Wearing a short ponytail and wielding a knife, Noriyuki Kudo is not a samurai warrior but instead the executive chef of D.C.'s hottest sushi place, Yo! Sushi, located on the ground floor of Union Station. Instead, the knife he sharpens daily he uses to skillfully slice the freshest fish -- and probably assorted other ingredients -- into bite-size treats for the busy restaurant's clientele.
With numerous locations in England and elsewhere in Europe, Yo! Sushi has now embarked on an American venture with the opening of this, the first of its U.S. locations. And while sushi places are proliferating in the area, Yo! Sushi stands out for its conveyor belt, packed with sushi, sashimi and other Japanese specialties. Patrons can snag appealing offerings from the belt, and if anyone is still hungry or wants other samplings, management provides a menu booklet. And because the conveyor belt means adjacent seating, patrons get an upfront view of the kitchen activities. Among those scurrying about, of course, is Kudo himself.
A native of Kyushu, Japan, Kudo grew up learning the time-honored basics of Japanese cooking, having worked in a local restaurant doing prep work. As a teenager, Kudo moved to the Los Angeles area, where he got a job with a leading kaiseki chef at Makoto Sushi. He worked there for more than seven years, and received intensive training in very traditional Japanese cuisine. "He was old-school," says Kudo. "I learned all the traditional skills." Plus, says Kudo, his mother and grandmother were exemplary cooks, using the customary flavors and ingredients of Japanese dishes.
From Los Angeles Kudo moved on to Santa Monica; he worked at Sushi Roku in Santa Monica, Pasadena, and West Hollywood, where he eventually became executive chef. Noted as a "polished casual" sushi restaurant, it offered Kudo the chance to further hone his sushi-making skills.
|If you go|
|» Where: Union Station, West Hall, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE|
|» Info: 202-408-1716; yosushi.com|
|» Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday|
While preparing sushi and other traditional Japanese dishes may not leave much room for flamboyant experimentation, Kudo believes that he can bring eye and palate appeal to each presentation by adding extra flavors and texture. However, he emphasizes, he will always keep his rice cooking and presentation traditional. "It will always be fluffy," he says. "I won't compromise with that." He adds that he uses medium-grain rice that he rinses for 20 minutes, drains and refrigerates overnight before cooking.
In the D.C. area, Kudo has found that his patrons prefer the tuna and salmon offerings, and especially popular are the California roll and the spicy tuna roll. "I want to bring in albacore tuna," he says. "It is white tuna and is becoming very popular." And as he concludes, his sushi creations are inspired by several observations he has made here: People love spicy, crunchy and tangy food.
What is your comfort food?
I love eating noodles, such as cold, chilled buckwheat noodles in the summer, or I love all ramen noodles.
What's in your fridge?
Yuzu pepper paste, so when I get tired, I make something and put this on it.
What is your luckiest moment?
I get to be involved in this great concept and bring new items to D.C.
What has been the greatest influence on your cooking style?
The restaurant in Los Angeles where I worked ... that was the most influential.
Where is your favorite place in the world?
Shrimp Spring Salad with Yuzu Vinaigrette
Look for the yuzu pepper paste at a local Asian market or buy it online.
3 ounces Black Tiger shrimp or other shrimp, 21/25 count, shelled and deveined
1 sweet onion
1/2 Roma tomato
several stems cilantro
2 tablespoons yuzu pepper paste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
pinch sea salt
Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan and add deveined shrimp. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer the shrimp for 3 to 6 minutes, depending on the size. The shrimp will be cooked when they float to the top and the flesh has turned white or opaque throughout. Cut one in half to check. Slice onions as thinly as possible. Cut cucumber into thicker slices, about 1/4 inch each. Seed and dice tomato (so you use only the edges). In a medium bowl, mix yuzu pepper paste, lemon juice, olive oil, rice vinegar and sea salt. Toss shrimp and onions in yuzu vinaigrette. Place sliced cucumber in round on a plate with the tossed shrimp and onion in the center of the cucumber. Sprinkle diced tomato and garnish with a piece of cilantro on top of salad. Enjoy!