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Delightful delicacies

New Izakaya Seki offers a bounty of exquisite Japanese food

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Izakaya Seki (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sometimes studying up a little beforehand or taking along knowledgeable pals can enhance a dinner out tremendously if it’s a realm of cuisine on which one is relatively unschooled.

Father and daughter Hiroshi and Cizuka Seki opened Izakaya Seki (1117 V Street NW) on July 29. They place the sole focus of the restaurant on the exquisite food they serve with a minimalist yet gorgeous design of the space.

I was concerned about eating at a place that was light years beyond my comfort zone, so I brought my husband along with Amanda and Tony, my two “Japanese food experts,” to help me review this experience.

Both Amanda and Tony have eaten at Izakayas in Japan so I asked them to assist me with some of the basics, like eating with chopsticks, the finer points of Sake and how to decide if a rare food like cuttlefish is any good. The Japanese word Izakaya means sitting in a Sake shop, but the word has evolved to describe a casual eating and drinking establishment. Red paper lanterns are traditionally found in front of Izakayas and Izakaya Seki is no different. The lantern out front is one of the sole identifying items of this restaurant.

We had to wait to be seated and since the restaurant is small they took our number and called us when the table was ready. Once seated, our warm, attentive and humorous waitress, Mita, greeted us.

We began with the sashimi special and the Hokkaido Scallop Carpaccio. The Scallop Carpaccio was the first to arrive and with its myogi ginger and the citrus notes of the yuzo, made it a fantastic start to the meal. I was even able to manipulate the thinly sliced raw scallops with my chopsticks. The sashimi special was jam packed with small bites of fresh seafood like shrimp, tuna, clam, octopus and cuttlefish among others. Everything had a fresh, crisp flavor to it and although some of the textures (especially the cuttlefish) did not agree with me, the flavors did. Our first Sake, recommended by Mita to accompany our first two courses, was the Nigori “otter fest” which complemented this raw course perfectly.

We proceeded in order down the menu and selected the Mero grilled with Miso and the beef tongue with yuzu miso. The Mero or Patagonian toothfish — generally marketed as Chilean Sea Bass — was impeccably prepared with a slight sweetness and flakiness that melted in your mouth. The beef tongue was moist and the delicious sauce complemented the rich deep flavor of the tongue.

We moved along slowly. The four of us had already been dining more than an hour and had polished off two bottles of Sake. This is when I was introduced to Scochu. Unlike Sake, Scochu is distilled and the alcoholic content is generally higher. I found the Scochu to have a more refined and delicate flavor. Scochu ranges in price, but if you purchase a bottle and don’t finish it, they will keep it on a shelf in the upstairs dining room with your name on it.

We sipped our Scochu and dined on standout dishes like the cream croquettes with béchamel, crab and corn; the delicious fried tempura vegetables; and the earthy assorted mushrooms. I even tried a bite of the fried tofu with cream cheese, and while it was well prepared and enjoyed by others, I was delighted to discover that I still find tofu repulsive, even fried and with cream cheese.

Finally, our meal ended, in traditional Japanese fashion, with Soba and Chahan. The Chahan (fried rice) was rich, delicate and flavorful, yet difficult to eat with chopsticks.

After nearly three hours, I had completed what felt like a master class in Japanese cuisine, having left few stones unturned. There were however, some recommended dishes we didn’t have room for like the wasabi chicken, the kushikatsu, the kinpiri and the rice balls. As well as some dishes I was not quite ready to try like the sea urchin with quail egg and the monkfish liver.

Overall, this was a perfect evening with friends, a delightful waitress who skillfully guided us through our entire meal and beautifully prepared and presented food. This was, quite possibly, one of the best and most eye opening meals I have eaten in Washington. Plan on spending some time and money on this experience, but you will be rewarded.

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Photos

PHOTOS: International LGBTQ Leaders Conference opening reception

Politicians and activists from around the world met and mingled at the JW Marriott

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Politicians and activists from around the world met and mingled at the JW Marriott. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The LGBTQ Victory Institute held an opening reception for the 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference at the JW Marriott on Thursday.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Theater

Meet the husbands and creative partners behind ‘Christmas Angel’

A funny, redemptive world premiere with a diverse cast

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Stephen Gregory Smith and Matt Conner with pugs Edgar Allan Pug and Lord Byron.

The Christmas Angel
Dec. 9-19
Creative Cauldron
410 South Maple Avenue
Falls Church, VA 22046
Tickets:  $35. Students $20.
Masks and proof of vaccination are required
creativecauldron.org

“Ours is like a lava lamp,” says composer Matt Conner describing the collaborative creative process he shares with musical writing partner and husband Stephen Gregory Smith. “We move together in motion in a continual ebb and flow.” 

A couple for 23 years, married for eight, and making musicals together for 11, the talented pair’s current offering is “The Christmas Angel,” opening on Dec. 9 at Creative Cauldron in Fairfax. 

A musical adaptation of the same-named 1910 novel by Abbie Farwell Brown, it’s the story of Angelina Terry (Kanysha Williams), a wealthy embittered recluse who learns the lessons of Christmas from a box of old toys that she casts into the street. Also featured in the hour-long one-act are Ryan Sellers as Horton, Angelina’s butler, and Carl Williams who plays her brother. The angel and toys are brought to life by an ensemble of a dozen teens plucked from the company’s musical theater training program. 

Via phone from their home in Arlington, Smith and Conner shared thoughts on their new show and working style. In attendance are pug dogs Edgar Allan Pug and Lord Byron, whom they call Eddie and Byron in public – otherwise “it’s just too much,” says Conner whose ultimate fantasy involves living on a pug farm where he’d write music and present the occasional show.

Rather than finish each other’s sentences, the duo (both Helen Hayes Award winners – Smith for acting and Conner for directing) expound on one another’s thoughts.

While Conner composes the music, Smith writes the book and lyrics, and together they co-direct. “But there’s no end and beginning where my job ends and his begins,” says Smith. “What we do complements each other’s work.”

Still, there are differences. Smith’s approach is focused. He writes pages at night and edits in the morning. Conner’s method is more relaxed, preferring to sit at the keyboard and talk rather than writing things down. But throughout the creative process, there’s never a moment when the project isn’t on their mind. They can be watching TV or buying milk when an exciting idea pops up, says Conner. 

A clever nod to Dickens, the novel is more than just a female “Christmas Carol,” says Smith. And in some spots, he’s beefed up the 55-page book, fleshing out both storyline and characters including the toys whose shabby appearance belies a youthful confidence. 

He adds, “Every holiday season you go to the attic and pull down the box, or boxes in my case, of holiday decorations and it’s all old but it’s new. That’s the nostalgic feeling of toys from the attic that we’re trying to find through the show.”

The music is a combination of traditional carols performed by a hand bell chorus, and original Christmas songs that intentionally sound very familiar. The score includes songs “Don’t Hide Your Light,” “The Sweetest Gift,” and “Yestermore” – the moment when the past, present, and future come together. 

Also, there’s Angelina’s Bah! Humbug! number “Fiddlesticks,” her great renunciation of the holidays. She believes the world a disappointing place to be, and the sooner realized the better. 

Conner and Smith aren’t new to Creative Cauldron. Through the company’s Bold New Works project, the team was commissioned to write five world premiere musicals in just five years. The result was “The Turn of the Screw,” “Monsters of the Villa Diodati,” “Kaleidoscope,” “Witch” and “On Air.”

Judging from some of the titles and their slightly macabre content, it seems the duo was better poised to write for Halloween than Christmas, but nonetheless, they were commissioned. Creative Cauldron’s producing director Laura Connors Hull brought them the obscure yet charming book that surprisingly had never before been reworked for stage or celluloid, and the pair got to work last spring. 

Conner and Smith agree, “The show is a lot of things rolled up into one.”

Not only is it a funny, redemptive world premiere with a diverse cast, but it’s also a story largely unknown to today’s audiences. Additionally, the show boasts intergenerational appeal while holding messages about Christmas, family, and finding light when you’re in a darker place. 

More information about Conner and Smith, including links to their music and popular podcast “The Conner & Smith Show,” can be found on their terrific website at connersmithmusicals.com.   

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Books

‘Capote’s Women’ is catnip to older pop culture fans

Revisiting iconic author’s seven ‘swans’

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(Book cover courtesy of Putnam)

Capote’s Women
By Laurence Leamer
C.2021, Putnam $28/356 pages

Her lips are locked tight.

Your best friend knows all your secrets, and she’s keeping them; you told her things you had to tell somebody, and she’s telling nobody. You always knew you could trust her; if you couldn’t, she wouldn’t be your BFF. But as in the new book “Capote’s Women” by Laurence Leamer, what kind of a friend are you?

For months, Truman Capote had been promising a blockbuster.

Following his success with “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood,” he was “one of the most famous authors in the world” but he needed a career-booster. The novel he was writing, he teased, would be about “his swans,” seven wealthy, fashionable women who quite personified “beauty, taste, and manners.”

His first swan was Barbara “Babe” Paley, whom he’d met on a trip with the David Selznicks to Jamaica. For Capote, “Babe was the epitome of class,” simply “perfect” in every way; it helped that the famously gay writer was no threat to Paley’s “madly jealous” husband.

Babe’s “dearest friend” was Nancy “Slim” Keith, who quickly learned that if a lady wanted her confidences kept, she didn’t tell Capote anything. She shouldn’t have trusted Babe, either: When Slim left for a European trip, Babe asked if Slim’s husband could accompany Babe’s friend, Pamela Hayward, to a play.

Slim was aware of Pamela’s predatory reputation, but what could she say?

Of course, Pamela, another of Truman’s swans, stole Slim’s man, a scandal that Capote loved.

Gloria Guinness was highly intelligent, possibly enough to be a spy in Nazi Germany. Lucy “C.Z.” Guest was an upper-crust “elitist” with a “magical aura.” Marella Agnelli “was born an Italian princess”; Lee Radziwill, of course, was Jacqueline Kennedy’s sister.

Through the late 1960s, Capote claimed to be writing his masterpiece, his tour de force based on his swans, but several deadlines passed for it. He was sure Answered Prayers “would turn him once again into the most talked-about author in America.”

Instead, when an excerpt from it was published, his swans got very ruffled feathers.

Every time you stand in line for groceries, the tabloids scream at you with so much drama that you either love it or hate it. Or, in the case of “Capote’s Women,” you cultivate it.

And that’s infinitely fun, as told by author Laurence Leamer.

Happily, though, Leamer doesn’t embellish or disrespect these women or Capote; he tells their tales in order, gently allowing readers’ heads to spin with the wild, globe-hopping goings-on but not to the point that it’s overdone. While most of this book is about these seven beautiful, wealthy, and serially married women – the Kardashians of their time, if you will – Capote is Leamer’s glue, and Truman gets his due, as well.

Readers who devour this book will be sure that the writer would’ve been very happy about that.

“Capote’s Women” should be like catnip to celeb-watchers of a Certain Age but even if you’re not, find it. If you’re a Hollywood fan, you’ll want to get a lock on it.

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