The Dish: Culinary Theater

by Catherine Trifiletti

Sushi Nakazawa is an omakase experience for the senses.

A piece of O Toro sushi is served without accompaniments. Chef suggests each piece of sushi be enjoyed in one bite sans soy sauce and pickled ginger. (Photo by Evan Sung)

Anyone who has seen the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” remembers the famous Japanese chef’s apprentice, Daisuke Nakazawa, talking about how mastering the challenging technique of making tamago   a signature Japanese egg dish– took him hundreds of tries. He recalls happy crying after finally receiving Jiro’s approval. New York restaurateur Alessandro Borgognone was touched by the scene and with the help of Google Translate, reached out to Nakazawa about a potential collaboration. The sushi chef moved to New York to open Sushi Nakazawa with Borgognone and it wasn’t long before the timid Japanese chef from the film became a formidable force in Manhattan’s dining world. His entrance to Washington’s scene, however, was slightly less smooth. Well before Nakazawa officially opened his second restaurant iteration at the end of May, negative buzz abounded. Some partisan diners frowned upon the 30-seat restaurant being connected to the Trump International Hotel and if that didn’t irk folks, Borgognone’s comments to New York Magazine about the District’s food scene being lackluster certainly did.

Proprietor Alessandro Borgognone and Daisuke Nakazawa (Photo by Nick Solares)

The two faux pas left many prideful Washingtonians reeling and some food writers went so far as to boycott the restaurant’s preview night. Hate Borgognone (who later apologized) and his landlord, if you wish, but not the establishment he has helped build. In this case, it only takes one satisfying mouthful of O-Toro fatty tuna for the politics to disappear. Dinner at Sushi Nakazawa is served omakase style – which means the price is set and guests are served around 20 pieces of nigiri sushi based on chef’s freshest fish of the day, no menu needed. Unlike having a large plate of food in front of you (ah, the American way) Nakazawa requires you to engage with your meal, one piece of sushi at a time. The approach is a lesson in discipline, and a subtle reminder that good things come to those who wait. In many ways it is reflective of Nakazawa’s traditional training under Jiro in Tokyo.

His tiresome attempts to master the tamago was as much about the journey as the destination. During the dining voyage at Nakazawa you might expect to see some variation of salmon (or three), tuna ranging from lean to fatty and mackerel. Sitting at the 10-seat sushi counter is theater for the senses. Chefs are swift, diligent and artfully precise in their unique preparations – a dab of pickled plum sauce here, a light torching of golden eye snapper there. The raw fish is sourced domestically and internationally by the restaurant’s “maritime liaison,” from fishermen friends, with whom Nakazawa has long-standing relationships. If a unique and gratifying experience is what you desire, it’s here. “The restaurant is special because the chef, the waiter, to the owner to the manager – everyone – has a created a specific experience.” Borgognone says. “We are the only ones who do what we do in the that we do.”

Sushi Nakazawa | 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. | | Mon. – Sat. 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. | 202-298-3515 | omakase is $150 per person at the bar and $120 in the dining room.

The 10 seat bar area with the best view in the house. Guests can choose from two sake pairings. (Photo by Nick Solares)

This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of Washington Life magazine. 

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