Cafe Japone and Sakana: A Tale of Two Sushi Restaurants (in D.C.)

Typical home delivery Sushi platter.

Image via Wikipedia

My friend and I got sent to Washington D.C. for a FAR workshop.  For those of you unfamiliar with the federal acquisition guidelines, they are basically the rules by which the government acquires goods and services.  It’s dry and dull stuff.

After our first day long session was over, we needed a drink and a nice meal.  Since we happened to be staying near DuPont Circle, we started the evening with some cocktails at the trendy DuPont Circle Hotel, a great spot to people watch.

The heat made sushi an ideal choice, who wants hot pasta and pizza in 108 degree weather?   My friend looked up a few sushi restaurants before we left the hotel, so we headed to P Street.

Sakana is pretty much next door to another sushi place, Café Japone.  We were torn between the two, because from a distance, they look equally appealing.  At first, we decided to go to Café Japone because of the posted the happy hour specials.  As we climbed the stairs to the entrance, we paused and asked each other, is this a restaurant or a weird S&M club?  The restaurant was painted black with a weird, looping neon light along the ceiling, ala the Culture Club 1986.  We shook it off, thinking we were being snarky.  Poor taste in décor doesn’t equal hepatitis or food poisoning.  Maybe these people just really like statement lighting?

Since there were some of those and other newspaper seals of approval pasted to the window, my naïvity told me that clearly no one would just hand out these stickers (I am an idiot, clearly they do).

We were greeted by a weird, musty odor upon our entrance and a surly hostess.  She sighed like we were such an inconvenience before “greeting” us with a mumble and a scowl.  The restaurant’s only other inhabitants were two oddly silent couples (was I imagining at least one of them giving us the eye?!).  There was no music, it was just so creepy and weird and silent.  I felt like I was in Hitchcock’s Birds, when the diner goes from lively to dead silent and creepy in a minute.  If you haven’t seen this film, Netflix it.  It’s amazing.

My friend went to the bathroom and came back with a weird look on her face.  I asked how the bathrooms were and she responded that they held a condom and aspirin dispensary.  Good products for the bathroom of a club, not such a good sign for a dining establishment serving raw fish.  Since no one had brought us water or acknowledged us in any way, I felt less guilty about leaning over and whispering: are you creeped out?  I am creeped out.  She nodded and we dashed out saying that what we were looking for wasn’t on the menu.

Dearest reader, there are two valuable life lessons that I feel I should point out: 1. If a place looks like it doubles as a sex club after hours, get out; and 2. don’t let those happy hour offers distract you from obvious signs that a place is deficient in meeting its health and safety obligations.  Trust your gut.  There is nothing worse than spending a whole night pooping and vomiting.

After escaping the weird place, we headed next door to Sakana.  We were immediately refreshed by how much more pleasant and lively this establishment was.  Apparently these folks believe in appropriate lighting.  Their bathroom was much more pleasant and clean.  It was also free of any condom dispensers.  Nice.

The menu was also more extensive.  As we ordered our green tea, I mentioned my gluten allergy to the waitress and asked her about tamari, she stared at me for a minute, nodded and left.  I was unsure what had jut happened, but a minute later, an older woman approached me and starting asking me about my allergy.  I explained that many brands of soy sauce contain wheat, which I am allergic to, blah blah and asked her if Sakana carried tamari, the gluten-free variety of soy sauce.  She said they did not, but she said that she would buy a bottle because more and more people had been asking for tamari.  She even asked where to buy it.  So if you live near DuPont and are gluten-free, check out Sakana!   She also made sure there was no tempura or crunchy bits in my order.

In my experience, sushi is an easy option when dining out.  Generally, sushi is rice, dried seaweed, fish and vegetables, done.  Do be on the look out for rolls that include tempura, which is breaded with panko bread crumbs and fried.  I also avoid any sushi that says it has crunchy or spicy sauce topping.  The crunchy topping is panko and spicy sauce sometimes has gluten.

Not only was the service great, but the sushi was amazing.  We were impressed by the nice presentation.  I haven’t had sushi that good in goodness knows how long.  I had a green caterpillar roll and a bagel roll (no gluten included, it is basically just the Philadelphia roll with avocado).  Everything was just a little cooler than room temperature.  Even without soy sauce, I was able to eat my sushi without choking on dry rice.  The avocado was so perfectly ripe.

My friend had some vegetable and scallop variteies of sushi.  She said the vegetable maki was really good, apparently, this is normally a boring dish, apparently most sushi places don’t do much with the vegetables, but this maki was much better than average.

We shared some edamame, which was perfectly steamed and salted.

Overall, I found Sakana, while some what unaware of food allergies, to be more than willing to listen to accommodate.  If you do no suffer from a gluten allergy, I would certainly head over to give Sakana a try.  Even if you have a gluten allergy, you may want to check them out now that they have said they would get tamari or another type of gluten-free soy sauce.

g/f friendly: 2 out of 5

taste and quality: 5 out of 5

Sakana is located at 2026 P Street, Washington D.C. 20036

Cafe Japone: 2032 P Street, Washington D.C. 20036

White Lion Baking Company: Grain-free, Gluten-free goodness

The S.S. Pierce Building

Image via Wikipedia

Recently, I met John and Elena, grain-free bakers just getting White Lion Baking Company off the ground.  They were kind enough to invite me over to sample some of their products.  I was particularly excited when they mentioned their line of crackers.

White Lion is new to the Boston area and I think fills a big hole in the Boston market: healthy, grain-free foods suitable for diabetics and people living with different food allergies.

John and Elena follow the paleo diet, a.k.a. the caveman diet, a nutritional plan which advocates a low-carb, high-protein diet rich in vegetables, meat and fruit.  The paleo diet limits / excludes grains, refined, processed products, sugars, and pretty much any thing else that cavemen wouldn’t have eaten.  Depending on how far you take it, you can also limit / exclude dairy.  White Lion uses mostly almond flour to create their products.  They do not use any grains, including potato starch, corn or rice flours.   All their products are completely gluten-free.

After reading about how healthy these products are, I started to wonder if it was going to taste like crap.  Seriously, I was nervous about the potential for another iteration of SoyJoy bars.

Lucky for me, my worries were completely unwarranted.   The food was amazing.   I think what makes these products work is that while John and Elena are dedicated to healthy foods; they are not dogmatic.  They make what tastes good.  If that means a little cheese or a little butter, that’s ok.  Their motto is making healthy taste good and their products live up to that.

While John and Elena currently balance their full time jobs in other areas with White Lion, they have some previous experience with baking that has helped them on their journey.  Elena ran a cake bakery in her native Australia and John also worked in a bakery.

They were committed to starting their own business together, but it wasn’t until they started following the paleo diet that their dream began to coalesce into White Lion Baking Company.  John and Elena wanted a grain-free sweet treat that would taste great and adhere to the principles of the paleo diet. They experimented in the kitchen until their first product, the chocolate chip cookie tasted just as good as those gluten-y ones.   As they continued on their diet, they continued to experiment with new recipes and eventually decided to transform their curiosity and passion into White Lion.

Based in Brookline, their products are available locally at the Meat House and City Feed.   They also take orders through their website:  If you have additional dietary restrictions and it looks like their products may be off limits to you, it is worth contacting them anyway.  They do special orders and are willing to work with you to customize products.

They do not have a storefront at the moment, but they are looking for a spot in Coolidge Corner.  Right now, they bake out of their house (which has been inspected by the health department).  They are also the new cracker supplier for Regal Beagle.

My favorite fun-fact from my conversation with John and Elena?  The genesis of the bakery’s name.  Paleo (diet) can be made into to the homophone pale Leo, which is of course another way of saying White Lion.  That is some solid word play.

The crackers are crunchy.  They did not have the typical gluten-free aftertaste or dry-mouth inducing texture.  I particularly like the cheddar & sea salt nut cracker.  I want to eat these everyday.  This is a better tasting Cheez-it for celiacs.   If you miss Cheez-its, get these, they are far superior.

I also tried their onion & dill cracker.  The dill and onion work well together.   If you aren’t an onion person, this may not be the cracker for you.   But I love onions and garlic, so I think this is a delightful cracker.

They also offer rosemary & thyme crackers (sounds like it would go well with cheese) and smoky paprika & pecan crackers (perhaps a perfect snack to go with a cold beer).

The savory category is rounded out by four varieties of biscuits, which are available on Regal Beagle’s weekend brunch menu.  These are artisan breads, like the kind you might find at Iggy’s. In addition to the two rolls I sampled, White Lion also offers parmesan herb and Parisian dijon biscuits. Who else makes a Parisian dijon biscuit?!?!  I can’t wait to try it.

I also sampled the kalamata olive and rosemary biscuit.  I am not an olive fan.  However, the olives work well in this bread, they add a nice saltiness to the bread, which goes well with the aromatic rosemary.  It tastes like focaccia bread.  This bread makes me more willing to give olives another go.

Their jalapeño and cheddar biscuit would be perfect with bacon and eggs on a Saturday morning.  The jalapeño provides just a little smoky flavor, but it is not spicy.  The cheddar also balances the heat.  I ate one two days later without microwaving it first (to put it to the real test).  It was still moist, fluffy and delicious.

As I mentioned, it all started with the chocolate chip cookie.  So I was really interested to try the double chocolate fantasy.  It is a satisfying gluten-free chocolate chip cookie.  They are soft and chewy.  I particularly like that the cookies are a blend of dark and white chocolate chips.

While the chocolate chip cookie is great, I really love the cranberry walnut craving.  This is the kind of cookie that doesn’t jump off the shelf next to the chocolate cookies and frosted cupcakes, but it should.  The cranberry and orange gives it a little fruitiness while walnuts provided a nice, nutty contrast. I could eat them by the bagful.

The cherry coconut cookie reminds me a little of a cherry vanilla ice cream, but in cookie form.  Tasty and vegan.  They also offer two other varieties of cookie: raisin’n’spice & everything nice and tropical chocolate passion (also vegan).

White Lion also offers a variety of cakes and muffins, ranging from the standard chocolate and vanilla to the more exotic jelly donut muffins with whipped cream topping.

If you are going to pick one indulgence, try the carrot cake.  It is drool-worthy.  I can’t even put it into words.  I hadn’t tasted a carrot cake that delicious in a very long time.

Even their unfrosted vanilla cake was flavorful and moist straight out of the freezer.   It tasted just a little like almonds.  It was good enough to stand alone without piles of frosting (and I love frosting, I frequently leave the cake and just eat the frosting).

Anyway, I think it is pretty clear, I think these are excellent and delicious products.   John and Elena are both just really nice people with a passion for healthy living and baking that they want to share.  I sometimes forget with all the Wal-Marts and Applebee’s in the world, how much better food can taste when it is made with passion and shared with you by people that are just really excited by what they do.  I am looking forward to tasting all their products.