Chef Gene Itoh, of Makoto Restaurant in Washington, D.C., is a Japanese food wizard. On a recent trip to America’s capital city, I was invited to dine for dinner at the well-known establishment and it truly exceeded my expectations with its creativity, ingredient selection and presentation.
Tucked away on a quiet street, Makoto sits just off a concrete path and opens up into a small wooden foyer where guests are invited to remover their shoes and slip on a pair of cozy slippers, all in order to remind you that you are a guest in Mr. Itoh’s home. Curtains shroud the small dining room with traditional Japanese fabrics. Inside the dining room, a small group of tables and a long wooden sushi bar opens up to an organized but busy kitchen.
I took my seat at the bar and was greeted by Mr. Itoh. A covering of fabric at eye level prevents guests from seeing fully into the kitchen. The majority of action are moving arms and hands searing, dusting, grilling and cutting the freshest food into a seasonal meal that leaves an impact. That night, the theme was Spring and the cherry blossom. Not only is the cherry blossom important in Japan, but it’s also important in Washington, D.C. due to a gift of over 3,020 cherry trees that were given to the United States from the Japanese government in 1912.
The seasonal menu was perfect starting with a broth of edible cherry blossom petals and somen noodles. An amuse bouche of thinly sliced strawberries in sweet tofu sauce, gorgonzola cheese and champagne essence was served as well. Soon after, course after course floated effortlessly from the kitchen to include: seared red snapper, fluke and tuna sashimi, rice coated soft shell crabs, grilled sea bass, sushi, shabu shabu and, to end, grape granita with grand marnier. Each portion was the perfect size, was creatively executed and fit seamlessly into the them of the springtime menu.
Chef Itoh spoke with me throughout the evening and no less than three lovely servers explained each course so that no detail was overlooked. Throughout the evening, I felt more and more comfortable as a guest of the family who run the restaurant. Love and attention is in the details. As each dish was served, my chopsticks we elegantly arranged and rested perfectly on a grey stone. My saki was kept to the top of my glass and my green tea piping hot. I felt the genuine care put into both the food and the service.
I would recommend Makoto to anyone visiting Washington, D.C. or for any local. It’s not easy to find traditional Japanese food at its finest, especially with the spin given by Chef Itoh. This is a place for true foodies or for those who truly want to explore Japanese culture and tradition revolving around the ritual of dining.