So when I say that I lived in Japan for nearly 6 years and only recently did I find a place that served food good enough to make me feel nostalgic for a country I called home for a little over half a decade, I mean… wow.
Kushi Izakaya and Sushi in Mt. Vernon Square isn’t really an izakaya- at least not the way I remember them- and calling it that is like having some D.C. matron in pearls put on a pair of ripstop pants and a backwards cap and calling her a B-boy. It’s not a haven for the suited masses after the daily grind- no all-you-can-drink specials; no low ceilings, no tiny plates of nibbles. Instead, the restaurant is airy and spacious with high ceilings and lots of natural light, funky light fixtures and a huge bar/sushi bar.
The one thing they did get right was the tiny dark wood tables crammed close together. This is not a place for first dates- there’s no privacy and you couldn’t hear your companion anyway.
Which is just as well, because the food is so good that talk would be superfluous. That said, our waitress, Jinny chatted us up with some great recommendations and steered us toward some very good starters: Sapporo Draft on tap with negi maki, duck sausage, and corn, because food on sticks is what a restaurant masquerading as a drinking establishment does best. And Kushi is no exception.
I have this rule about never ordering something I can get easily and/or make at home- in other words, wave duck in front of me and I’m all about it. I’ve roasted a duck leg before, but I haven’t made sausage. It really was good sausage. So good, we needed nothing to dress it up. But the chogirashi, salt, and Chinese mustard looked so pretty I couldn’t resist taking a shot.
Pork belly is a common problem in D.C.- not only are the subsidies troublesome, but nobody knows how to cook ’em! When done right they can be tender and melty, as in this imaginative spin on temaki (hand rolled sushi). Good thing I got a picture- right after the first bite it fell apart.
I’ve had chirashi-zushi, which is fish and egg slivers and dried seaweed mixed with sushi rice, but never bara chirashi. Where chirashi-zushi is a mixture, bara chirashi is a layering of ingredients- the rice is topped with cubes of tender sashimi, and unagi cooked in a sweet sauce. No more hunting for choice morsels- they’re right there for the taking.
Even after all that food, we had to have dessert. Luckily, Kushi doesn’t much around with chocolate (which is just not Japanese). Instead they take very un-Japanese ice cream and impart traditional flavors: salted plum, black seasame, wasabi, and sea salt. Jinny offered us an ice cream sample to help us make up our minds.
We decided on the black sesame and sea salt. Creamy, cold, delicious.
At Kushi the little nibbles you’d get at a real izakaya to keep you on this side of sober while you tank up on beer are served as a meal with large, savory chunks of meat, high-quality fish, and veggies. Aside from some table top shuffling to get all of the very large plates situated, it’s a great space with good service and tasty food. And they have bottles of Hitachino (and it’s on tap, which you rarely see anywhere but Brickskellar).
A lot of places do sushi, but few really pull off the variations like chirashi, chicken-on-a-stick, and other dishes that round out Japanese cuisine- taking them just outside the box without going too crazy. Wasabi ice cream? Next time, definitely.
Kushi Izakaya and Sushi
465 K St NW
(between N 4th St and N 5th St NW)
Washington, DC 20001