Food

Kotobuki

No teriyaki or tempura here--just high-quality sushi at bargain prices.

June 2006 Cheap Eats

Inexpensive sushi? The prospect is dubious, like the promise of bargain steak. But it's a fact at this tiny walk-up on MacArthur Boulevard in the Palisades.

Chef and owner Hisao Abe maintains a small, bare-bones operation (just three employees) and keeps his menu a model of minimalism. No tempura, no noodles, no rotobuki, no teriyaki, no daily specials. Even the soundtrack hews to the minimalist philosophy: all Beatles, all the time. Abe doesn't dazzle you with beguiling juxtapositions of ingredients but wins you over with his eye for high-quality fish. Yellowtail–red-edged, cool, firm, and sweet–is consistently good, as is white tuna. This is the kind of place that rewards venturing beyond the holy trinity of salmon, tuna, and yellowtail, but at $2 for two, it's hard to resist the temptation to order nothing but nigiri.

The uni–sea urchin–is some of the best in the area, with its custardy texture and bracing, salt-watery finish. Kamameshi, rice casseroles topped with chicken, eel, or vegetables, are full of comforting pleasure, and panchan-like snacks offer some of Abe's finest moments–a lobster salad, light on the mayo, is sweet and lightly gingery. Oshizushi, a pressed sushi made famous in Osaka, is a standout: Abe presses a thick slab of pearly-skinned mackerel into a bed of vinegared rice, then anoints the top with marinated, translucent seaweed. Its salty rich sweetness is reminiscent of eating a freshly caught fish.

A small wooden box is an ideal vehicle for a serving of cold sake; add to the sipping pleasure by spreading a thin line of salt on the rim with a tiny porcelain spoon.

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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.