Thursday, August 19, 2010

kaz: a restaurant week review

Oh, hot damn. It's Restaurant Week here in DC, which means fancy restaurants are suddenly much dumpier as they lower their prices in order to allow riff-raff like me to dine there. Really, it's a glorious week if you make less than a billion dollars a year because dinners (an appetizer, entree and dessert) that would normally cost $50 and above, are now available for the relatively low price of $35 (drinks not included). Sure it's no Applebee's Three-Course Classic®, but look on the bright side: Chances are after eating at one of the establishments eligible to participate in Restaurant Week, your arteries won't be hankering to smack you in your face like they do at Applebee's the second you choke down the last few bites of your $20 ticket to Diabetesville. What I'm saying is, after a proper RW meal, you hopefully won't feel like dying. Instead, you'll feel like you're lucky you have a tongue full of taste buds and a healthy appetite for reasonable portions.

And so to celebrate this week of culinary wonder, my helper tortoise's helper monkey Butternuts and I ventured down to Kaz Sushi Bistro last night, an upscale Japanese place at 19th and I. Approaching the establishment from the rainy environs of the desolate downtown sidewalk at 7:30 last night, I thought what a weird location for an upscale sushi place. Butternuts scratched his head and ate a gnat.

See, downtown DC is dead for the majority of the week. Save for Monday-Friday between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6, absolutely nothing goes on there. Not only do stores and newsstands close up shop when the white-collar workday is over, but so do the Starbucks, Subways and corner delis. In other words, when you think about going out for a nice dinner in DC, you don't turn to your helper tortoise's helper monkey and say, "Let's go to that concrete ghost town on I Street and depress ourselves." Unless, of course, it's Restaurant Week and you get a deal...

So yes, walking into Kaz, which is located in a storefront of a standard office building, is a bit depressing. The ceilings are low, the layout is cramped and ramshackle and the decor is about as creative and inspiring as the closed-up Cosi down the street. Kaz seems more like a lunch place than a dinner establishment, which may explain its lobbyist-friendly location (and lobbyist-friendly regular prices).

But getting over our initial disappointing impression, we made our way toward the host...who would immediately then give us our second disappointing impression. Oh joy. The man in charge of seating was a middle-aged gentleman who was either hard-of-hearing or blatantly not listening. It took more than a comfortable amount of time for him to find our reservation, even after telling him the name it was under multiple times and spelling it for him twice. ("That's 'Butter,' b-u-t-t-e-r as in 'stick of' and 'nuts,' n-u-t-s as in 'you're gonna love mine,' got it?") If we were paying full price, we honestly would've thought about calling it off. Dull confines buttressed by what seemed like very unnecessary hullabaloo is not a good way to welcome new patrons.

Luckily, things would turn around. While we didn't get a very good table, even after waiting several more minutes (we ended up at a two-top in a row of other closely aligned tables adjacent to the main aisle), we did get a prompt and friendly waitress, who got us water when we needed it and made sure our wine glasses were always full. She provided us with both the regular menu and the RW option, which was printed on a piece of highlighter yellow paper and resembled a multiple choice exam instructing us to pick anywhere from one to three options depending on the category.

The first category was the appetizer, under which we were presented five choices. I went with the scallop ceviché; Butternuts got endangered with it and went for the Chilean sea bass. Mine was meh, but his was worth the environmental consequences. The sea bass was cooked perfectly, causing me to remark, "I wish this was an entree option," and Butternuts to exclaim, "OOO-OOO-OOO-AH-AH-AH!" He liked it a lot.

The second and third categories composed the entree. We got to choose three kinds of sushi (to total six pieces) and two different rolls. While some options could wind up adding extra dollars to the bill (e.g., it was an extra $2 or something to order the sea urchin), most didn't, including everything we ordered. I ended up with the tuna with roasted almond, eel, and salmon with mango puree. Butternuts got the yellowtail, mackerel and something else I can't remember and which I cannot ask him now because he's too busy throwing some feces at a wall. But no matter, because I'm pretty sure my order was better. All the fish (on both mine and Butternuts's plate) was of high-quality, fresh and perfectly cut. However, the addition of the roasted almonds and mango puree, I thought, put my order in the "GOTDAMN!" category. This made up for the ho-hum ceviché. The rolls, while not shout-worthy delicious, were still pretty tasty. I chose salmon with cucumber and crunchy shrimp. Butternuts chose crunchy eel and salmon with avocado. They were all fairly standard in flavor profiles, but above average in quality, which, I think is the most important factor in determining whether sushi is worth paying a lot of money for. This was.

And although I was quite full by this point, I still made room for dessert. I wouldn't have ordered it extra, but since it was included in the $35 pricetag, I would've been a veritable fool to turn it down. I got lychee panna cotta with mango sorbet. I inhaled it. It was light and fruity and really quite a perfect ending to a meal of food that could be summed up in three syllables -- nomnomnom. Butternuts ordered the liquor-laced dessert (of course) -- espresso-infused tapioca balls covered in bourbon ice cream. It was decent but far richer than I think most people (and helper monkeys) would prefer after a sushi dinner.

It's nice when you get up from a three-course meal and actually feel like you did something good for your body. I felt healthier walking out of Kaz, which may be the best way to enjoy this establishment any other week of the year; that is, I wouldn't go back for dinner, but I'd definitely go back send a helper animal to pick-up some takeout.


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Fan Tastic said...

Can you bring M@ on as a regular guest blogger?