Food

Your Sushi Arrives via Little Floating Boats at This New Sterling Restaurant

Ocean Blue opens with elaborate aquariums and a full-time marine biologist.
Your Sushi Arrives via Little Floating Boats at This New Sterling Restaurant
Ocean Blue opens in Sterling with elaborate aquariums and a canal for delivering sushi via boat. Photography by Jeff Elkins

Few restaurants have a marine biologist on staff, but then again, few restaurants are equipped with 3,000-gallon ocean reef aquariums and a canal for delivering food to diners. The elaborate aquatic display is all part of Ocean Blue, a seafood-centric venture that just opened in Sterling, Virginia, this week.

The restaurant keeps a marine biologist on staff to build and maintain the aquariums.
The restaurant keeps a marine biologist on staff to build and maintain the aquariums.

Chef/co-owner John Kushner, an alum of the Inn at Little Washington and Bobby Flay’s restaurants in NYC and Las Vegas, is behind the island-inspired menu. All isles are considered fair game for the theme, from Manhattan to Jamaica, though Hawaii pops up more than others; Honolulu Fish Co., an eco-friendly wholesaler, provides much of the seafood. Patrons can order the likes of bluefin tuna poke and crispy snapper tacos, or go in for “regatta style” dining—an interactive experience inspired by conveyor belt sushi. A parade of little boats made by a local woodworker are loaded with maki rolls, sashimi, and other small items, and float along the restaurant’s 150-foot canal. Tiny jets push the vessels along.

Small dishes like sushi rolls and sashimi float along on boats made by a local woodworker.
Small dishes like sushi rolls and sashimi float along on boats made by a local woodworker.
Ramen fans can build their own bowls at a soup bar, which boasts three kinds of noodles and over 20 veggies and seasonings.
Ramen fans can build their own bowls at a soup bar, which boasts three kinds of noodles and over 20 veggies and seasonings.
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Hawaiian seafood company Honolulu Fish Co. supplies much of the fish.

Another DIY option is an unconventional ramen bar. Kushner makes two types of broth—one meaty, the other vegan—and guests can load up on their choice of noodles (one gluten-free), fresh veggies like mushrooms and watermelon radishes, and seasonings. A spin around the soup bar goes for $5. Though the menu contains a few splurges, like a $25 surf-and-turf or Caribbean lobster sushi roll ($15), most dishes are designed to be wallet-friendly. Island-style cocktails, like margaritas and a fancy LIT, accompany the fin fare.

Chef Jonathan Kushner creates island-inspired dishes, such as sesame-crusted tuna with grilled avocado.
Chef Jonathan Kushner creates island-inspired dishes, such as sesame-crusted tuna with grilled avocado.
Young species like fish and lobsters have been introduced to the aquariums over the past few months to acclimate.
Young species like fish and lobsters have been introduced to the aquariums over the past few months to acclimate.

The most elaborate part of the restaurant is the aquariums. Marine biologist James Karanikas has slowly introduced angel fish, spotted rays, lobsters, and yellow tangs to the salt water eco-system over the past few months. Eventually the restaurant plans to grow the reefs to contain over 300 species, and will host elementary school classes for field trips. Kushner, who helps monitor the delicate tanks, has added fish caretaker to his role as chef–at least out of the kitchen. None of the aquarium’s little denizens are candidates for the plate.

Ocean Blue. 21438 Epicurie Plaza, Sterling, Virginia; 571-375-2312. Open Monday through Thursday, 11 am to 10 pm; Friday and Saturday, 11 am to 11 pm. Closed Sunday. 

The aquariums hold 150 species, with more on the way.
The aquariums hold 150 species, with more on the way.

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Anna Spiegel
Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.