Getting it Raw at Kaz

Zagat’s and The Washingtonian can’t be wrong – or can they? Rated at the top of Washington restaurants by both Zagat and the Washingtonian, Kaz Sushi is known for its authentic Japanese “freestyle” food. The tag “freestyle” comes from giving the authentic Japanese dishes a slight Western touch. But are the taste buds of the average sushi-loving GW student ready for this restaurant? Zagat couldn’t answer that.

The newly renovated bistro is very minimalist in appearance, but not in a trendy way. There is a fountain near the entrance and a sushi bar in the back. The walls are neutral, with Asian art hung around the room for accent. The restaurant is extremely small – its main dining room seats no more than two or three dozen diners. The tables are set close together, but that only adds to the Japanese feel. If Kaz were actually in Japan, the tables would be even closer together and more patrons would be packed into the restaurant, not sitting on the floor at low tables, as some might imagine. This cramped atmosphere can mean eating only inches away from other parties, which may get a little uncomfortable, especially for parties of two. But on the bright side, if your date is boring, you can just eavesdrop on the people next to you for a little entertainment.

The only thing really missing in the restaurant’s new design is a bar. There’s no place to wait for any late members of your party, save the lobby or your table. Also, the drink menu offers little variety, forcing you to choose from just a few kinds of saki, Asian beer or wine. A small assortment of cold and hot saki is available, but if you can’t decide among them or are feeling adventurous, order the saki taster. You’ll get small glasses of three different types of saki with a short description of each.

And you should feel adventurous if you are heading out to Kaz Sushi Bistro. While many people love most of the sushi available around town, the variety here isn’t the tame American version we are used to. Just a couple of blocks away from the Marvin Center, the restaurant offers a much better-quality sushi than what those who only know it from J Street will be familiar with. The price is a little higher and you can’t pay on Colonial Cash, but you’ll leave more satisfied.

The variety of sushi here includes all the standards, from yellow tail, tuna or salmon nigiri (slivers of fish laid on top of rice) to California or salmon skin maki rolls (which are the traditional rice and seaweed wraps around a core of fillings). There are, however, a few choices that are anything but standard. If you’re the daring type, try the sea urchin, smelt roe (fish eggs) with quail eggs or lobster meat with wasabi mayo nigiri sushi. Yes, it’s a mouthful to pronounce, but the mouthful you eat will make your pronunciation struggles well worth it. Sushi ranges from around four to six dollars, so a large meal will add up to a good-sized bill.

Kaz Sushi Bistro boasts a number of unique sushi creations for the bolder sushi buff, including Tuna with Foie Gras ( a pate made of duck or goose liver), salmon with mango sauce (one of the best dishes), plum wine-infused duck foie gras, salmon with jalapeno roll, and asparagus and roasted bell pepper roll, just to name a few. The foie gras gives an unexpectedly smooth taste to the fish, and the mango sauce gives a unique sweetness to the salmon. These dishes are an interesting treat for anyone willing to think – and eat – outside the box.

If you have a sensitive pallet and don’t enjoy wasabi, beware – the sushi chefs put a small sample of wasabi under each piece of fish on the nigiri sushi. The wasabi here is also something special. The Bistro serves regular wasabi with all sushi, but for an extra three dollars you can enjoy “real” wasabi. The difference? The regular wasabi is made from ground powder, while the real wasabi is scraped from the root to create a green, creamy sauce with a more pungent taste and a more vivid color. For only three dollars, it’s worth a try.

If sushi isn’t enough for you, there are a number of “small dishes” to choose from. Grilled baby octopus, Asian tender short ribs and Japanese-style duck confit with wasabi-miso sauce are just a few of the choices available. These dishes are fairly small for the price you pay, but when you dine at Kaz, you are going for the experience, so trying one of these is worth it. But be sure there’s at least a chance you’ll like what you’re ordering, or you might find yourself chomping away on a chewy piece of clam tempura with a sour expression on your face.

For the ultimate intrepid experience, order the Fugu Kara Ageh, or fried blowfish. This is only in season in March and April, so call ahead to make sure it will be available when you go. Why is this delicacy so delicious? Because only specially trained chefs can prepare this meal. If a strict regimen is not followed in preparing the dish, eating blowfish can be deadly.

Not a restaurant for the tame, Kaz Sushi Bistro provides patrons with an authentic Japanese experience, or the closest thing to it without having to travel to Tokyo. For those who truly love authentic Japanese cuisine, the Bistro is the place to go, but if your subdued taste buds are satisfied with J Street sushi, skip this restaurant. With its small dining room, Kaz can afford to be exclusive.

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