Nevin Martell 2017-03-24 03:32:40
A terrarium unlike any other is placed in front of me. The glass cloche covers a microplot of baby turnips sprouting from a bed of whipped black edamame. I use my hands to uproot the miniature vegetables and drag them through the “dirt” (a mixture of olives, roasted nori and sunf lower seeds), so I feel like I’m eating straight out of the garden. Next comes the imitation caviar course, the tiny ebony pearls forged from black seaweed. I’m instructed to spoon them into a crystal candy jar containing silky housemade tofu submerged under a subtle dashi broth. The flavors are admirably restrained; a contrast to the playful presentation, which makes its debut on my Instagram feed a few minutes later. These dishes are part of the vegan tasting menu at Kobo, which means atelier, an artist’s workshop. The unique restaurant-within-a-restaurant den inside the Friendship Heights Sushiko is helmed by the Tjan brothers, Piter and Handry. Up to eight guests are arrayed along a two-toned wooden counter arcing across the main dining room like a sickle. Patrons have an unfettered view of the action unfolding in the exhibition kitchen in front of them. Monday through Wednesday evenings, the Tjans offer a 12-course vegan Kappo experience, while a 15-course omnivorous version is offered Thursday through Saturday. All meals begin with a siphon packed with sencha and kombu ( kel p). The resulting tea smells like you’re beachcombing after a storm, briny and fresh with vegetal notes from the seaweed. It’s a transportive opener to help patrons quickly forget they’re in the middle of a dining room whose muted music is a welcome relief from all the this-one-goes-to-11 eateries. The first course of the vegan dinner features spherifications of mango, strawberry and lychee, each sprinkled with a different salt and sugar. They pop in my mouth, intense bursts of fruitiness that give way to the spices in the seasonings. On the other end of the spectrum is custardy grilled eggplant blanketed with gooey wheat gluten possessing all the funky charm of taleggio cheese. A brushing of bright misolemon glaze slices through the richness and keeps the dish upbeat. Sushi is not forgotten. There are two gunkan-maki rolls. The first sports soymarinated miniature carrots; the next is pureed winter squash with a welcome dash of wasabi to balance the sweetness of the star. A piece of nigiri finishes the trio, but the pink-hued sliver on top of the rice turns out to be a pickled ginger blossom with a pleasant rosewater aftertaste. The next night I return for the nonvegan meal. For the first course, a lid is lifted to reveal a sake-blanched oyster complemented by red shiso foam and golden pearls of roe, wisps of cherry smoke disappearing into the ether. Next there’s a row of orange uni tongues sitting on a cradle of silky tofu and submerged in a delicate sauce of soy, sake and sugar. A few courses later, it’s quite the opposite. Grilled wagyu beef is wrapped around uni and a pinch of wasabi, the slender tubes graced with thin slices of black truffle. The dish should be called All the Good Things for its decadence and divinity. A substantial salvo of sushi blends traditionalism with modernism. A quail yolk is nestled with caviar in a gunkan-maki roll. Miso-blended foie and crispy leeks for some sweetness sit atop f lash-fired tuna belly. There’s seared foie gras wrapped with a ribbon of kombu. And a taco-style temaki roll cradles uni galore. It’s one hell of a grand finale. Both the meals are profoundly delightful, bursting with creativity and showcasing flavors and preparations that linger long after leaving—it now ranks among the best tasting-menu experiences in the region. KŌBŌ 5455 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase, Md., 301.961.1644, kobo-sushiko.com Vegan Menu Mon.-Wed., seating at 6 or 8PM, $130 per person (tax and tip included) Omnivorous Menu Thu.-Sat., seating at 6 or 8PM, $160 per person (tax and tip included) Swag Bag Guests go home with a goody bag to extend the experience. Each comes packed with housemade treats: a bottle of tart ’n’ tangy yuzu vinaigrette and chocolates, which might be balsamic ganache-packed dark chocolates or white chocolates with a matcha middle—all vegan. There’s also a menu from the evening and a handwritten thank-you note from the chefs. Rice, Rice Baby This is not your average sushi rice. After the grain is cooked, the Tjans mix in akazu red vinegar made from sake lees and aged for up to six years. The pink liquid adds a singular tang with deep umami tones. Since the flavor is quite strong, the chefs balance it with white vinegar, so as to not overwhelm the rice’s accompaniments.
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