Kushi Izakaya and Sushi
465 K Street NW, Washington, DC
Kushi's main identity is as an izakaya, a Japanese gastropub that focuses on serving food to accompany drinks. According to Wikipedia, the term literally derives from "i" (to sit) and sakaya (sake shop), meaning a place to sit and consume sake. Tom Sietsema writes in his excellent review that owner Darren Lee Norris was unsure how D.C. would react to an izakaya, so he added sushi to lure in the crowds. It was an unnecessary move, judging from the amount of people lined up Friday night, but a delicious one at that.
Kushi offers so much, and you want to try everything, so your first experience can be a bit overwhelming. There's the raw bar, the sushi and sashimi bar (where you can choose from maki, nigiri or sashimi, or sushi and sashimi sets), the kobachi (small plates), gohan (rice and soup), and the crowning glory - the robata (charcoal grill) that dishes up a range of grilled kushiyaki (choose from chicken, pork, beef, duck and vegetable). And the options don't end there - for your kushiyaki, you can choose between simple salt, or the Tare house-made glaze (a blend of sugar, mirin and soy sauce).
The raw bar - I've heard excellent things about Kushi's raw bar, so I didn't hesitate when ordering 1/2 dozen oysters - one of each. The oysters were phenomenal. The hubs is not a huge oyster fan, but these changed his mind. The Kushi and Kumamoto varieties were solid and meaty, with just the right amount of brine. While the sauce was a nice touch, the amazing taste of the oysters made it unnecessary. I easily could have downed another 1/2 dozen.
The kushiyaki - We had three kushiyaki - grilled pork belly, grilled duck sausage and Wagyu beef. These small skewers (each 2.5 oz.) are perfect for sharing. The pork belly was phenomenal - the crispy skin, the melt-in-your-mouth fat, and the salty, sweet, smokey flavors of the Tare and the meat. The duck sausage was also pleasing, but the Wagyu beef just tasted like ... grilled beef.
The sushi - Kushi devotes a special section of its menu to bringing you succulent sushi from the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. The fish is flown in weekly, and I actually swooned when sampling the madai (red seabream snapper) and inada (young Yellowtail). Served on little beds of rice, with a hidden dab of wasabi, the fish absolutely melted on the tongue. It was like ultimate sushi. To compare, we ordered two rolls of maki (tuna and salmon), but the maki couldn't live up. Next time we'll skip those in favor of the Tsukiji options.
The kobachi - We couldn't miss out on the small plates, so we ordered Japanese potato salad and special house blend seaweed salad - the former was tasty, and a nice filler. The latter was accompanied by a delicious creamy dressing and strips of red cabbage - quite a change of pace for seaweed salad, which tends to be served plain, or perhaps with a citrusy dressing.
The omakase dinner - We did not partake in this, but Kushi also offers a chef's tasting menu every Wednesday through Saturday, from 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm. There are two options - one $40 pp, with a $20 sake pairing, and an expanded version for $60 pp, with a $30 sake pairing. The omekase dinner is only served at the chef's counter (sushi counter or robata).
Overall verdict - fantastic, but definitely not inexpensive! Ordering each individual piece quickly adds up. I definitely recommend reservations for Kushi, at least until the chaos and shiny new patina wear off - the wait list was insane on Friday night - easily 1 hour+. Order kushiyaki and please, please take advantage of the Tsukiji Fish Market offering. You will not be disappointed, and you will fully enjoy your first visit to the Japanese gastropub.
(Photo credit: mvissat)