The Dish: Small but Mighty

by Catherine Trifiletti

Himitsu in Petworth welcomes diners to make themselves at home.

Nasu dengaku: Japanese eggplant with fermented black bean, topped in pickled red onions and peanuts ($12) (Photo by Tony Brown)

We hear it often: restaurant owners touting that they want diners to feel like they’re in their own homes.What you frequently don’t hear:“If you want to drink the remaining liquid out of this bowl of deliciousness, please pick it up and put it in your mouth.” Carlie Steiner, 25 co-owner and beverage director of Himitsu, encourages visitors to come as they are and enjoy as they please. It is clear from the start that she and her friend/ business partner, chef Kevin Tien, 30, don’t take themselves or their 24-seat, no reservations dining room too seriously. (See emojis on the menu and check delivery via small toy dinosaur).You might be able to order red wine with your sushi sans judgment, but don’t let this sense of comfort fool you. Tien and Steiner’s Japanese-inspired food and masterfully curated wine and cocktail program is no joke. Since its opening last year, Himitsu has been widely praised, recently scoring a coveted spot on Bon Appétit’s 50 Best New Restaurants in America list.

Kevin Tien and Carlie Steiner (Photo by Farrah Skeiky/ Dim Sum Media)

Steiner explains that there is no complex concept to be untangled at Himitsu, which translates to “secret” in Japanese, and she reserves the descriptor “fusion” for the non-foodies in her life.The Petworth neighborhood gem was born out of Steiner and Tien’s desire to create inventive fare and build a community among their staff and guests.

The menu is organized by sushi, snacks and cold and hot plates that are meant to be shared. Southeast Asian, Korean and Latin flavors are weaved into dishes based on Tien and Steiner’s life experience and travels. “It’s more an expression of Kevin and me than it is of any one culture or cuisine.”After all, Steiner jokes,“We’re Millennials.”

The pair is well versed in hospitality, having each worked in the restaurant business for years. Tien most recently worked at Pineapples and Pearls and Steiner at Barmini. Himitsu’s service reflects their ambitions to have guests wholly enjoy their dining experience and the sentiment is clearly reflected in their staff.“I only want to hire people who are smarter, faster and better than me,” Steiner says. In addition to daily “family meals” before service, they hold meetings at least twice a week to review menu additions, taste new wine or simply talk about whatever might be on the staff ’s mind, with the same goal at the heart of every gathering – improved service.

The trickle down effect is evident.“There’s this sense of family we try to instill.” Steiner says. “I think its very important to build strong relationships not only with our community but with our own restaurant.”

WHAT TO ORDER: Any menu item with a unicorn or fox emoji alongside it means it is recommended by Steiner and Tien.

Himitsu 828 Upshur Street, NW; Tuesday – Saturday 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.; no reservations; plates range from $8-$46

“You Can’t Handle the Chartreuth” yellow and green Chartreuse, coconut water with mint and Thai basil ($20) (Photo by Tony Brown)


Hamachi: Yellowtail, fish sauce vinaigrette, thai chili, orange + tobiko ($16) (Photo by Tony Brown)

This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of Washington Life. 

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