Home Life & Style Lighten up, with the help of Japanese takeout

Lighten up, with the help of Japanese takeout

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Perhaps that’s why I’m obsessed with Japanese takeout of late. Few foods are as light but satisfying as sushi and sashimi, and even if you spring for something weightier, there’s the feeling you’re doing yourself some good. Plus, Japanese food, at least as it’s served by the following establishments, is some of the most eye-catching around. You don’t inhale the dishes so much as you savor them as you would good art.

Had there been no pandemic, you would know by now how much I admire the omakase, or “chef’s choice,” at Takumi in Falls Church. I was all set to sing the praises of chef-owner Jie (“Jay”) Yu in my monthly roundup of favorites when restaurants were reduced to offering no more than takeout. Even outside Yu’s slender dining room, however, his food continues to impress customers. Let me introduce you to his raw calamari, sliced into ribbons of “pasta,” set over some uni, dressed with a net of seaweed and finished with a quail egg that becomes a sauce when stirred into the noodles. The appetizer’s frame these days is a plastic cup, but the striking construction all but erases its mode of transportation.

The concise online menu seems to be designed with TikTok attention spans in mind. Because ingredients are subject to availability, Takumi doesn’t post everything it offers. When you’re on the phone, the only way to order, be sure to ask if there are any appetizers or other dishes the chef might be able to make. Some digging might yield not just the aforementioned calamari, but also a special of soft-shell crab, suspended in a crisp tempura, and chopped tuna mixed with spicy miso sauce, scallions and sesame oil and served atop little round corn chips. If the lush tuna “napoleon” sounds familiar, it might be because Yu borrowed the idea from his former employer, Kaz Sushi Bistro in Washington.

Like his mentor, veteran chef Kaz Okochi, Yu also likes to deploy little surprises here and there. A sushi tasting might find sweet shrimp lit with brilliant yuzu tobiko (flying fish roe) and meaty tuna with a suggestion of earthy black truffle. Chirashi — slices of raw fish and tangy vegetables “scattered” over rice, hence the Japanese billing — looks like a colorful gift. Picture for your friends crimson tuna, fat-streaked salmon, slender orange daggers of Japanese pickled burdock root and more on a white canvas. Then stand back and watch the “likes” roll in.
310-B S. Washington St., Falls Church. 703-241-1128. takumiva.com. Open for takeout 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. No delivery. A la carte sushi $4.50 to $10, main courses $20 to $22.

I n the Before Times, when customers could gather in Kenaki Sushi Counter in Gaithersburg, co-owner Aki Ballogdajan used to delight in introducing her brother, executive chef Ken, who shares her last name. Especially if she introduced him first, she says, “a lightbulb would go off” in guests’ heads. Kenaki! “It sounds Japanese. We are Japanese,” says the general manager of their combined first names.

Kenaki opened in September 2018 with some big ideas. The siblings aspired to a level of cooking for which they would “travel to eat,” says Aki, who left the software industry to go into business with Ken, the former executive sous-chef for three Washington-area Raku restaurants. Count me among the patrons who are happy to make the journey from the District for the chef’s handiwork in Kentlands Market Square, including a small but select list of nigiri. Spring for medium-fatty bluefin tuna, sea bream set off with grated daikon radish and red chile (momiji oroshi), and sawara, Spanish mackerel sparked with a dab of ginger and scallions. A little container of soy sauce hints at the attention to detail; Ken ramps up the flavor with sake and kombu.

The restaurant’s whimsical rolls include the Green Monster, its surface buttery with avocado, its filling crisp with shrimp tempura and made more interesting with spicy minced tuna and shiitakes braised in soy sauce. A fluttery garnish of bonito flakes lends a whisper of smoke to the roll, which acquired its name when the chef noticed that the protruding shrimp tails made a “monster” out of the busy but beautiful creation. Kanaki added donburi to its roster only after the pandemic. Not only do rice bowls travel well, says Aki, they spell Japanese comfort. Braised pork and roasted broccoli on a bed of steamed rice, which sponges the juices of the meat, lets you momentarily forget you’re living in “Groundhog Day.”

A can of Sapporo is the obvious quaff, but Kenaki encourages you to order mixed drinks. FYI: Aki’s cocktail of choice is a Manhattan. Make it yours. 706 Center Point Way, Gaithersburg. 240-224-7189. kenakisushi.com. Open for takeout noon to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, and noon to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Delivery via Grubhub and the restaurant (three-mile radius, only until 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday). A la carte sushi $5 to $12, bento boxes and rice bowls $12.50 to $18.

My idea of a TV dinner for today is a bento box from Perry’s in Adams Morgan. Each compartment seems to hold something as entertaining as whatever Moira Rose just said on “Schitt’s Creek.” But if I had to pick one groove in the container, it would be sliced fried Japanese eggplant alongside chopped squid and bamboo shoots, a salad jump-started with ginger, chile and vinegar.

Your chopsticks are likely to make quick work of most everything, from the raw fish, cut with precision, to the fried chicken, thighs bathed in dashi and ginger and sporting a crisp and peppery potato starch jacket. Gyoza are wonderful; credit minced designer pork (and cabbage) inside the seared wonton wrappers. All this, and happy hour, too.

Insider tip: The kitchen, under the watch of chef Noriaki Yasutake, is happy to take requests when you order. Want someone to torch your salmon belly or shape your maki roll into a cone? Ask and you shall receive. 1811 Columbia Rd. NW. 202-234-6218. perrysam.com. Open for takeout 4 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Delivery via Postmates, Uber Eats and (soon) Caviar. Nigiri or sashimi (2 pieces) $5 to $9; platters $16 to $35.

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