The chef-driven restaurants lining 14th Street offer many things, but quick eating isn’t one of them. One new exception: Maki Shop, a fast-casual eatery specializing in hand rolls from Darren Lee Norris. The former Kushi chef/owner—and part of the team behind nearby Black Whiskey—opened the counter-seat concept in the former HomeMade Pizza Co. space. Here’s what to know before you go.
Quick-grab sushi calls to mind the boxed nigiri at Whole Foods. The model at Maki is different, and aims to avoid the pitfall of pre-made rolls: gummy rice, and soggy seaweed. A high-tech rice mixer cooks and seasons white, brown, and black grains, which are paired with a variety of fillings. The sausage-like rolls are individually sealed in plastic, with a sheet of nori packaged on the outside; the presentation is similar to onigiri, stuffed rice balls, that one finds in quick-grab shops across Japan (or at the Hana Market register).
The best way to eat: fast, like the concept itself. Once you’ve cradled the roll in the seaweed, the contrast is rewarding; crisp nori crackles with every bite against the tender grains. Leave it too long, and the seaweed sucks up moisture, making it chewy and difficult to bite off. That being said, the packaged rolls carry easily and, like onigiri, could easily be thrown in a bag for later eating.
Short rib sushi, and other unusual finds
The menu is broken down into three kinds of hand rolls: vegetables, meat, and seafood. The latter contains many familiar favorites, such as spicy tuna and soft shell crab. More unusual combinations come in the form of Hawaiian poke-style tuna with papaya and black rice; seared curry chicken with Asian pear and pickled radish; or short rib cooked sous-vide and rolled Korean-style with kimchee. One of the best on first-sample were the roasted wild mushrooms alongside crunchy asparagus, pepper, and pickled burdock in a sheath of brown grains.
Individual rolls are portioned to be more of a snack or light lunch than a full meal, and the $4.50 to $6 price range is reflective. Mix-and-match a few, or grab one of the sides from a case such as sunomono (cucumber, sliced shrimp, and seaweed packed in vinegar), edamame, or creamy Japanese-style potato salad with ham. Round out a meal with chilled green tea and Bubbies mochi ice cream.
Maki Shop. 1522 14th St., NW; 202-545-6333. Open for lunch and dinner.