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Koji Terano


DonRocks
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Think the six-seat Minibar at Café Atlantico is a tough table to get? Try going to Sushi-Ko and landing the two seats directly in front of master sushi chef, Koji Terano.

The first thing you notice about Koji is a genuine humility, almost a shyness, perhaps born of a slight language barrier. But beneath this gentle demeanor burns an intense candle of passion, subtly unfolding like a flower in the night.

Koji has been at Sushi-Ko since 1997 (except for a six-month turn in Las Vegas), and was promoted to executive chef late last year. Just as Mozart conducted from the harpsichord, Terano leads from his station at the sushi bar, just a few steps away from the kitchen, and is ably assisted by a well-organized staff.

While Koji was making the sashimi, he began slamming something down on the counter, as quickly and as strongly as if he were trying to swat flies. It was the live giant orange clam, and when I asked him why he was doing this, he replied simply, ‘to shrink the meat,’ an elegant way of saying to ensure it wasn’t still moving.

Sweet shrimp are topped with a small bit of beluga caviar, the combination of both flavors sending each other through the ceiling. Flounder is marinated in sea kelp, giving it a mild, deep finish, and the silken texture of the warmest of the Amernick caramels. A live scallop is coarse and fibrous, and is like nothing you have ever tried.

I asked Koji what he would order if he were sitting in my seat, and he replied, ‘the chef’s choice sashimi, a small dish or two, and then the chef’s choice sushi, in that order.’

When Koji served the sushi course, he presented five pieces, remarkable in their complexity and as simple as simplicity itself. Yellowtail was served with its own liver, sea urchin had the texture of custard and a sweet finish of the sea, seared medium-fatty tuna had the persistence of dry-aged beef and the innocence of childhood.

‘It’s a dilemma whether to eat this right when you serve it, or to give the course the proper respect and contemplation,’ I said. ‘How quickly do we need to eat this?’ He smiled and said, ‘as quickly as you can,’ and then actually apologized for not serving them one at a time. He was overruled, as the course was savored fifteen minutes or longer.

Koji is only 29 years old, and spent the first 22 of his years in Japan. He told me he misses the freshness and variety of fish available in Osaka, but smiled when he professed his love for Volnay and Charmes-Chambertin. Having been to Sushi-Ko many times over the years, I can say that nothing has had the impact of the last two times I have gone, sitting directly in front of Koji. Those lucky few that are able to secure these two seats and turn themselves over to the hands of the master, will be rewarded with a meal as immediate and profound as any in Washington.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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Can you give us a sense of how much a dinner like that costs?

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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I'm not sure if you can reserve there or not, but I know you can call ahead to see if Koji is working, and then request him as your sushi-chef when you walk in. Two people can sit directly in front of him, and he could probably work with four as well, but the third and fourth people might be skewed down the bar a bit for an off-center view. The almost intimate interplay would be greatly diminshed with four people. morela? What do you think?

Sushi-Ko allows their patrons to bring their own wine and pay a corkage fee (perhaps $15 a bottle or so), but they also have a wonderful list of reasonably priced Red Burgundies, and this cuisine demands a good glass of Chambolle-Musigny or Volnay.

The chef's plate of sashimi was $28.95 for seven orders (two pieces to an order), fresh wasabi (an absolute must) was $3.00, the softshell crab and ponzu sauce was $12.95, but you can find other fine small plates there in the $8-10 range, and the sushi was priced by the order (again, two pieces to an order), starting at $5.00 for the zuke, and going up to $7.75 for the aburi. Assuming five orders of sushi, this dinner-for-two will cost about $75 before tax, tip and drinks.

The importance of letting Koji make whatever he wants to cannot be emphasized enough here.

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So Don's posting got me so excited for some sushi, I gathered the forces (Mazman and Liam), booked us a table using open table for 6 pm on Wednesday (yesterday) (which, since it was a special timeslot for them, earned me 1000 open table points instead of 100), made a special note on the reservation about wanting to sit at the sushi bar, called ahead yesterday to make sure Koji would be there, went out and bought two bottles of burgundy (one red, one white--they charge $15 corkage), and finally arrived fully prepared and salivating at Sushi Ko. Whew.

And the meal was simply brilliant. Koji is young, enthusiastic, and extremely talented. On Don's instructions, the three of us put ourselves in his hands and allowed him to order for us. He seemed quite pleased to do this, and smiled a great deal as we oohed and ahhhed over each incredibly fresh delicate piece of fish we downed.

We started with the chef's sashimi plate (this normally has two pieces of each variety of fish, Koji did a plate with 3 of each for us). The standouts were definitely the Maine scallops (big and sweet and subtle, like none other I've had), the yellowtail belly, and the giant clam--which as Don described was certainly prepared in dramatic fashion--slammed against the cutting board then gently serrated a bit. ($35 with the fresh wasabi included) We also shared a very sophisticated seaweed salad, two kinds of seaweed and radish ($4.75).

From there we moved on to three small dishes (all from the dinner specials list):

1. Eel Tatsutage--Marinated crispy-fried eel with balsamic reduction. Wonderfully sweet and crisp and hot, we popped them like corn. ($9.00)

2. Flounder Carpaccio with black truffle vinaigrette--this was a perfect dish. The fish was so thinly sliced, the truffle played off it intensely, we practically licked our plates. There was a pile of crisps (I'm not sure crisps of what tho) on top that were lovely. ($9.50)

3. Seared White Tuna Tataki with ponzu, yamaimo, avocado. This dish was beautifully presented, with the ponzu, yamaimo and avocado stacked on each slice of tuna. We especially loved the flavor of the yamaimo, which I think is some kind of mountain potato? ($9.50).

Finally, we had some more sushi:

Zuke (soy-sake marinated tuna)--AWESOME. $5

Yellowtail $6.00

Unatama Roll--eel, tamago, avocado--we all agreed this was among the best rolls we've ever had (even Chris, who's lived and eaten lotsa sushi in NYC and San Francisco). $6.00

Spot Prawn with caviar--as Don said, a rocking combination. $6.50

Throughout, Koji kept us entertained with his slicing and dicing, and we kept him supplied with wine. I was also greatly amused by the very young boy and his dad next to us at the sushi bar; Koji was feeding highly adventurous pieces to the boy, who finished his meal with a plate of tempura-battered prawn heads. I got one of those as a gift--YUM!

This was a brilliant meal-- to make some comparisons it was better than Fuji in NJ, better than Nobu, better than Kaz, and at least on par with Morimoto. All of us agreed on this. We will be back many times this summer, before I'm off to the sushi-less land of Madison. :sad: At least I'll be well-fed!

ps. I don't have the wines in my notes, hopefully the boys will add them. And might I add--total tab for 3 people, $102!!!

Edited by sara (log)

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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  • 2 weeks later...

Liam and I went back for more on Friday night. This time we sat at the sushi bar, but not directly in front of Koji, since those seats weren't available when we arrived. We enjoyed the same wonderful food, but lacked the conversation with Koji, which was actually ok this time because we were both pretty tired.

We had the wild mushroom soup to start (lots of different woodsy shrooms in there, nice), and the seaweed salad. We then had the chef's sashimi plate, which was slightly different this time, with some escolar, and young yellowtail (I think that's what it was), giant clam, toro, scallop, and a few other pieces. Fabulous assortment, all incredibly delicious. We then had the grilled baby octopus, which were perfectly cooked and lovely in their marinade, and the lobster with uni butter on a bed of spinach (we both still prefer our lobstahs on the dock, but this was a nice, very very rich, dish). And we finished off with the eel/tamago/ avocado roll and uni sashimi. Liam had a glass of red burgundy he wasn't fond of, and I had green tea. Total bill was $80.

Our sushi chef, while not Koji, was very polite and also interesting to watch--he had some great knife skills too. Our waitress remembered us from before, and was very prompt with clearing dishes, taking orders, etc, and allowing us some quiet space, even tho we were at the sushi bar. The place was empty when we arrived at 6, and quite full when we left at 7:45. We followed up dinner with awesome ice cream at that place across the street (Matthew's?)--mexican vanilla and dulche de leche. Yum.

I am now pretty convinced this the best sushi in the DC area; definitely for the price point, and possibly overall. Haven't done Makoto, but I'm not feeling inspired to, since Koji is meeting all my sushi needs!

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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I am now pretty convinced this the best sushi in the DC area; definitely for the price point, and possibly overall. Haven't done Makoto, but I'm not feeling inspired to, since Koji is meeting all my sushi needs!

That's sort of how I feel. Why be greedy? Why search and search for something when you already have it. Marriages fail this way...

I mean, if I get to Makoto, great...but I just as much (or more) want to repeatedly visit Sushi-Ko.

Sara, was the ice cream place Max's?

...

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Yes, the ice cream place was Max's.

The yellowtail and toro were both exceptional. Every time.

Honestly, I wish I could go to Sushi Ko right NOW! When you're not feeling good, Japanese food heals all things, or so I hear. Let's get them to start opening for lunch. :biggrin:

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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I happened to be in DC this past Sunday for a concert and made the trek to Sushi Ko for an early dinner.. and I was not dissapointed! Fantastic sushi and Koji is just as personable and charming as he is a great sushi chef...

I took a ton of pictures, which i'll post this weekend once I get back home so everyone can see what they are missing =). I basically had the same dishes that Sara has described in her reviews, so I wont repeat what has already been said.

Definitely one of the best sushi restaurants I've had the pleasure to dine at (ranks up there with the stuff I was eating at Tsukiji Fish Market sushi places in my book). I'm jealous of you DC folks! I can only wish that we had this kind of calibre place down here in Texas that you guys get on the east coast..

Dennis

Edited by dngovy (log)
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  • 1 month later...

Last night, after a long frustrating evening of trying to find dinner-- we wanted to try Osteria Galileo for the first time before I move, and they had closed OG this week til Thursday b/c of summer; so we went to Ray's, since Liam hadn't been, and faced an hour and 15 minute wait--we ended up at Sushi Ko. Why? Because after getting a taste for Italian in your mouth, then steak, it's hard to make a move to more complex food--but sushi, well, sushi you can always convince your palette that you want! Pure, fresh, clean, sparkling, Koji-sushi.

Well, 7:45 pm on a Wednesday night is very different than 6 pm, as we quickly learned--arriving to a packed house for the first time in our Sushi-Ko adventures. But there were 2 seats at the sushi bar and we snapped them up.

We've largely settled into a Sushi-Ko routine-- chef's assorted sashimi, small plates, then sushi--thanks to Rocks, and we went that way again. Last night's sashimi was damn fine-- toro, giant clam (i LOVE giant clam), the freshest amebi I've had in some time--even tho Koji was working elsewhere. We followed that up with a small plate we'd never tried--yellowtail jaw in sea salt. This dish is like $7.95 and is a TON of juicy white fish, subtlely flavored, in a challenging arrangement you pick apart. We devoured that great deal.

Finally, we concluded with those lovely scallops I only find at Sushi-Ko, along with a few rolls. The rolls are among the freshest I've had anywhere--and the balance of fish to rice is perfect. The yellowtail-scallion roll simply melts in your mouth, as does the eel-tamago-avocado.

The price tag, with two glasses of wine, was about $75. That's perhaps the most astounding part of this place-- incredibly fresh fish, beautifully prepared, and plenty of it, for barely $40/person. For any sushi craving fool, or couple desperate for a good meal at a restaurant they can get into, it's a slam dunk.

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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Tonight I went to Sushi-Ko again, but for a change dined upstairs at table with some family members... and I'm happy to report that the experience, in a packed house, was as good as any. I needn't be repetitive, but I will say this:

it was a birthday celebration and there was a requisite for desserts, each and everyone of them , and holy toro, they were sublime. I had the espresso panna cotta, which was as velvety on the tonuge as the big-eye fatty tuna; it begged to be eaten in greedy bites. It was light on syrups and coffee it seemed, a perfect closer for such a clean meal. And I'm a sucker for coconut ice cream (it had to have been homemade)...and tempura battered bananas with a generous portion of mango sorbet, served the right temperature and not overly acidic. I didn't expect such a nice sober end. I didn't expect dessets without green tea or jasmine in them. That's dinner with the fam.

...

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As we speak, debate is taking place. Two grown men, DonRocks and John W., both boasting about four hour of sleep and hiccuping too...

They're arguing about how good Sushi-Ko is. What the pho? Don't delete this Rocks!

Edited for content and more.

Edited by morela (log)

...

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  • 4 months later...

Trio of Burgundy Sorbet

In his New Years Eve fervor, Koji had decided to make a dessert with Champagne, and then he realized that they have tons of Burgundy on the wine list. Hence this dessert, a fitting ending to the brilliant savory courses at Sushi-Ko (this evening was the inauguration of the soup with grilled hirame and steamed ankimo, served with baby spinach in a broth brilliantly thickened only with kuzu starch).

The trio begins with an aspic of sparkling white Burgundy - a 2001 Michel Frères Blanc de Blancs - which Koji had to special-order, served with peeled and macerated white grapes. The charming server Kiyomi (who, out of sheer coincidence, happens to be Koji's wife!), threatened a lawsuit against me if I didn't completely finish each sorbet as I would logically progress in a Burgundy tasting: sparkling, white, and then red, the latter two wines being on their by-the-glass list. The White Burgundy aspic with White Burgundy sorbet was made with the 2003 Rijckaert Hautes Cotes de Nuits "Aux Herbeux," and the Red Burgundy aspic with Red Burgundy sorbet uses the 2001 Jean-Jacques Girard Bourgogne. This little burst of inspiration is a perfect ending to a meal of raw fish, and will set you back $7.50.

Which brings me to Komi. (Subject change).

But it's not really a subject change, because the first time I ever met the great chef Johnny Monis was at Sushi-Ko, where Koji introduced us. And it's not surprising that Komi is one of Koji's favorite restaurants, and it's also not surprising that the first time I met Sebastian Zutant was at the bar at Nectar, because there's a common thread running through all this: if the words elegance, finesse, detail, lightness, and complexity strike a chord with you, then Koji, Johnny, Sebastian, and our beloved duo Jamison Blankenship (whom we just lost to Bouley) and the immensely talented Jarad Slipp are already in your basic repertoire.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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  • 1 month later...

I've heard that the chef recommends starting with sashimi, getting a small plate and then ending with a piece or two of sushi.

As for the dishes you should not miss the shrimp tartar. Served heads and all it is one of the best raw dishes in DC. The chef tosses amebi (sweet shrimp) with a bit of uzu (Japanese citrus) and serves it with a few slices of avocado that bring a creaminess to the whole dish. Now I am going to be craving it all day.

I would also go with Rock's suggestion of the Chef's sashimi plate. I have had it twice and it is a work of art.

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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A bar seat is a must in front of Koji Terano. You should watch his art.

flounder carpaccio is excellent with truffle oil. I also like the tuna 6 ways so you can try different styles of tuna.

Corduroy

General Manager

1122 Ninth Street, NW

Washington DC 20001

www.corduroydc.com

202 589 0699

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  • 4 weeks later...

he has some of the `monkfish liver with ponzu sauce` that is not on the menu (you should ask), I strongly recommend.

Corduroy

General Manager

1122 Ninth Street, NW

Washington DC 20001

www.corduroydc.com

202 589 0699

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