on the restaurant's outdoor patio.
Kanpai Japanese Restaurant encourages diners to raise their glasses over platefuls of fresh sushi and traditional Japanese entrees. Inside the restaurant—which takes its name from a word that means “cheers!” —patrons gather around the sushi bar and watch as chefs set pieces of yellowtail, white tuna, and smoked salmon over rice and slice up various specialty rolls. Meanwhile, the wait staff carries salmon and chicken teriyaki from the grill to dining room tables both indoors and out. Throughout meals, patrons can sip wine and sake, or kick back with a bottle of Japanese beer.
Though the interior of Matsutake Ballston Japanese Steak and Seafood House takes a modern approach to traditional Asian décor, its lunch and dinner menus are filled with authentic Japanese cuisine. On traditional hibachi grills, chefs-turned-showmen sizzle morsels of marinated chicken, NY strip steak, and lobster alongside fresh vegetables. At the sushi bar, maki-makers hand craft spicy tuna, tempura shrimp, and California rolls in a less flashy display. For more unique flavors, Matsutake serves up appetizers of tempura-fry calamari and cap meals with desserts such as housemade crème brulee infused with green tea and cream harvested from the brulee tree. Matsutake also stocks a selection of imported Japanese drinks including Echigo Koshi Hikari rice lager, Junmai sake, and Ramune orange soda.
Located above Makoto, one of DC’s highest-rated (and most expensive) Japanese restaurants, Kotobuki offers nearly the same great tastes for a fraction of the price. Sushi, sashimi and kamameshi are top sellers inside the tiny space, which at first glance seems more like a quaint brick home than casual sushi joint. Kotobuki offers six or eight tables, plus seats at the sushi bar. Not a bad seat, considering that’s where the action is anyway. If your stomach is already groaning, it’s best to get to a table early or try to arrive late, as the diminutive room means a line can form in a snap. You could always order takeout, but then you’d be missing out on the atmosphere, including Kotobuki’s Beatles-heavy soundtrack.
Makoto translates to “harmony,” and it’s an altogether fitting name for a Japanese restaurant that gracefully toes the line between creative and traditional. The chef draws on local, seasonal ingredients and his own imagination to create an omakase menu with up to 10 courses, some of which may include kobachi, sushi, and soba. Makoto doesn’t encourage substitutions; every course is carefully selected to balance out the others, so even the smallest shift in weight might cause plates to tumble to the floor.