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Yuzu, Traditional Japanese in Bethesda - Chef Yoshihita Ota Comes From the Chevy Chase Sushi-Ko

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I had a solo dinner at Yuzu this past Wednesday and was very pleased. I discovered Yuzu through a Tom Sietsema "First Bite" column http://tinyurl.com/nbngbtv. The restaurant, which has been open for about a month, is located at 7345 Wisconsin Avenue. Their web page is here: http://yuzubethesda.com/.

I ordered nigiri from the menu of specials on offer that day:


I enjoyed everything with the exception of the nihon anago, which was oddly mushy and tasteless. From the regular kitchen menu, I ordered the "fried oyster, kakifry" which was just wonderful. The panko coating was crisp, not greasy, and the interior harbored full-flavored, molten oyster goodness. The oysters were accompanied by a dipping sauce (can't recall the name, but it was dark and a little sweet, akin to a plum sauce), and a small dab of spicy mustard. Both perfectly complimented the oysters.

I'm reserving final judgement until I'm able to dine here at least another time or two, but I'm hoping that I've found my go-to sushi place near home in east MoCo.

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I dined here a couple of weeks ago and thought it was okay. I am not the biggest sushi fan so I had dishes off other areas of the menu. Mushidori- steamed chicken with shredded cucumber, served cold with sesame dressing was dry and not very flavorful. Corn tempura- identified as house specialty- was a little heavy on the breading and somewhat salty. The sushi I did have was just fine- although I am not the best judge. My dining companions thought it was good but not great. I do think it deserves another shot, and I would certainly encourage people in the area to check it out.

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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 a degree of bias that it might 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 battle here. And, as it happened, my dining companion wanted mostly cooked food, so we were to lean heavy on the kitchen.

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") - two large, baked oysters with egg and spinach. One of the hits of the night, and fairly 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 knowledgable Japanese dining companion insisting the fish had been frozen and reused as quasi-sashimi, and I rather liking it, while at the same time cringing at the price - it was five thin pieces if I recall. This dish actually angered my friend, 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 cucumber and tomato, the whole thing resting on an abundance of a 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 this dish didn't work.

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. This was perhaps the dish of the night, and we were fighting over it.

After a summer overdosing on Izakaya Seki's unbelievable tsukune (the best I've ever eaten), Yuzu's Tsukune ($6 for two chicken meatballs) was somewhat vapid. Although it was technically "okay," it seemed like there was no love on the plate, and paled in comparison to what I know is out there.

Similarly, a Vegetable Tempura Assortment ($8) was pleasant, but fell way short of 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 (I adore vegetable tempura), the shishito (decent), broccolli (no), red pepper (no), asparagus (decent), eggplant (decent), zucchini (no!), was ultimately only average-to-good, 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 piece of egg, not nigiri, although there was a hidden little wedge of rice on the inside and the one piece we got was (almost) cut into two. It was icebox-cold, as the kitchen was clearly trying to close early on this Sunday night (we were, at this point, some of the last diners in the restaurant, and probably caught them off-guard by ordering this unfortunate tamago).

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 somewhat lackluster meal that I cannot justify putting in Italic in the Dining Guide (I was fairly sure that I would before I came). Dinner was $145.95 before tip in an empty restaurant, and it wasn't distinctive. Maybe I wasn't fair not testing the Sushi Chef, and next time, I will. Yuzu is maintained, for now, in plain text. Re-reading this review, the text comes across as more harsh than I intended - this meal overall was decent, at times better than decent, and based on dishes like the panko corn and ganmodoki, the restaurant has the capability to be even better than that.

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Ate last night with the family. The one plus was that everything came out VERY fast, always a plus when you have kids in tow. We ordered two of the premium sushi assortments and an assortment of other dishes for the kids, including some additional sushi. Everything we ordered in our first round of ordering was on the table within 40 minutes of walking into the restaurant. I think it helped that we were there early in the evening so there was only one other table when we walked in.

First, the premium sushi is not so premium. The biggest ripoff is the rolls that it comes with, half a kappa maki and half a spicy tuna!!!! Since when has spicy tuna been considered "chef's choice of traditional roll"???? Plus, since when is kappa maki considered premium? The core fish included were run of the mill maguro, hamachi, hirame, and I think sea bass. It did have botan ebi, and uni on it, which I guess made it premium, and one pieces that had been torched. The eel was unagi, which is also not premium. I can get that at H-Mart for $10 for a whole eel. Like experience above, the tamago was VERY cold. Makes me long for the time we were at Makoto and the chef prepared tamago fresh for us on order.

I will give them props on having about the right amount of rice, though a little bit too much for me, but not as much as some places do. The rice itself was a little clumpy though as if it had not been properly mixed. Also WRT sushi, if you are sitting at a table, don't expect it to be made by Ota-san. There is another sushi chef in the kitchen that  I think makes the stuff for the tables. At the end of the meal, our daughter was still hungry and wanted some unagi nigiri. We went up to the front so she could watch her sushi being made, but it magically appeared form the kitchen without any action from Ota-san.

The tofu dengaku was fine. Three skewers of tofu with three different sauces. Just had a little of one of them since this was mostly for the kids. It was miso based and as expected, nothing special about it.

Edamame were good, but came out ice cold. I prefer my edamame straight from being boiled, though this was probably better for my kids so they didn't have to wait for it to cool.

Ohitashi was also what one would expect for normal ohitashi.

Tsukune was quite generous with large pieces of chicken meat balls. While I could see pieces of ginger inside the meat, I couldn't really taste it, which was kind of weird.

Wait staff and hostess were all very nice, especially to the kids, which is a plus.

At $130 for dinner with two beers, a very underwhelming dinner. Can get much better sushi at Taro, and better quality for your money at Seki. Wish it had been better since it's so easy to get to from where we live, and that's always a plus when you have young children.

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