An eye for dining

Chef Du Jour

There are dining experiences and then there are dining experiences. One such outstanding experience can be had at the Asian diner Raku in Dupont Circle. I cannot decide if I enjoyed such a wonderful experience because of the superb food, the terrific service or the great atmosphere. Dining al fresco in the sidewalk seating area while the sun sets against the backdrop of Dupont Circle could be a tough act to follow. But Raku's food was up to the challenge and my taste buds were more than happy to be the judge and jury.

After settling in with a delightfully light cocktail I perused the full menu. All the selections sounded so good I could not make any headway, so I began looking around to see what the other diners were having. Visually, everything was beautiful.

The old saying, "You eat with your eyes first," came to mind. The plate presentations were a perfect marriage of stunning visual colors and textures, while still managing not to compete for the diner's attention.

The food was incredible, freshly prepared and served in a nice, leisurely manner. We enjoyed a sampling of light dishes. Our appetizers of spicy tuna and crunchy California rolls and the chicken dumplings were so excellent I could hardly wait for the next course. Creamy sesame dressing (my only complaint for the entire evening) topped the sesame salad with thinly sliced cucumbers and an assortment of robust lettuces.

Luckily, we decided on appetizer-sized portions for our entr?es. Two large steamed wasabi rolls, served just hot enough in a bamboo rice steamer basket, arrived drizzled with a warm, slightly sweet sauce. Our next entr?e, Raku's special that evening, was a lightly battered and fried pork wonton filled with garlic, snow peas and bamboo shoots.

Raku's appears to be a smoothly run restaurant with an interesting and diverse clientele, dotted with the usual hipsters, obvious locals and college students.

The outside was neat, clean and orderly. I am extremely picky about my food, as I was in the restaurant business for more than 13 years, and I start judging a restaurant from the outside in. If the outside is clean the entire restaurant is probably clean.

Raku's shines in its unpretentious approach to the cuisine. Its chef presents approachable, delectable and most importantly, affordable Pan-Asian food.

My tab for the evening for two diners came to $42, including tip, minus the alcohol. Considering all the food we ordered, the stunning atmosphere and excellent service, that's a bargain. I would venture to say two students could easily eat for under $25.

Raku's is a great place to eat. The crowd starts lining up for dinner around 6:30 p.m. so get there a little earlier if you want to eat outside. The dining room is beautiful too, with colorful rice paper umbrellas hanging from the ceiling and the copper and inlaid wood Sushi bar.

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