An example of the chirashi that will be served at the Restaurant Two Nine when it opens in 2023.
Chirashi will be served at Two Nine when it opens next year. Credit: Amy Phan

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During the pandemic, Ama Ami earned a devoted following for luxurious “homakase” dinners—sprawling, delicacy-filled sushi tasting menus staged in people’s homes—and ’gram-ready chirashi bowls featuring sushi rice topped with mosaics of sashimi. Now the couple who co-own the venture, Sushi Taro vets Zach Ramos and Amy Phan, are transforming their double concept into Two Nine, a bilevel restaurant tucked away in a Georgetown alley across the street from the historic post office on 31st Street NW.  

Set to open next spring, the 1,500-square-foot restaurant will feature a chirashi-centric cafe on the ground floor; upstairs will be an intimate 12-seat omakase counter where guests will enjoy 15- to 17-course meals, including several hot and cold appetizers, sashimi and sushi prepared by Ramos, Phan’s desserts, and the option to add Japanese whiskey, sake, and wine pairings.

Bigeye tuna Credit: Amy Phan

Aside from the traditional Japanese cuisine offered in his omakases, which are set to run $275 per person (not including tax and tip), Ramos hopes to weave in his Hawaiian heritage by incorporating refined takes on island favorites—think poke, laulau, and lomi salmon—and using fresh seafood sourced from the archipelago, such as bigeye tuna, Kona Kampachi, and blackfoot limpets. Phan’s sweet courses are set to include Hawaiian butter mochi, turtle-shaped cream puffs, mille-feuille taiyaki (puff pastry filled with custard) and melon fruit cake—a cored cantaloupe stuffed with layers of sponge cake, diplomat cream, and fresh fruit.

Amy Phan’s turtle-shaped cream puff Credit: Amy Phan

The sleekly minimalist upstairs space will incorporate woods imported from Hawaii, including monkey pod and lychee, and the walls will be decorated with Gyotaku, traditionally inspired fish prints handcrafted by Hawaiian artist Brandon Nonaka. Expect a vinyl-powered soundtrack of Hawaiian reggae and soft funk to accompany meals.

The downstairs grab ’n’ go cafe will offer made-to-order chirashi bowls to ensure the least amount of food waste possible. “We’re going to use our current menu as the foundation, but add more technique into the process,” Phan says. “One more item we’ll be incorporating into the bowls is a humble piece of tamago, Japanese rolled omelet. A lot of folks, they’ve never had a good one, because it’s time consuming to make since there are so many layers.”

Sashimi will be featured on Two Nine’s omakase menu Credit: Amy Phan

Drinks will include organic Kagoshima Koucha (Japanese black tea), organic matcha, decaffeinated tochucha tea with ginger, as well as coffee and espresso drinks made with Kona coffee beans, another nod to Ramos’ Hawaiian roots.

The name Two Nine is a reference to Ramos’ family’s Ilocano (northwestern Filipino) roots. “My grandfather gave all his grandchildren this number to live by: two nine,” he says. “It’s a play on the Ilocano word ‘tunay’ meaning ‘to stay true or genuine.’ He always told us to always ‘Two nine. Be true to yourselves and to your family, and always stay on the right path.’”

The chirashi cafe will operate Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., while the omakase counter will operate Wednesdays through Saturdays with a first seating at 5:30 p.m. and second at 8:30 p.m. Meals will last up to two hours.

The couple will continue offer their “homakase” dinners until about a month before the restaurant opens, at which point they will assess whether they can continue to stage them on a very limited basis, perhaps once a month or once per season.

Two Nine, 1218 31st St. NW.