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Tom Sietsema is Crazy for Kobo

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What the critics are saying this week

Kōbō amuse bouche spheres
Rey Lopez

The Washington Post’s Tim Carman heads to the new Mezcalero Cocina Mexicana on 14th Street NW and raves about the “tacos de canasta,” also known as basket tacos. In short, they are “silky, soft, crispy and fiercely spicy. You won't soon forget them,” he says.

Basket tacos are a go-to pick for Mexican laborers on lunch break, notes owner/chef Alfredo Solis, and the key to their quality is giving the folded tortillas “enough time to steam in their own juices.” That can be hard to replicate in a time-sensitive restaurant atmosphere though, so he altered the process; fillings like refried black beans, chorizo and potatoes, and chicharron don’t get added to the steamed house-made tortillas until an order rolls in. The results are good:

“If the tortillas haven't had time to absorb the flavor of the fillings, that's okay. The corn wrappers are so thin, the fillings speak loud and clear on their own. Drizzled with some of the tomatillo-avocado salsa, the snacks make for a taco experience unlike any other in Washington.”

[The Washington Post]

The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema gives Ripple a review. Last month, Ryan Ratino (former chef at Masa 14) replaced chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley and has already put his “own stamp on the place,” bringing a “happy finesse” to the Cleveland Park American eatery.

Four parts of rabbit — front leg, belly meat, and ground kidney with shredded back leg atop — meet triangular pansotti pasta, which he describes as “hearty and nuanced envelopes.”

Ratino’s snout-to-tail approach of refusing to waste ingredients is spotted in vegetable dishes, too. The beet salad starter is a “crimson beauty” composed of beets offered five ways: “Think Jackson Pollock tapping the Garden of Eden for inspiration.”

Sietsema alrea“Like a number of high-end dining adventures, Kobo doesn’t let you see the menu until the end of the meal. The list is offered as a scroll inside a gift bag that also contains a note from the chefs, some bonbons and a bottle of house-made yuzu dressing — a chance to enjoy another taste of Kobo back home.”“misses” his hay-smoked veal on the menu, but a replacement dish of veal schnitzel “has everyone at the table asking for seconds.” (The panko crust is “rousing” with caraway and nutmeg, and root vegetable sauerkraut is “equally compelling.”) Sietsema also compliments Ratino’s incorporation of acid, which “sharpens flavors.”

The finesse on the plate may be explained by one of Ratino’s earlier employers, Caviar Russe in New York, whose executive chef, Ratino’s boss, worked for the legendary Alain Ducasse. The fresh face at Ripple says his time at Caviar Russe made the greatest impression on him.

He suggests taking advantage of the $59 deal that lets diners choose four dishes from among as many courses, “the last of which should be citrus ambrosia” — a refreshing finale with tapioca, mango sherbet and sails of pink peppercorn meringue. [WaPo]

Tom Sietsema awards his first three-star “excellent” rating of the year — the most stars The Washington Post gives — to Kobo in Chevy Chase, the new tasting menu counter at Sushiko.

The $150,000 makeover of its eight-seat sushi counter is stunning, with a smooth pine counter and front-row seats of the culinary performance from co-chefs Handry and Piter Tjan. Monday through Wednesday, the vegan tasting menu is $130 per person, tax and tip included; come Thursday through Saturday, “eggs, seafood and meat” are woven into the mix for a twice-nightly show at $160.

“Like omakase, both tasting menus revolve around dishes selected for diners by the chefs. Kobo also infuses the experience with a sense of intimacy, as the chefs slice, fry, smoke and style the food directly in front of customers. The ceremony, along with an emphasis on seasonality, help define kappo-style cooking. Whatever their plan of action, diners are likely to leave counting the days until they can return.”

Some highlights from the vegan menu include an amuse-bouche of “yolk-size spheres” of mango with basil, litchi with rose flower and strawberry with fennel — “a dish that skews more modern Spanish than traditional Japanese” — as well as pickled cucumber blossom sushi and dashi-topped house-made tofu that’s “so silken it melts the moment it lands on the tongue.”

Beef tartare is without meat but “looks as if it had been snatched from a steakhouse.” More “poetry” comes in the form of broiled eggplant and a “pinch” of thread-thin wheat noodles. Dessert is a candied chestnut, a surprise inside a small mound of sweet potato puree with sesame seeds.

As for the non-vegan menu, a single smoked Hama oyster starts the show, “crowned with caviar and flanked with foam, pink from a brush with red shiso.” What’s next is house-made tofu, “wonderful” with briny sea urchin. And botan ebi, or sweet raw shrimp, is “habit-forming when it becomes a creamy vessel for candied onion and (trend alert) cucumber blossom.”

The non-vegan menu takes its “most dramatic turn” with sushi: “excellent fish paired with increasingly decadent garnishes (like ... the raw fish at Kobo is so lovely, I could happily enjoy it by itself.”

As for dessert, green tea tiramisu in a wooden frame with a tiny cup of espresso, threatens to change his “allegiance from Italian to Japanese.”

Diners don’t actually see any menu until the end—tucked inside a gift bag in scroll form, with personal touches like a note from the chefs, bonbons and a bottle of house-made yuzu dressing: “a chance to enjoy another taste of Kobo back home.” [WaPo]

FROM THE BLOGS: Been There, Eaten That heads to Northwest Chinese Food in College Park, MD., Hungry Lobbyist asks, “WTF Aren’t You Eating at Woodward Table?” and Brightest Young Things gives Eatsa a taste test.

Sushiko

5455 Wisconsin Ave, Chevy Chase, MD 20815 (301) 961-1644 Visit Website

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