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Kaz Sushi Bistro, 1915 I St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006 (202) 530-5500 More than five years after opening, Kaz Sushi Bistro still feels like a sushi-lover’s secret. Indeed, now that the old blue canopy over its entrance has been replaced by a sleeker but less eye-catching sign, it’s easy to walk by the restaurant without a passing glance. We had read up on Kaz before our first visit and were well aware of Chef Kazuhiro Okochi’s numerous accolades. And yet upon entering Kaz’s intimate dining room, we felt like we’d stumbled across a neighborhood gem. Kaz may not be a new discovery, but there is still plenty to explore on its ever-changing menu of inventive sushi and Japanese fusion specials. In addition to more commonplace Japanese fare, Kaz offers such creative sushi combos as raw tuna smeared with foie gras and salmon dolloped with sweet mango pur�e. Okochi � who spent 10 years in the kitchen of Georgetown’s popular Sushi-Ko � clearly has fun pairing unconventional ingredients, but he also knows when to let an exquisite piece of fish stand alone. A $12 order of oh toro, cut from the fattiest part of a bluefin tuna, wisely arrives without frippery. The rich slab of fish is so luscious it seems to melt on the tongue. Any extra flavors would be an unwelcome distraction. In a day when every restaurant seemingly has to have a gimmick, Okochi dubs his cuisine “free-style Japanese.” Most menu items are small and intended for sharing. Indulge first in an order of edamame. At Kaz, the plump green pods are at their best � steaming and generously salted. The restaurant’s miso soup is also out of the ordinary. Kaz’s vegetarian version teems with slivers of carrot, red pepper, and green onion, while tender baby clams impart a pleasant briny flavor to another miso variety. The heart of Kaz’s menu is a revolving list of nightly specials like tuna ceviche with hot pepper dressing, miso-marinated sable fish, and smoked monkfish p�t�. In the tuna ceviche, chunks of grilled zucchini and peppers add an unexpected Southwestern note. An even bigger surprise, however, is the kitchen’s flashy presentation of the ceviche in a glass cone set atop a bowl of brightly hued water. In comparison, a plate of broiled sable fish on a bed of asparagus spears seems tame, but the simple preparation allows the sweet flavor of the fish to shine through. The monkfish p�t� with jalapeno jelly, marked as one of Okochi’s favorites, exceeds expectations. Yes, the p�t� is made from monkfish liver, but it tastes neither livery nor fishy. Instead it has a firm texture and a deep earthy flavor perfectly complemented by the zingy pepper jelly. One of the best ways to experience Kaz is by ordering the $60, eight-course tasting menu. The small courses vary according to what the kitchen has on hand and include several of the chef’s nightly specials. In addition to the ceviche, sable fish, and monkfish p�t�, we sampled a plate of raw flounder garnished with seaweed sauce, tender morsels of crisp clam tempura, and sizzling slices of Kobe beef. As we contemplated our full bellies and wondered what the kitchen might come up with to top such succulent fare, our server delivered a glistening array of nigiri sushi topped with salmon belly, scallop, tuna, yellowtail, flounder, and crab salad. The journey ended with a martini glass of lychee custard. Kaz’s sushi is consistently fresh and full of flavor, though we sometimes found the fish cut a bit on the thin side. As a result, an eager mouthful of the lobster sushi with wasabi mayonnaise or blue crab with celery and red pepper comes up mostly rice. Our favorites off the sushi menu are Okochi’s riffs on classics, like the tuna with foie gras. The simple combination of meaty tuna and voluptuous liver brings out the best of both ingredients. Almost anything spiked with jalapeno pepper is also worth sampling. Okochi’s kitchen has a way of preparing the pepper that leaves barely a hint of its tongue-burning, eye-watering intensity. To complement your sushi, an order of “pure” wasabi is well worth the extra $3. The real stuff turns out to be slightly nutty and richer and grainier than the artificial wasabi served at most restaurants. We wish Kaz offered more wine selections, but the restaurant’s sake menu is diverse and surprisingly accessible. In the end, everything about Kaz encourages diners to experiment with new flavors. Kaz may no longer be the new kid on the block. What’s important is that it still manages to taste that way. Vanessa Blum is a senior reporter at Legal Times . Phillip Dub� is an attorney at D.C.’s Covington & Burling.

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