Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

EN brings people together for food, friendship

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J. Adam Fenster⁄The Gazette
Billy Ye, right, owner of EN Asian Bistro, and sushi chef Haiping Liu show off the restaurant’s (from left) shrimp and vegetable tempura, sashimi and My Best Friend, a vegetable tempura and crabmeat roll topped with fresh salmon and orange miso dressing.
EN Asian Bistro & Sushi Bar

19833 Century Blvd., Germantown


Style of cuisine: Sushi, Japanese, Chinese & Thai

Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m.

Dinner entrée prices: $10-$16

Credit cards: Visa, MC, AMEX

Billy Ye was striving for a unique look for EN Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar, which opened in February. The restaurateur made several trips to China and Japan to handpick everything from the menu covers to the chairs, water glasses and utensils.

‘‘I tried to make everything different than the other Asian restaurants in Germantown,” Ye explains.

But if first-timers find something familiar about the restaurant, they might recall Ye from his first restaurant, Momo Taro Sushi in Rockville, which he sold sold two years ago.

‘‘I had lots of customers from all over the county,” Ye says.

When those customers discover Ye has resurfaced, they get excited, he adds. ‘‘They thought we had disappeared.”

Ye says he has built his reputation on carrying fish that is fresh and clean. He supplements his restaurant business with catering and selling sushi to top hotels, country clubs, conventions and political events.

Although he had a loyal following at Momo Taro, Ye wanted to upgrade the location.

‘‘I’d moved to Germantown and really liked the Germantown Town Center,” he says.

He convinced the property’s landlord that the restaurant would do great things for the area. To make good on the promise, he went overseas to get ideas for the menu and the interior design. The landlord, in turn, asked Ye to add Chinese food to the menu so local customers would have an alternative to carry-out.

‘‘People really like it here,” Ye says. ‘‘Fast food is not good for people to sit and enjoy their food.”

Making customers feel welcome is a major aspect of Ye’s vision for the restaurant.

‘‘Let someone come to my restaurant as a customer, and later we’ll become friends,” he says.

That philosophy was an inspiration for the restaurant’s name. He explains that the word ‘‘En” is a Chinese character that means people brought together for the first time by fate or destiny.

‘‘Not many American people know about that Chinese word,” Ye says. ‘‘It’s more popular in Asia.”

Ye and his wife Lily were born in China. He went to Tokyo to work in a five-star hotel, but she went to America. They married in Japan, and Ye followed her to the U.S. They lived in Gaithersburg before settling in Germantown.

Friends of the couple’s 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter get free Asian style ice cream when they come in to the restaurant. Some have taken their first jobs there bussing tables. Lily Ye works as an elementary school manager weekdays and helps at the restaurant on weekends.

Their son has started working as a busboy, but Ye acknowledges it’s too early to know whether the restaurant business will be his career. If he wants to be a chef, Ye would send him to France and Japan to study.

‘‘In the future, Japanese food will mix with French food,” Ye predicts.

Although the restaurant specializes in sushi, it also offers cooked food for customers who might not want raw food. Ye estimates the menu is 60 percent Japanese, 30 percent Chinese and 10 percent Thai.

His favorite dish is a peanut crusted yellow fin tuna. Other popular items are Chilean sea bass with mustard, wonton taco with yellow fin tuna, and lemon grass mussels.

With prime real estate across the street from the new Germantown Public Library and the BlackRock Center for the Arts, the restaurant attracts customers running errands or relaxing after a night on the town. In the summer, Ye says, customers even watch BlackRock’s outdoor concerts from the restaurant’s front window.

Within the next year, Ye hopes to open an additional EN Asian Bistro location. He has submitted a proposal for a site in Potomac.

If you haven’t met Billy Ye yet, it’s only a matter of EN.