We’ve been looking forward to a date night at Himitsu ever since moving to Petworth. With as popular as the restaurant has become, it can be hard to get in without several hours’ wait. So we took advantage of last week’s snowstorm to get a table without a long wait.
We showed up just shy of 6 o’clock and were seated at the bar right away. Himitsu is located in the tiny space that formerly housed Crane & Turtle. Although quarters are tight, they don’t feel overly cramped, even at the eight-seat bar which is nestled up against the action-packed kitchen. For libations, you can choose between craft and classic cocktails, sake, beer, wine – including an impressive selection of sherry. We opted for cocktails, a classic Americano for me and the A-Maro is Born for Tom with tequila, aperol and amaro montenegro.
The menu is a mashup of Latin American, Japanese and Southeast Asian influences separated into snacks, makimono (sushi rolls), nigiri and sashimi, cold plate and hot plates. Most are small bites, but a few of the hot plates are on the larger side and everything is easily sharable. The menu changes slightly every day. Keep an eye out for the unicorn and squid emojis, which represent the owners’ favorite dishes of the night.
It’s a little tricky deciding how much to order, but the kitchen affords you the option to choose all your dishes up front or to order as you go. We started with a snack of sprouts with house sweet chili, toasted rice and “plenty” of herbs.
While it could definitely be argued that sprouts are getting played out on DC menus, there’s a reason they’re so popular. Himitsu’s version was a nice departure from the greasy, sauce-laden versions many restaurants serve. The sprouts themselves were tender on the inside with a nice crispy exterior, with an additional textural pop from the toasted rice. They were just spicy enough and the abundance of herbs added a bright and lively flavor profile. We loved the whole, crispy basil leaves on top.
Food arrived in pretty rapid succession, so before long we were digging into our nasu – vegan eggplant nigiri.
It was a hard choice to pass up fish in exchange for eggplant for our one sushi order, but any regret melted away as soon as the eggplant started melting in my mouth. The often tough vegetable had a creamy almost pudding-like softness set off by a yuzu glaze charred with a blow torch by Executive Chef Kevin Tien. If the vegetable sushi is this good, I can’t wait to go back and try more of the raw offerings.
We did get a taste of the high quality of the raw fish with the hamachi + orenji with thai chili, orange, fish sauce vinaigrette + yuzu tobiko off from the cold plates selection.
This beautiful, vibrant dish looks exactly as good as it tastes. I’ve had few dishes whose appearance so adequately foreshadowed the eating experience. Bright, juicy, fresh, acidic – it’s all there in the first glance and comes through exquisitely on the taste buds.
As it was cold and snowy outside, the rest of our choices were from the hot plates starting with the agedashi tofu, salt and pepper tofu with chinese scallion, ginger, house dashi and bonito.
Apologies for this photo, which does little justice to the dish. This was our first real experience with bonito, which are dried shaved fish flakes. The paper-thin flakes, when set atop a steaming bowl of dashi seemed to dance and sway in the bowl and Tom and I were mesmerized. And at the risk of taking my metaphors too far today, that’s exactly what this dish tasted like – a dance. While most of our choices so far had been cunning in their simplicity, the agedashi tofu was endlessly complex. The rich dashi, the fresh scallions, the spicy ginger, the puffy tofu and, last but not least, the umami bomb of the bonito flakes all performed their parts flawlessly.
Up next, the famu yasai with bok choy, napa cabbage, pea shoots, beechwood mushrooms, negi garlic dashi and soft-poached egg.
Bok choy is one of my favorite vegetables, so I obviously enjoyed this dish. It didn’t have quite the zing that some of our other choices did, but it carried on the theme of fresh ingredients tasting like the absolute best versions of themselves.
The grand finale of the night was the Peking duck + biscuit, a gorgeous platter of Peking duck breast, hoisin, cucumber, scallion and fluffy buttermilk biscuits.
Duck is far from my favorite protein, but I couldn’t pass up this raved about dish. And the raves are right on point, the duck was perfectly tender with that iconic thin and crispy skin you expect from Peking duck. What was unexpected was the buttery, fluffy biscuits that rival any I’ve had at a southern restaurant. You use the biscuits to create DIY duck sandwiches, drizzled with the tangy hoisin, and crisp toppings. If you only order one thing on the menu, make it this.
We may have over-ordered just a bit, but the lack of grease and overly salty seasonings kept us from feeling miserably full. This was one of the best date night meals we’ve had in a long time, and I can’t wait to return to try more of the cold plates and sushi as the temperatures start to rise.