Sansai udon at Maneki Neko in Falls Church, Virginia
Our family eats sushi the way some families eat cereal for breakfast: we don’t have to have it every day, but something feels weird if we go more than a few days without it. Back in Charleston, this meant checking out almost every sushi joint within spitting distance of our house. For whatever reason, most of those establishments tended to be run by Chinese people, which usually meant that in addition to a full slate of sushi rolls made up of crazy combinations, the menus also offered up an array of Chinese options, too. I don’t know why, but pan-Asian restaurants (you know, the kind that just generally tend to make “all” Asian food) are kind of unsettling to me. Not that there can’t be good food, but I tend to view them as an Asian food amusement park – there’s enough variety for everyone to have a good time, but at the end of the day, you feel a little overwhelmed and icky.
That’s why it was especially encouraging to learn that Maneki Neko, our neighborhood sushi joint is run by an Okinawan family. A real Japanese sushi restaurant! Our hearts swooned at the thought.
Our first pick was the okonomi yaki, a seafood and egg pancake drizzled with spicy mayo and garnished with pickled radishes. I haven’t had one of these in years, and my heart palpitated at the thought of the kids diving into one, their little faces covered in sticky sauce. Alas, no dice – they wanted sushi, and more of it, so when the pancake arrived, the natives were not impressed. The adults enjoyed it, though.
Actually, I’m not sure what the rule is on kids and sushi eating when it comes to the raw fish rolls, but Ge Ge is a huge fan of sushi. Ask him what he wants for any special occasion dinner, and sushi is almost always the answer. He dies for tobiko (flying fish roe) and loves salmon and tuna nigiri. Meimei also loves salmon nigiri, peeling off the top layer of fish and slurping it down before tackling the vinegar sushi rice with her little fingers. We’ve been eating at trusted establishments with both kids for awhile now, and so far neither seem worse for the wear. Of course, I’m sure tomorrow morning I’ll find some article linking early sushi eating with higher Ivy League college rejection rates, and the sushi eating will cease in our household immediately and forever. Tiger Mom > food choices. Sorry, kids.
Left: we have to have edamame for Ge Ge; right: the Crying Shrimp Tempura Roll was the winner of the night
Our favorite sushi roll of the evening was the Crying Shrimp Tempura roll, a roll with a variety of spiciness going on. I tasted typical spicy mayo on the inside, but to my delight the topping on the roll was jalapeño based, giving a bright, grassy contrast to the usual buttery fish and rice combination. We liked it so much that we ordered it again. As for the rest of Maneki Neko, between the charming chefs who kept coming over to tease and delight our kids and the solid Japanese menu with lots of options for us to try in the future, it’s a place we know we’ll be coming back to again. Plus, happy hour sushi on Sunday through Thursday starts at $1.05. That’s cheaper than a box of cereal.
Yeah, so we’ll be back.