Boston-based restaurateur Michael Schlow may be best known for his Italian cooking, but in DC, he’s gaining a reputation as a raw seafood star—starting with his short-lived gem of a crudo bar, Conosci, which morphed into sushi bar Nama in Mt. Vernon Triangle. Now, Schlow has teamed up with former Morimoto executive chef Derek Watson for a sushi bar and Japanese restaurant on 14th Street. Nama Ko served up its first small plates, sushi rolls, and yuzu margaritas on Wednesday night.
Schlow compares scoring Watson from Morimoto to the Yankees snagging Babe Ruth from the Red Sox—so yes, expectations are high. The chef spent about a decade between Stephen Starr’s famed Philadelphia sushi spot and upscale Japanese restaurant Momotaro in Chicago, where he also led the kitchen. While Nama-Ko boasts fish flown in from Japan and classics like tempura and homemade miso soup, much of the lengthy menu bucks tradition. Take that miso soup, which comes loaded with mushrooms, tofu, scallions, and optional mini “Japanese matzo balls” flavored with ginger and togarashi—“like if you had a Jewish-Japanese grandma, it’s loaded with stuff,” says Schlow.
Dishes—from small plates to big butcher-style cuts—are Japanese-inspired or ingredient-based, “but otherwise there are no rules,” says Schlow. Diners can start with familiar items like dumplings, shrimp tempura, and sashimi, “done in our style” (i.e. wagyu gyoza with truffle-soy dipping sauce). A section labeled “no rules” riffs further, with hot and cold plates such as Kumomoto oysters with pickled cucumber pearls, or a king crab risotto with uni, miso, scallions, and togarashi butter. Large-format dishes follow creative suit, such as a Koji-aged pork chop with caramelized miso beurre blanc and pops of trout roe.
The 80-seat dining room—previously home to Schlow’s pan-Latin Tico—also boasts a sushi counter. Diners can order traditional nigiri and sashimi, or try a variety of house rolls. The classics are all here, plus creations like crunchy spicy lobster with avocado or yellowtail-cucumber-jalapeno. Another section, dubbed “Sushi chefs just want to have fun…”, might make a sushi master turn in his grave. But we like the sound of whimsies like an “Orange Crush” roll with salmon, cucumber, aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chili sauce) and ikura roe. While there are plenty of decadences in the house, a $45 surf-and-turf roll made with A5 wagyu, toro tartare, Hokkaido uni, caviar, crunchy bits, and creamy “miracle sauce” tops them all. It’s aptly named the “F*U*Roll because “eff-you, that’s good,” says Schlow.
Once the restaurant is up and running, the team plans to add a six-seat omakase counter for creative tastings. Down the line, they’re also planning a “disco dim sum brunch” with a mix of small plates and sushi, table service and roving carts. In the meantime, guests can indulge in pastry chef Alex Levin’s ice creams and soft-serve, served in decadent sundae form like coconut-mango-yuzu with lychee sauce and crunchy masa crumbs.
Nama Ko. 1926 14th St., NW.