Chef/owner Darren Lee Norris of Kushi
It’s a Saturday afternoon, and I’m sitting at the blond-wood sushi counter at Kushi, the expansive new Japanese restaurant in Mount Vernon Square. I’ve decided to put myself in the hands of the chef for his omakase platter. So has the stranger immediately to my left. It will be interesting, I think, to see how the chef tailors our platters to fit our individual tastes and preferences. I wait for questions from the chef, which aren’t forthcoming. Instead, he prepares two identical platters. My disappointment lasts only as long as it takes to dig into the 10 nigiri pieces. The sushi rice is loosely packed and lightly seasoned, as is proper, and topped with some of the freshest and most flavorful fish I’ve tasted in D.C. The swab of wasabi on the backside of my Japanese snapper may be too pungent for the fish, but every other piece on the platter stands up to scrutiny. The buttery bluefin belly is a pleasure that goes way beyond guilty; it borders on an offense against nature, which doesn’t stop me from defiantly letting the overfished flesh melt on my tongue. I have no such remorse about the meaty horse mackerel, a rich strip of flesh that has become my preferred nigiri topping. I chase each of my bites with a healthy sip of Dassai 50 unfiltered sake, which coats my palate with cool, sweet vanilla notes, the ideal counterpoint to those delicately seasoned pieces of fatty fish. This is how it is at Kushi. Owners Darren Lee Norris and Ari Kushimoto Norris have dumped the fussy, bowing formality of the American Japanese experience in favor of the laid-back izakaya, or pub, experience that rules post-work culture in Japan. A club-music informality dominates at Kushi, whether you’re at the sushi bar throwing down nigiri or at the separate robata grill counter, where I’ve noshed on soft, flash-fried tofu and devoured a whole charcoal-grilled bronzino, experiencing the power of simply prepared ingredients. I could go on and on about this newcomer, but let me say this for now: Kushi is my favorite new place to eat and drink.