100 Best Restaurants 2009: Kotobuki

No. 52: Kotobuki

Cuisine: The menu at this Palisades walkup is as stark and streamlined as the roster of Beatles tunes that plays on chef/owner Hisao Abe’s loop—a small selection of sushi and sashimi, a smaller allotment of the rice casseroles known as kamameshi, and a couple of specials. No tempura, no noodles, no entrées. It’s this laserlike focus that allows Abe to turn out food of such consistency and quality.

Mood: In a space the size of an efficiency, the only decoration is a painting of a Japanese character on one wall—translation: “meeting”—and an air of calm prevails. Only the sounds of the Fab Four and the pleasing simplicity of the cooking engage you.

Best for: A low-key, low-calorie afternoon lunch, alone or with friends.

Best dishes: Eel kamameshi, tiny black-iron pots of steamed rice, glazed fish, and vegetables accompanied by an assortment of antipastolike snacks; well-carved sashimi and classically portioned nigiri (look for yellowtail, eel, scallop, and white tuna); oshizushi, a long log of mackerel-topped rice at once salty, sweet, and rich; chewy green-tea mochi.

Insider tips: Ask your server what’s come in that day. Abe procures unusually fine uni—fresh, clean, and custardy—and better-than-average ankimo, a monkfish liver sometimes called the foie gras of the sea.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

See all of 2009's 100 Best Restaurant

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.