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Nama’s Vegetarian Nigiri
Where to get it: Nama, 465 K St. NW
Price: $3 per piece
What It Is: A selection of nigiri made with vegetables instead of the more traditional raw fish atop a brick of rice or wrapped in a seaweed basket. Options include royal trumpet mushroom with lime and truffle; spicy eggplant with curry and tempura flakes; cucumber with sesame and furikake; and spicy beet tartare with crispy quinoa, white soy, and mint.
The Story: Restaurateur Michael Schlow and Ed Scarpone, culinary director for Schlow Restaurant Group, are constantly experimenting with ingredients. “We were playing around with it and trying to make it taste good, but we realized we could actually make [vegetables] look like certain things.” They score the mushrooms, roast them in olive oil, and finish them with a little truffle oil, salt, soy, and lime zest. The result slightly resembles a cut of eel. Another variety calls for beets that are diced, marinated, and seasoned so that they have the appearance of minced tuna.
Why Even Meat Eaters Will Like It: Initially, the vegetarian nigiri was included just to give herbivores something to snack on at the seafood-heavy restaurant, but Scarpone reveals that non-vegetarians have been just as inclined to order them. That’s probably due to the unexpected and inventive ingredients and presentation. “We didn’t want the traditional, boring avocado cucumber roll that’s the staple you’d get at a sushi place if you’re vegetarian,” Scarpone explains. “We try to make them a little more exciting and fun.”