Ama Ami Chirashi
Ama Ami chirashi Credit: Ama Ami

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You’re supposed to be picnicking under a cherry blossom tree contemplating the impermanence of life. At least that’s what goes down in Japan during the few short days when cherry blossom trees are fully in bloom. The tradition is called hanami, which translates to “flower viewing.”

“The blossoms only fully bloom just for a few days, and even when they fall, they fall graciously,” says Reiko Hirai. The Kyoto, Japan, native started a sake delivery service in D.C. last year. “For us in Japan, it is a reminder of the transient nature of life. And this is such a powerful symbolism for us. So of course when spring flowers are in full bloom, friends and family gather to appreciate the beauty of the blossoms while they last.”

While the cherry blossom festival won’t be quite the same this year due to the pandemic (nor should you crowd the tidal basin), you can still treat yourself to something special in honor of sakura. The planting of cherry trees in D.C. originated as a show of friendship between the U.S. and Japan in 1912.

Photo of UZU’s ebu furai bento by Cristian Zuniga

Pick Up a Bento Box from UZU at Hana Market

Hiro Mitsui is hustling. In addition to his Ramen by UZU stalls inside Union Market and Ghostline, the chef has a budding bento box business with his business partner Ryu Hirosoko. Tuesdays through Sundays they drop off bento boxes at Hana Market at 2004 17th St. NW around 11 a.m. “Because space is limited, I can only drop off 10 to 15 boxes at one time,” Mitsui explains. “If they sell out quickly, we make more and drop off another batch.” Check UZU’s Instagram story on Monday mornings to peruse each week’s bento schedule. Some days the $15 bentos feature chicken katsu, ebi furai (fried shrimp), or saba no shioyaki (grilled mackerel). Mitsui says he’s willing to deliver bentos within D.C. proper if someone orders at least four via email (Byuzuinc at gmail dot com). If you’re a fan of bento boxes, try your hand at bento BINGO

Photo of katsu sandwich courtesy of Izakaya Seki

Sink Your Teeth Into a Katsu Sandwich from Izakaya Seki

If convenience stores like 7-Eleven in Japan can crank out excellent katsu sandwiches, imagine what one of D.C.’s top Japanese restaurants can do. Father-daughter owned Izakaya Seki (1117 V St. NW) sells them. Sometimes they feature chicken, and other times pork. The white bread is fluffy, the meat is juicy under its crackling panko crust, the cabbage cuts through the richness, and the condiment combination of spicy mustard and sweet tonkatsu sauce makes you want to order another one immediately. Included in the $13.50 price of the sandwich is a curried potato croquette. You can order katsu sandwiches for pick-up online or dine-in. The restaurant is currently open Tuesdays through Saturdays for take-out lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and take-out dinner from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dine-in dinner service goes to 9 p.m. 

Photo of Sushiko omakase box by Laura Hayes

Splurge on an Omakase Sushi Meal That Travels From Sushiko

If you relish the chance to sit across from a sushi chef as he or she passes you individual pieces of carefully sourced and crafted nigiri, try Sushiko’s new omakase box. You have to use your imagination to pretend you’re inside a pristine restaurant taking in bite after decadent bite, but the quality is unmatched. Chef Handry Tjan fills each compartment of the box with thick slices of sashimi, nigiri sushi finished off with truffles or caviar, and one roll of choice. The meal comes with miso soup, salad, and dessert for $125. Omakase boxes are available Fridays through Sundays. Place pick-up orders in advance on the restaurant’s website Thursdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. or call (301) 961-1644 between 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sushiko, one of the D.C. area’s longest tenured Japanese restaurants, is located at 5455 Wisconsin Ave. in Chevy Chase.

Photo of Philly Cheesesteak Goes to Japan courtesy of Hatoba

Try an Umami Cheesesteak from Hatoba

Cheesesteaks are “all the rage” in D.C., according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. If you’re someone who cares less about tradition and more about taste, try Hatoba’s version of the indulgent sandwich ($12.50). The Navy Yard ramen shop simmers the thinly sliced beef and onions in a trinity of umami-laden ingredients: soy sauce, mirin, and sake. Chef Katsuya Fukushima uses Wisconsin brick cheese and cheese whiz and adds benishoga (pickled ginger) for a pop of acid. He also imports hoagie rolls from Philadelphia. Order the “Philly Cheesesteak Goes to Japan” for pick-up, delivery, or dine-in. The restaurant (300 Tingey St. SE) boasts a promising patio

Photo of salmon chirashi courtesy of Ama Ami

Order a Showstopping Chirashi from Ama Ami

Amy Phan and Zach Ramos met working at Sushi Taro. Now they’re romantic and business partners bringing D.C. impeccable chirashi sushi through their Mess Hall-based company Ama Ami. Chirashi is the style of presenting a variety of raw fish over a bed of vinegared rice. Sometimes it resembles a jewelry box. Ramos, who is from Hawaii, worked at Sushi Taro for four years. “I learned all the techniques and lots of new things that I thought I knew,” he says. “There’s so much more to the craft than what I thought. The details are very intricate.” The most premium Ama Ami offering is the tokujo chirashi with “the best selection from Japan including all your favorites like otoro (fatty tuna) and uni (sea urchin)” for $55. Bara or “scattered” chirashi costs $30. And, if you are a tuna ($35) or salmon lover ($30), there are chirashi starring those fish alone. Each chirashi order comes with miso soup, toasted nori, and house made shiitake soy sauce. Pre-orders are accepted every Sunday at 8 p.m. After making your selections, you can choose a time slot to pick up your order at Mess Hall (703 Edgewood St. NE).  

Count Down to Otabe’s Next Collaboration with Compliments Only

After a successful first run on March 21, Chef Masako Morishita of Otabe will pop-up in collaboration with Compliments Only (1630 14th St. NW) again on Sunday, April 11. Morishita, who is from Kobe, Japan, specializes in Japanese comfort food. Otabe’s $6 “Spam rice sammie” sold out the first go-around. Morishita says her mom, who is the chef at a 90-year-old restaurant in Japan, fell in love with Spam on frequent trips to Okinawa. The April 11 menu is still in development, but previous highlights with the Compliments Only team included a version of a French dip with soy citrus chicken jus with shichimi pepper ($14.50) and a dessert sub with sweetened red bean butter, strawberries, and condensed milk whipped cream ($6.50). Pre-orders will open Saturday, April 10 at 6 p.m. Order as fast as you can. 

Photo of sake masu courtesy of DC Sake Cō

Score Something to Sip From DC Sake Cō

After launching in June with about 50 sake varieties to choose from at various price points, local entrepreneur and sake enthusiast Reiko Hirai has slowly added selections to her online business. She can deliver sake and shōchū to any address in D.C. proper. Shipping is free on orders greater than $80 and can take a couple of days to arrive. When you navigate to the DC Sake Cō website to order, also look for a blog filled with sake wisdom. Hirai recommends two sakes for spring: Muto Umeshu plum sake from Nanbu Bijin and Dewazakura “Oka” Cherry Bouquet.