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At his new 14th Street NW restaurant, Maki Shop, chef and owner Darren Lee Norris is using the same quality fish and other ingredients that he had at his previous Japanese eatery, Kushi. The difference? You can get a meal to go in 30 seconds.
The grab-and-go restaurant serves 15 types of maki sushi rolls filled with a range of fish, meats, and vegetables. Untraditional combinations include sous vide beef short ribs with brown rice, romaine, carrot, and kimchi or poke tuna with black rice, papaya, and toasted rice cracker. The rolls come pre-made with a piece of seaweed wrapped in a cellophane envelope to keep it from getting soggy. When you’re ready to eat, just remove the cellophane and wrap the still-crunchy seaweed around the roll.
Norris has also eliminated the need for eight or nine chefs thanks to a couple Japanese machines—call them robots if you want—that help streamline the food prep. One machine called a shari mixer quickly and evenly distributes the vinegar in the rice by injecting cool air and spinning it. Traditionally, that process of mixing in the vinegar and paddling and fluffing the rice takes 20 to 30 minutes of manual labor and is done in a large wooden barrel that takes up far more space. The machine is common in Japan, but Norris isn’t aware of anyone using one in D.C.
After that, another machine rotates the rice so it stays fluffy then forms into a sheet of the thickness and dimensions desired. Someone then adds in the fillings—like ginger chicken or soft-shell crab—and the machine turns it into a roll. “What this does is it allows me to spend even more time and money on the best quality product I can get and having the right skill set of the person that can cut that perfect piece of fish every time,” Norris says. Prices range from $4.50 for vegetable rolls to $4.75 for meat rolls to $6 for seafood rolls.
Maki Shop supplies four sauces, available from Ketchup-type push dispensers, for dipping your rolls, including sriracha mayo, wasabi mayo, spicy yuzu, and ponzu sauce. Sides range from seaweed salad to compressed beet salad with orange and ginger or kinpira (a salad with carrot and burdock root that’s shredded and simmered with tamari, mirin, and a little bit of sugar). The restaurant caters to gluten-free diners by using tamari rather than soy sauce in its recipes.
To drink, you’ll find a number of sodas and teas imported from Japan as well as Puck’s Sodas. There are no plans to sell alcohol, but if you stop at Cork & Fork next door, they sell sake.
Norris is looking to add some bento boxes to the menu that might include some sashimi, steamed rice, and a couple vegetable sides. He’s also already interested in expanding Maki Shop. “The goal is to scale this model,” he says. “We will be signing new locations as soon as we can.”
Check out the menu below.
Maki Shop, 1533 14th St. NW; (202) 545-6333
Photos by Jessica Sidman