People have been walking by the original Crane & Turtle space, pressing their noses to the glass to try to sleuth out what’s next for the Upshur Street address now that Cappy’s Crabs has tossed out its last mallet. Carlie Steiner, 25, and her business partner Kevin Tien, 29, who are busy readying the space for their forthcoming concept, wink and tell passersby, “it’s a secret.” The answer is a half-truth, because their restaurant and bar opening in mid-October is called Himitsu, which means “secret” in Japanese.
While Japan will be the leading culinary influence for both the food and drinks, the restaurant is very much wrapped up in the personalities and viewpoints of its young, first-time restaurateurs. That’s why they’re dubbing it “New Japanese” cuisine because Tien, the executive chef, will punch up traditional Japanese preparations with Latin, Southeast Asian, and Korean flavors.
“There will be items people are familiar with presented in unfamiliar ways,” says Tien, whose resume includes the highly lauded Uchi in Houston, plus Farmers Fishers Bakers, Kaz Sushi Bistro, and most recently, Pineapple & Pearls. He worked in sushi restaurants throughout high school and college.
“I’m excited to go back to the food that helped me want to become a chef—Japanese-inspired food,” he says. “D.C. has a lot of great sushi restaurants, but a lot of it is very traditional. I want to push it, turn it upside down, be very progressive with it.” Though he nods to Kaz Okochi for kicking off progressive sushi in the District.
Sample dishes from Tien’s menu, which is divided into sushi and sashimi, maki rolls, cold tastings, and hot tastings, include yellowtail with thai chili nam pla prik and tobiko; karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken) with a sorghum Szechuan glaze; and a “tamago tonton” roll meant to taste like bacon and eggs with katsu pork belly, miso, tamari, and egg mustard.
In addition to the a la carte menu, there will be a daily special menu featuring fish flown in from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market. Also, those who want the ultimate Himitsu experience can verbally request an omakase-style experience in which Tien and Steiner craft a meal tailored to diners’ food and drink preferences.
The duo met while working at Think Food Group restaurants. Steiner was making drinks at barmini by José Andrés and Tien was at Oyamel. “She was a fan of our ceviche bar, and I was a fan of her cocktails,” Tien says.
After leaving barmini, Steiner made a name for herself in the cocktail scene through her company, Stir Bartending Co. In addition to catering private events, she developed cocktail menus for restaurants like Indique and Timber Pizza Co., and hosted “Variations on a Theme” cocktail parties in Petworth Citizen’s Reading Room on Thursday nights. She also fell in love with sherry as a member of the RedEye Menus team, a roving pop-up that pairs the Spanish fortified wine with Asian food.
Steiner’s drinks include the “Mewosamasu” with Nikka Coffey whisky, oloroso sherry, cold brew coffee, and caramelized coconut and a “Japanese Michelada” with light Japanese beer, cold brew green tea, lime, soy sauce, togarashi, and house made seven spice. As co-owner and beverage director, Steiner will also pour beer, wine, Japanese whiskey, sake, and schochu. Both the food menu and the drink menu will change daily.
As a nod to the fact that Steiner’s career began on the culinary side (she’s a graduate of Culinary Institute of America), the owners will introduce some front of house, back of house interplay. The bartenders will be responsible for one food dish, while the kitchen team will be responsible for one cocktail.
The space is getting a refresh thanks to the three creative founders at The Lemon Bowl. Holley Simmons will populate the dining room with succulents, while Kathryn Zaremba will contribute funky wallpaper, and Linny Giffin will add texture with woven textiles. The result will be a relaxed, hip atmosphere that Tien and Steiner hope customers find approachable and come-as-you-are.
There will be 24 seats inside, including the coveted counter seats looking into the kitchen, and they plan to utilize the patio, weather permitting. Himitsu will start by serving dinner Tuesdays-Saturdays from 5 p.m. to close. They will not take reservations. Instead, seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Mid-October is the projected opening date.
Himitsu, 828 Upshur St. NW, himitsudc.com, @himitsudc