Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lunch at Makoto

This will be the last restaurant review of the summer! And most likely the last restaurant review for a while, since life tends to get very hectic once summer ends.

On Friday, we went to Makoto for lunch. Makoto is a well known, highly rated Japanese restaurant in DC that is incredibly affordable, especially for the excellent quality of its food. Our experience at the cozy restaurant—which can only seat 27 people at full capacity— was very good. When we walked out, we all agreed that although it was a fairly fast lunch (we were in and out in a little bit over an hour), it was also somehow very soothing.
The ambiance was nice. At the door, shoes are taken off and exchanged for slippers. Women are provided with pantyhose—like the kind you get at DSW or other shoe stores when you don’t have socks—to put on so that your bare feet don’t have to touch the borrowed footwear. When entering, you are also instructed to turn off your phone. You can opt to either seat at a table or at the “counter,” facing the chefs in the kitchen. Every chair is designed like a small wooden chest, so that purses/bags can be put inside. There are no cushions or backs to the any of the chairs.
After we were seated, we looked at the menu and chose to order two lunch boxes and two sushi assortments (there were four of us eating). Each was about $17-18 and included a starter and a dessert.
Everyone was given the same thing to start: mussels in a smoky rice wine broth with charred tomatoes and chive. This dish had a subtle complexity to it. Its flavors were elegant, but not at all overwhelming. The smokiness of the broth was a very nice surprise. I have never tasted anything like that. We gave it an 8 out of 10.
The lunch box came with this three-part appetizer (this was not included with the sushi assortment meal). Because I thoughtfully wanted to provide you with two different angles (and because I couldn’t decide between two pictures), you can see the appetizer above and to the side. Remember, if you click on an image, it zooms in!
In the blue and white striped, square bowl was a cold shrimp and avocado salad, which was spicy and mildly sweet: an 8 out of 10.In the dark green square plate there were two sushi rolls which had rice with some kind of pickled vegetable, egg, and cooked fish. I really enjoyed the texture and flavor play in this, with the crunchy/soft/flaky and the acid/umami/starch: a 7.5 out of 10 (good, but lacking a wowfactor). Last in the square white bowl with the “flower petal” blue rim was a salad with seaweed, which had a citrus taste to it and included crunchy deep fried beef, which was very light and not at all greasy (8 out of 10). All together, this appetizer was really a success because of the different tastes and textures it presented. I enjoyed sampling from one thing to another.

The sushi assortment included ten different types of seafood, all of which were incredibly fresh. We loved how the natural flavor of the seafood was allowed to shine. This dish was also great because it allowed us to enjoy different tastes and textures, including (this list is not in order) tuna, salmon, flounder, giant clam, yellowtail, spot prawn, squid, octopus, scallop, and mackerel. So key highlights? The octopus was very good. The mackerel melted in the mouth and had all of the flavor of the delicious fish without the saltiness that you get when you eat the canned or grilled variety. It was an unexpected delight. My favorite though was the giant clam. I have never eaten pure, raw, unadulterated clam before, and this was surprisingly sweet and tender. Thinking about this makes me want to go back to Makoto just so I can eat this again.
The main course for the lunch box had four parts, which I shall describe going clockwise. On the top right is Chilean sea bass with mushrooms, sugar snap peas, and pickled green beans (8 out of 10). The fish was marinated well and cooked so that a kind of “seal” formed on the outside of the fish, and the fattiness was contained on the inside. If you know Vietnamese cuisine, it reminded me of the “caramel pot” style of cooking, like cá kho tô. I have never seen Chilean sea bass cooked in this manner, and it was delicious. The mushroom was moist and bursting with flavor, and the sugar snap peas had just been blanched, so they retained their snap. The pickled green beans were interesting. On the bottom right was orange roughy with tamago (8.5 out of 10). This was my favorite part of the lunch box, as the orange roughy (which I have never had before) was beautifully cooked and marinated and the egg omelet was delicate and faintly sweet. On the bottom left salmon with a cooked slice of lemon, soft (silken?) tofu and spicy radish (7.5 out of 10). This salmon was perfectly cooked so that it retained its moistness. The lemon slice was citrusy in a very mild way, without any of the bitterness that I expected. The tofu melted in the mouth (do I use this description too often?) and the spicy radish was a great addition, providing more depth of flavor (although it wasn’t needed). On the top left was tuna sashimi (three slices). This was fresh and good, but, being that it was simply raw fish, this part of the dish lacked the creativity displayed in the other elements.
With the main course, everyone was served a bowl of miso soup, which had the same smoky quality to it that the earlier broth with mussels had had. A bowl of rice also came with the boxed lunches. For both of the main dishes, the sum was even better than the parts, because of the variety we were allowed to taste. The best part of the meal was going back and forth between the different elements in each course. This also prevented our taste buds from becoming bored by one thing.
For dessert, we were all given a chilled bowl of grape and Grand Marnier sorbet, which was excellent. It was very refreshing and delicate, and served as the perfect palate cleanser. A beautiful 9 out of 10.
This restaurant is a place to go primarily for the excellent quality of food. Nothing was overwhelming or shocking, but neither was anything boring or timid. Every element was executed well, and each dish tasted sophisticated and fresh.
The service matched the quality of the food, and by that I mean that our waitress was very attentive and extremely polite. She constantly checked in on us to see if we needed anything, and our cups of tea were always promptly refilled. Some people may find this type of service to be a little distracting to the meal, but I didn't find it to be obtrusive.
The overall experience was very enjoyable; I would be happy to go back, and with the price tag, it's nice to know that I can afford to.

4822 MacArthur Blvd NW
Washington, DC 20007
Tel: 202-298-6866

Overall rating for the price: **, 2 stars out of 4 OR 8 out of 10


  1. Wow, the pics are lovely. Whetting my appetite.

  2. I've been to Makoto twice for the 12 course dinner--it may be my favorite dc restaurant. You've just convinced me to get over there for lunch!