A terrarium unlike any other is placed in front of me. The glass cloche covers a micro-plot of baby turnips sprouting from a bed of whipped black edamame. I use my hands to uproot the miniature vegetables and drag them through the “dirt” (a mixture of olives, roasted nori and sunflower seeds), so I feel like I’m eating straight out of the garden.
Next comes the imitation caviar course, the tiny ebony pearls forged from black seaweed. I’m instructed to spoon them into a crystal candy jar containing silky housemade tofu submerged under a subtle dashi broth. The flavors are admirably restrained; a contrast to the playful presentation, which makes its debut on my Instagram feed a few minutes later.
These dishes are part of the vegan tasting menu at Kōbō, which means atelier, an artist’s workshop. The unique restaurant-within-a-restaurant den inside the Friendship Heights Sushiko is helmed by the Tjan brothers, Piter and Handry. Up to eight guests are arrayed along a two-toned wooden counter arcing across the main dining room like a sickle. Patrons have an unfettered view of the action unfolding in the exhibition kitchen in front of them. Monday through Wednesday evenings, the Tjans offer a 12-course vegan Kappo experience, while a 15-course omnivorous version is offered Thursday through Saturday.
All meals begin with a siphon packed with sencha and kombu (kelp). The resulting tea smells like you’re beachcombing after a storm, briny and fresh with vegetal notes from the seaweed. It’s a transportive opener to help patrons quickly forget they’re in the middle of a dining room whose muted music is a welcome relief from all the this-one-goes-to-11 eateries.
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