When Tachibana opened in Arlington (across from what is now Koon's Arlington Toyota) in 1982, it was among the first Japanese restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area and invariably busy.
By the time it moved to McLean in 1996, the number of Japanese restaurants already was proliferating — central McLean now has four — but Tachibana remained busy and retained its reputation as one of the best Japanese restaurants around.
And for good reason.
Although the fish always is top quality and fresh and the extensive roster of sushi and sashimi dishes skillfully prepared and beautifully presented, Tachibana is far more than just a good sushi place. The menu offers a variety of traditional Japanese dishes that should tempt diners to explore beyond the usual sushi/sashimi, as good as those they may be.
Bento boxes are one way to sample a variety of traditional dishes. At lunch for instance, bento box B contains light and crisp shrimp and vegetable tempura, grilled yakitori (a Japanese kebob with nuggets of chicken, vegetable and onion), tiny shumai dumplings, grilled salmon, egg omelet, six pieces of California roll, hijiki and pickles. Ample portions of each are presented in a traditional lacquered box, enough to recognize how good these dishes are and more than enough for a satisfying meal.
Box A is the same, minus the dumplings and California roll. The dinner boxes contain a different but comparable assortment of traditional dishes. The boxes and all entrees come with a salad and miso soup and, of course, a bowl of rice.
The starters — and several would make a meal — include edamame, hayakko (chilled tofu topped with minced ginger, chopped scallions and bonito flakes), the croquette (balls of mashed potatoes and minced onion coated with bread crumbs and quickly deep fried), and a salad of chilled spinach with grated ginger. Such offerings show the breadth of Japanese cuisine, which is known for balance and its use of seasonal ingredients.
With nearly 30 chef's specials, including scallions wrapped in thinly sliced rib-eye steak and broiled with teriyaki and notto ae, a dish of diced tuna, yellowtail or calamari with fermented beans, and an extensive list of sushi, nigari, sashimi, chirashi, and ionburi (fresh fish over rice), it would be easy to bypass the rest of the menu.
That, however, would mean overlooking shabu shabu, a favorite dish for two or more. Diners cook thinly sliced pieces of rib-eye steak and an assortment of vegetables in boiling soup, then into a dipping sauce, and enjoy. Usually the platter of beef and vegetables is beautifully arranged and the broth, at the end of the cooking, both delicious and nourishing.
Diners occasionally worry that they can't understand the Japanese servers or complain that the service is slow, which is understandable when orders are individually prepared and arranged and the restaurant is busy.
Given the quality and variety of the foods and the careful presentation, it is easy to understand why Tachibana has received rave reviews and high ratings throughout the years and continues to receive them.