Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Kushi Izakaya & Sushi

spotlightWelcoming restaurant patrons in D.C.’s Mount Vernon Square since only the beginning of March, Kushi Izakaya & Sushi’s Chef-Owner Darren Norris’ 27 years in the restaurant business gives this new-kid-on-the-block Japanese pub a built-in rapport.

 

spotlight

Kushi Izakaya & Sushi (Photo: News-Press)

Welcoming restaurant patrons in D.C.’s Mount Vernon Square since only the beginning of March, Kushi Izakaya & Sushi’s Chef-Owner Darren Norris’ 27 years in the restaurant business gives this new-kid-on-the-block Japanese pub a built-in rapport.

From the open kitchen smack dab in the middle of Kushi to the raw bar — where fresh tuna is cleaned “right in your face” — Norris’ goal from the start?

To be an open book.

“We wanted to have a kitchen that didn’t have any secrets, that doesn’t have people guessing what’s going on behind the swinging door,” he said.

Kushi is modeled after traditional Japanese izakayas. Combining words which, in the Asian country, mean “to sit” (i) and “sake shop” (sakaya), chances are there will be sitting and drinking involved. Following in suit of high-end sake houses in Japan, customers are invited to select their own sake cups from an eclectic mix presented in a basket.

But sensitive ears, beware; Norris is fan of loud music. And all of which cued is his personal playlist. Part of the reason why he opened this type restaurant was the fact he was tired of his love for high-decibel tunes paired with less-than-par food at area nightlife spots.

“Usually, at places with intense music, you can’t get a great meal,” said Norris.

Offering everything from small-plated kobachi and sushi to grilled robata and kushiyaki skewers, Kushi’s made fresh to order options cover all the bases while sticking to what Norris calls “pure Japanese modern” cuisine. In other words: Goodbye, fusion. Hello, back to basics.

“Asian fusion restaurants have already been done and it’s kind of played out. So many people do it without much thought and you get this watered-down result. I wanted to do something very pure,” he said.

All of Kushi’s maki, nigiri and sashimi remain rather simple, but still manage to be some of the best this writer has tasted in the area. The frills-free approach refreshes instead of bores with well-done staples like the Seawater Eel & Cucumber roll ($7), with a standout being Kanpyo ($6) simmered gourd roll. Also not to miss is the Duck Sausage Kushiyaki ($6), served with a pinch of spices on a skewer and in a humble portion size enough to satisfy. Customers should, however, note that medium-well chicken  skewers do happen at Kushi.

And they’re intentional.

Noting that most sushi places in Japan serve chicken sashimi (raw sushi) known as toriwasa, Norris told the News-Press that Kushi serves a heritage breed chicken. “It’s not the typical organic chicken. It lives a much longer life before they take it, which means it has a greater immune system and doesn’t need to be fully cooked.”

Though he admitted there’s a risk involved in doing this, his job is to educate the customer. In some places, it’s considered a delicacy and readily served in New York City.

No gas is involved in the cooking of any of Kushi’s food, which is, on the contrary, cooked only with charcoal or wood-fired, the waiter explained. A perfect example of why this matters is the Japanese Eggplant Robata ($3). An admitted fan of anything involving eggplant, this is by far one of the best ways it’s ever been prepared. The cooking method Norris’ three strong Japanese chefs use allow the eggplant to turn into this melt-in-your-mouth treat, letting its natural flavor shine through quite nicely.

From a wide-range of sakes and Japanese beers to some of the freshest (and best-rolled) sushi this writer has tasted, Kushi Izakaya awaits for all those in favor of beating May’s lingering rainy blues.

Kushi Izakaya & Sushi

465 K St. NW, Washington, D.C.

eatkushi.com • 202-682-3123

Hours:

Lunch: Monday – Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; Saturday – Sunday, noon – 2:30 p.m.

Dinner: Monday – Sunday, 5:30 – 11 p.m.; Late Night: Thursday – Saturday, 11 p.m. – 2 a .m.