Fusion Fare

Old Dominion Grill & Sushi Satisfies Pan-Asian/American Tastes

By April Bartel | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 10.16.15 – Dining, Food & Drink

Regrettably, I’ve used the phrase, “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry,” more than once. It usually happens when my family is trying to decide where to eat and pushed beyond peckishness. My husband is a purist who prefers home-style classics, while I yen for something more exotic, saucy and beyond my own cooking skills. My son went vegetarian at age 6; no chicken nuggets for him, thanks. That is why simply asking, “Where do you want to eat?” is such a loaded question.

Obviously, we are not alone. Ming Chen, owner of the successful Old Dominion Brewhouse in Hyattstown took up the challenge of creating a restaurant where people with divergent palates could eat together and be happy about the menu options. His newest venture is Old Dominion Grill & Sushi on Buckeystown Pike. Its Asian flair is prominent, with a menu that rolls in selections of Japanese, Thai, Indonesian and Korean cuisine alongside America’s own melting pot of flavors. Its most popular starter, the Dominion Sampler, sets the tone with a savory platter of mozzarella sticks and chicken wings playing counterpoint to chicken satay and harumaki (Japanese-style spring rolls).

Tucked in the plaza behind Burger King, the site formerly housed a Mexican restaurant. Its frontage is fairly nondescript. Inside, however, patrons are greeted with the soothing trickle of a stone fountain and a glistening chandelier. The water element near the entry is a common component of good feng shui, an indication of flowing prosperity. That matches Old Dominion’s sleek, upscale décor, which utilizes a variety of wood, stone and tile for rich texture in complement to tones of gold, burgundy and mahogany. The floor plan is open with nooks of activity around a main dining space. There is a bar area, patio, double sushi counter and “Tatami” room, bringing the restaurant’s total to nearly 200 seats.

Its Asian flair is prominent, with a menu that rolls in selections of Japanese, Thai, Indonesian and Korean cuisine alongside America’s own melting pot of flavors.

Alan Phoubandith, general manager, readily greets patrons. Chen and Phoubandith share a passion for food and a family background in the restaurant business. Both men got their start working for family; Chen in a Chinese takeout place and Phoubandith at Frederick’s My Thai restaurant. Phoubandith also spent five years as a head sushi chef in Baltimore, so his eyes really light up when he talks about creating the unique sushi specials at Old Dominion. Their “Raven’s Roll” is a popular choice. It features spicy shrimp and shredded kani (crab stick) gilded with panko and a dash of Old Bay seasoning. The Maryland Roll is a deep-fried mouthful of tuna, caviar, jalapeno and eel sauce. “Every palate is different,” says Phoubandith. “We love talking to the customer to find out what they like, so we can help them navigate the menu. That’s why we have a real chef and not just a conveyer belt at our sushi counter.” He says the staff is happy to customize a dish to suit gluten-free, paleo and vegetarian diets, or allergies. “Just ask,” he says. Several staff members know sign language, too.

The atmosphere is family-friendly. Mom can slurp thick udon noodles or nosh crispy salmon-skin rolls (a.k.a. “Japanese bacon”) while Dad enjoys a grilled half-pound bacon cheddar burger. Uncle and auntie can trade bites of lemon ginger shrimp and kalbi (grilled beef short ribs). Carb-conscious diners can opt for a plate of Asian lettuce wraps to balance the indulgence of spinach-artichoke crab dip. Wok cooked meals with Thai chili basil sauce consistently get good reviews from customers for taste and presentation, served steaming and crackling in a skillet. For bonus points, kids under 10 eat free with an adult meal purchase on Sunday. Teachers, military service members and seniors get discounts, too. Wi-Fi is always free.

The tatami room features four low tables, called kotatsu, and embroidered pillows for seating. Named for the traditional bamboo floor coverings, tatami were originally a luxury item for Japanese nobility. The room has a refined aura and a feeling of authenticity, making it popular for birthday and first date reservations. Don’t worry, etiquette in Japan might be stringent in this setting, but Old Dominion keeps it light and relaxed. You will leave your shoes at the doorway, but there are deep wells under the tables for those who prefer to sit with their legs extended and still enjoy the atmosphere. “Kids love the tatami room,” says Phoubandith.

After sweet, red bean mochi (a chewy, pillowy creation made with pounded glutinous rice) or toasted almond cake to top off the meal, the party can continue at the bar. Somewhat offset from the main dining area, the full service bar routinely offers about 20 beer selections on draft and as many by the bottle—Flying Dog, Takara, White Crane, Kirin Ichiban, Orion, Green’s gluten free and more. The taps pour selections from the Old Dominion Brewing Company (not affiliated), including their honey-sweetened root beer. Of course, you can get sake and signature cocktails like the Purple Passion or Blue Oni Martini. There are food and drink specials throughout the week and during NFL Sunday Ticket football. Happy hour is from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m.

Even though Old Dominion only opened a few months ago, Phoubandith is happy to host a weekly gathering of friends who discovered the place early on and made it their go-to meeting spot. “We really want this to be a place where people feel welcome and have a good time.” When it comes to peace and harmony, happy tummies are definitely a step in the right direction.