Laura Hayes
Laura Hayes

Can you see me? I’m hiding under my desk where my co-workers can’t see me anger crying. Once upon a time, or rather a few days ago, if you had told me that an offshoot of New York’s acclaimed Nakazawa Sushi was coming to D.C., I’d be over the moon because it’s no secret that I’m a Totoro figurine-collecting, sumo-watching, bonsai tree-trimming, udon-guzzling Japanophile having lived there for three years.

So why wouldn’t I be jazzed that someone who trained under Jiro Dreams of Sushi’s protagonist is headed down 95 to slice some fine-looking nigiri?

I found out it was going into The Trump International Hotel.

But that letdown is nothing, NOTHING compared to this big fat maki of disappointment. 

The restaurant’s owner, Alessandro Borgognone, just gave a revealing interview to Grub Street’s Richard Morgan. In it, he violates one of the most treasured aspects of Japanese culture: humility. Someone needs to serve this guy an entire humble pie, because he is talking major trash about a city he’s planning to serve come summer 2017 when Nakazawa, his omakase-style sushi restaurant, opens. 

In the article, “Why NYC’s Most Acclaimed Sushi Bar Is Opening in Donald Trump’s D.C. Hotel,” Borgognone says he hasn’t found anything good about the food scene here. And he says that Nakazawa has no competition. Don’t tell that to Sushi Taro, which just earned a Michelin star. Or Izakaya Seki, which is so transportive that it’s disorienting to leave and see street signs in English instead of Japanese. 

Here’s an excerpt. Read on, and expect to come away red-faced if you have any pride in how far our food city has come; if you’ve ever enjoyed a meal within District boundaries; or if you thought human kind still had a chance. 

Anyway, you ended up with D.C. What do you think of it? You must’ve done some extensive reconnaissance. 

Let me preface my thoughts by saying I’m the kind of guy where the first thing I look for is the mistakes. I go into a place and I think, Okay, that’s off, the railing is bad, the lighting is bad, this should be different, that should be different.

You’re Catholic, right?


Me too. Well, lapsed. But you never shake it. You know, the “Protestant work ethic” gets all the acclaim, but the Catholic work ethic is a dark horse: feel bad until you feel good, then feel bad for feeling good. Repeat. It’s oddly motivating.

[Laughs] That’s always my main approach. I’m very detail-oriented. With D.C., I had reached a point where I saw so much bad that I was actually looking for the good. I couldn’t find it.

What’s your competition in D.C.?

We don’t have any. I don’t know if I’m using the right words. I don’t sound humble. But I am. It’s just, you know, can you name an amazing sushi restaurant in D.C.?

To be fair, the interviewer isn’t much better. Morgan says The Palm is our Jean-Georges.

I used to live in D.C. as a congressional reporter, and their problem is they love fusion spots too much, even though they’re mostly just culturally muddled. There’s great Ethiopian food, there’s Mama Ayesha’s and Las Canteras, but mostly it’s confusion, heavy on the fusion. So they retreat. A lot of Caesar salads in D.C. The Palm is the Jean-Georges of D.C., which is sad.

It’s a meat-and-potatoes town. It’s a steakhouse town. But sushi is like that, actually. Fish and rice. Meat and potatoes. It’s very steakhouse, very Italian even. It’s minimalist. It’s about preparation. Look, you’ve eaten at Sushi Nakazawa and you’ve had average sushi. Was it easy for you to go back?

Want more?

Continue reading the interview here