Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner, and as a Japanese food enthusiast, it was a meal I had been looking forward to for some time. Sushi Taro in DC is a Michelin-starred restaurant that offers a nine course Kaiseki. The bottom line here is that this meal was absolutely incredible. At $90 total sans alcohol it is on the pricey side, but 10 dollars a dish isn't terrible. And you really get what you pay for: The meal is well-paced, and despite being 9 courses, you won't be too full when the meal is over.
Course one: Octopus, smoked tuna with fish roe and a shrimp chip, and vinegar-marinated tuna
The octopus was well-cooked and juicy, and the vinegar-marinated tuna was similar to ceviche. The real standout was the smoked tuna with fish roe. The smokiness was pronounced, and the saltiness of the roe and the natural fattiness of the tuna made for a delicious bite.
Course two: Ink-battered live soft-shelled crab black tempura with lobster sauce
This was without a doubt one of my favorite dishes of the Kaiseki. The tempura batter was fluffy and light, and its black color comes from squid ink, which adds a delightful oceanic flavor. The crab itself was juicy and tender, and the sauce added richness without overbearing salinity.
Course three: Sashimi
This course featured a raw oyster and tuna. The oyster was a bit large for my taste, but the liquor in the shell was delicious, and the presentation of this dish was beautiful. It was a good raw bite or two after a fried dish.
Course four: Grilled 'ayu' yuan-yaki with 'soumen' cold noodle soup
The grilled fish was crispy and crunchy, no small feat for protein in a soup. The noodles were cooked well, and the broth was light and rich and full of umami. I was told to eat the fish and noodles first, and then drink the broth from the bowl. This bit a theater was a welcome departure from what would be considered proper dining etiquette in American restaurants, so it goes without saying I was happy to oblige.
Course five: First Sushi
As expected, all of the sushi here was delicious. The star was the middle roll; the fish was wrapped in banana leaf, which added a subtle fruitiness and pop. It was probably my favorite bite of the meal.
Course six: Second sushi
The sixth course of sushi was good, but it didn't change my life. I am not a huge fan of salmon roe rolls (even though I gushed about the salmon roe only a few courses ago). That said, it was a nice refreshing break before the heavy seventh dish...
Course seven: Shabu-shaibu - sliced silky pork and wild ramp in a spicy hot pot
As I mentioned, I am a fan of a bit of theater, and this dish was great. The hot pot came out bubbling away above a hot coal. The noodles were a fantastic al dente, and the thinly sliced pork was awesome. A bit at a time, I added ramp, pork, and some noodles to the broth to let them cook. After I was done, I added more. I cleaned this plate up, despite being six courses into the meal. For the spice-averse, this dish isn't for you: That broth is spicy. I love aggressive heat, which made the hot pot one of my favorite courses as well.
Course eight: Final Sushi
For this course, I was able to pick my own sashimi, so I went with tried and true classics: Fatty salmon, yellowtail, and shrimp. All were, as expected, awesome. The pacing of the meal really hit me here: I wasn't terribly full and I was nearly done with a nine course dinner. The intermittent sushi provided fresh, raw counterbalances to other, heavier dishes.
Course nine: Coffee ice cream
I am not a big dessert guy (cue the groans: I know). The coffee ice cream was a yummy, soothing, cold bite to end a big meal. It even had a little chilled coffee in the bottom of the bowl under the ice cream, allowing the coffee flavor to shine.
All in all, I loved my experience at Sushi Taro. It was authentic and well-paced, and I got every bit of food I paid for. It's certainly not somewhere I'd go to dinner every day, but if you love sushi, or you have a special occasion, check out Sushi Taro.