Dining Out: Kushi Izakaya and Sushi, Mt. Vernon Square

Achieve true unagi with this delicious little dish that left our bouches amoosed.
 The problem with having the absolute best of something is that you get spoiled to the point where you’re loathe to ruin a good memory or experience with something inferior. True, something might prove to be better (or just as good) but WHY BOTHER? YOU HAVE FOUND THE GRAIL.
My dad, for example, makes the best sourdough pancakes (with his own starter) and as a result it is physically impossible for me to utter the words “I’ll have the sourdough pancakes” in any eating establishment, anywhere. After the bacon waffle at Fig, I can’t eat the bacon waffle at the Original Pancake House. I will not touch gelato unless it’s made by a little shop in Venice (or Talenti, which is not bad)- I tried some at place near Verizon Center a few years ago and cried it was so bad. Actual tears and everything. Let me tell you, I am not a pretty crier.

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. 

There's just something about delicious food on a stick: duck sausage, corn and negi maki (onion and chicken). Oiishi! (Delicious!)

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.

They say to always use a condiment, but we decided to take a chance...

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.

A buta no kakuni temaki roll. Hover your cursor over the picture for a translation of "buta no kakuni".

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.

Springtime sushi salad: Bara chirashi with tuna, salmon, shrimp, eel, sea urchin, roe, over sushi rice.

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.

A spoonful of Kushi's wasabi ice cream to share before we settled on our dessert choices.

We decided on the black sesame and sea salt. Creamy, cold, delicious.

Kushi tweaks your favorite dairy dessert with intriguing flavors and a shard of candied ginger.

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

(202) 682-3123


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