Kobo Named Best New RestaurantBethesda Magazine May 1, 2018
More than 70 restaurants have opened in the Bethesda area in the last two years. Our critic chooses his 10 favorites.
At Lina’s Diner and Bar in Silver Spring, a server’s warm greeting and enthusiastic description of the cocktail menu inspire me to order a bracing Hemingway daiquiri and predispose me to a favorable impression as I start a meal there. The first bite of the meat portion of my steak frites is seasoned confidently, cooked precisely as requested and pleasantly tender. By the end of the meal, Lina’s earns a spot on my list of favorite new restaurants.
More than 70 new restaurants opened in the Bethesda area in 2016 and 2017, according to Bethesda Beat. It was my job to determine which I liked best and to rank them in order.
Some points of interest: The top three restaurants are Asian. Five of them are owned by local empire builders: Daisuke Utagawa, Peter Chang, Michael Babin, Jeff Black and Bo Blair. Another is owned by Ashish Alfred, whose empire is just getting started.
What do my 10 favorites have in common, besides the quality of the food? A devotion to good service, their craft, hospitality and consistency. Here are my favorite restaurants that opened in 2016 and 2017.
1 Kobo at Sushiko
In Chevy Chase, you walk through an excellent restaurant, Sushiko, to get to an extraordinary one called Kobo, a restaurant-within-a-restaurant that owner Daisuke Utagawa launched in late 2016. Kobo is a private counter where six diners experience a multicourse tasting menu crafted and served to them by Sushiko’s executive chef, Piter Tjan, who engagingly interacts with guests throughout the meal. The prix-fixe menu comes at a steep-but-worth-it price and seats are coveted, so book well in advance. Dinner costs $130 per person including tax and tip for an all-vegan menu offered on Tuesdays; $160 inclusive for the nonvegan menu offered Thursday through Saturday. The price goes up when you add quaffs from the beautifully curated wine list.
My tasting menu starts with tea (green tea and kelp) theatrically brewed before me in a tabletop siphon. The chef exchanges pleasantries with each of the guests and discovers in our conversation that I’m left-handed. “Ah, that’s important to know!” he says. “I will switch the angle of the nigiri I present to you so it will be more comfortable to pick up.” For the first course, a server proffers a covered dish, removing its lid to reveal a cloud of smoke hiding a medallion of monkfish liver “foie gras” topped with slate gray osetra caviar, persimmon purée and lush purple nasturtiums.
A sashimi course includes two generous slices each of decadent fatty tuna, lean tuna, house-cured and smoked Arctic char, and wild winter yellowtail, presented with a nest of bean thread, a pile of imported and freshly grated Japanese wasabi and a verdant shiso leaf.
For the nigiri courses, the chef uses akazu and red vinegar to make his sushi rice, imparting a brown hue. (Akazu is made from sake lees, the yeasty dregs left over after sake is made from rice.) He deftly molds small mounds of the rice, topping each with a pristine slice of fish. Among the dazzlers are cured snapper topped with julienned ginger blossom, and soy-marinated tuna with caviar and gold leaf. Next are two sushi courses: one a hand roll of fatty tuna; the other an oval nori cup filled with tartare made with the highest grade (A5) of Japan’s famed wagyu beef and gilded with a quail egg yolk.
The evening’s pièce de résistance isn’t fish; it’s a thick slice of deep-fried, medium-rare, panko-crusted A5 wagyu beef sirloin served on toasted housemade milk bread. If you have room for udon (thick Japanese noodles) and poached lobster in miso dashi broth, more power to you. Strawberry panna cotta is a light and refreshing coda to a revelatory dining experience.
5455 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase
301-961-1644 | sushikorestaurants.com