Nama Ko Japanese Restaurant Sushi Bar opens on 14th Street

Nama Ko Roasted Mushroom Egg Custard. Photography courtesy of Nama Ko.

Boston-based restaurateur Michael Schlow may be best known for his Italian cuisine, but in DC he’s earning a reputation as a raw seafood star, starting with his short-lived crudo bar gem, Conosci, which turned into a Nama sushi bar in the Mount Vernon Triangle. Now Schlow partnered with former Morimoto executive chef Derek Watson for a sushi bar and Japanese restaurant on 14th Street. Nama Ko served its first small plates, sushi rolls and yuzu margaritas on Wednesday night.

A Japanese riff on a togarashi-spiced margarita. Photo courtesy of Nama Ko.

Schlow compares Watson’s scoring of Morimoto to the Yankees catching Babe Ruth of the Red Sox – so yes, expectations are high. The chef spent about a decade between Stephen Starr’s famed Philadelphia sushi restaurant and the upscale Japanese restaurant Momotaro in Chicago, where he also ran the kitchen. While Nama-Ko offers fish imported from Japan and classics like tempura and homemade miso soup, much of the menu’s long tradition comes at a price. Take this miso soup, which has mushrooms, tofu, scallions, and optional mini “Japanese matzo balls” flavored with ginger and togarashi — “like you have a Jewish-Japanese grandma, she’s loaded with things,” Schlow says.

Not your grandmother’s miso soup. Photo courtesy of Nama Ko.

Dishes, from small plates to large butcher-style cuts, are Japanese-inspired or ingredient-based, “but otherwise there are no rules,” says Schlow. Diners can start with familiar dishes like dumplings, shrimp tempura and sashimi, “made our style” (i.e. wagyu gyoza with truffle and soy dip). A section labeled “no rules” goes further, with hot and cold plates such as Kumomoto oysters with pickled cucumber pearls, or king crab risotto with uni, miso, scallions and butter of togarashi. Large-format dishes keep pace with the creative, like a koji-aged pork chop with caramelized miso beurre blanc and trout roe shards.

Koji Aged Pork Chop with Miso Beurre Blanc. Photo courtesy of Nama Ko.

The 80-seat dining room, which previously housed Schlow’s Pan-Latin Tico, also has a sushi counter. Diners can order traditional nigiri and sashimi, or try a variety of homemade rolls. The classics are all there, as well as creations like the crispy lobster spiced with avocado or the amberjack-cucumber-jalapeno. Another section, titled “Sushi chefs just want to have fun…”, could make a sushi master turn in his grave. But we love the sound of fancy ones like an “Orange Crush” roll with salmon, cucumber, aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chili sauce), and ikura roe. Although there’s plenty of decadence in the house, a $45 surf and turf roll made with A5 wagyu, toro tartare, uni Hokkaido, caviar, crunchy chunks, and “miracle sauce creamy crowns them all. It’s aptly named “F*U*Roll” because “eff-you’s good,” says Schlow.

Once the restaurant is operational, the team plans to add a six-seat omakase counter for creative tastings. Ultimately, they’re also planning a “dim sum disco brunch” with a mix of small plates and sushi, table service, and roving carts. In the meantime, customers can feast on pastry chef Alex Levin’s ice cream and ice cream, served as a decadent sundae like coconut-mango-yuzu with lychee sauce and crispy masa crumbs.

Nama Ko. 1926 14th St., NW.

food editor

Anna Spiegel covers the restaurant and bar scene in her native DC. Before joining Washingtonian in 2010, she completed the MFA program at the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in New York and St. John, in the US Virgin Islands.

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