Chinatown Sushi Stalwart Sei appears in an unlikely location

For 12 years in the heart of Chinatown, Sei has been widely regarded as one of the best sushi and sashimi places in town. But a lease dispute caused the glowing white pillar to suddenly shut down in 2019, with a departure sign on the door of 7 Street NW indicating “something new and special” ahead.

Basic badly missed, which Obama counted Among its last customers in Chinatown, it delivered on that promise. At the end of 2021, Japanese sushi maker “Noriaki” Yasutaki and his greatest raw fish quietly appeared inside Dupont’s French-style Le DeSales (1725 Desales Street NW).

The idea for an unconventional reboot of Sei has emerged inside an unrelated restaurant during the pandemic, while Le DeSales has remained in a hiatus like many sit-down restaurants. Early praise for Le DeSales and its prime location across from the historic Mayflower Hotel appealed to longtime Sei general manager Erdenebileg “Billy” Jigjidsuren.

“The owner wanted to try something different and something he hadn’t done before,” says Jigjidsuren, who is now general manager at Le DeSales. “I told him it would work if we had the right team in place.”

Le DeSales now employs dozens of former Sei employees, including second-generation Japanese chefs, bartenders, servers, food organizers and kitchen staff. Five-year-old Le DeSales keeps real estate on the French menu from inaugural chef Raphael Francois.

“We’re not French, we’re not an Asian mix—we’re a French bistro with sushi,” says Jigjidsuren. “Both chefs have no influence on each other’s menus. They do what they do.”

The Le DeSales menu is now one part Japanese and one part French.
Le Dessales

Nearly half of Sei’s menu has gone to Le DeSales, which in particular includes the award-winning “fish and chips” rolls (red onions, white fish, olive oil, malt vinegar, wasabi tartare, and chips).

Other bestsellers include the SOS salmon and strawberry roll, the salmon and cilantro roll with spicy miso and baguette chips, and the beef nigiri tartare with truffle sauce and nori dough. Popular orders of two include teriyaki hamachi with fried ginger and scallop aburi with butter mono.

“SOS” rolls (salmon, strawberry, cucumber, avocado, miso orange).
Le Dessales

Yasutake is bringing his knife-wielding skills to life behind a stylish new sushi table that has replaced Le DeSales dessert station in the back. While there’s no mention of Sei’s name anywhere, Jigjidsuren says old fans instantly connect the dots when they see the same sushi and familiar faces.

“You usually get to know the regular folks at Sei,” he says. “People look at the menu and they see the fish and chips wrapped and say, ‘You used to be a restaurant in Chinatown. “

Rare collections of sake and Japanese whiskey also live behind the serpentine-shaped Le DeSales bar. Ten whiskeys start at $13 and go up to $32 for 12-year single malt Yamakazi tasting. The cocktail menu also has appearances of Sei, with liquid wasabi with unfiltered sake, vodka, lemon juice, habanero, and a simple syrup infused with ginger. The 300-bottle wine cellar at Le DeSales maintains a strong list of French and European labels.

DC’s ten-year-old Panache turned to modern and airy Le DeSales in 2017 with François behind the wheel. The veteran chef, who has appeared in several Michelin-rated restaurants in Europe, New York, and the capital, has spent a lot of time in Los Angeles in recent years. In 2018, he opened a French restaurant in California Tesse off Sunset Boulevard and also leads the kitchen at Fanny’s, the awaited anchor for the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

This summer, François plans to come to the capital to round up the French side of the menu which currently includes duck pie, rabbit pasta and whole branzino. Find Sei Sushi Foods to stick with along with seasonal additions.

Jigjidsuren compares the Hamilton double kitchen model in downtown, which fits both a sushi table and an American menu under one roof.

However, there are a few small tweaks to the menu that speak to Sei’s new home.

“Instead of the traditional Japanese tempura mixture, we use French baguettes for shrimp baguettes,” says Jigjidsuren.

The soy paper-wrapped shrimp rolls at Le DeSales feature orange curry tartare and asparagus.
Le Dessales

The 3,100-square-foot space features glossy white subway tiles, blue velvet booths, glossy hardwood, and elegant artwork on the walls, with French doors arching against seasonal sidewalk seating. “It’s a little rustic but almost feels like a distant Sei relative,” Jigjidsuren says of Sei’s modern look full of red, white, and gold accents. The 119 seats, he adds, are similar to the size of a C.

Cocktails at Le DeSales.
Le Dessales

Le DeSales, named after its quaint alley that it shares with the Mayflower Hotel, is beginning to enjoy more tourist traffic in the city. Monday service joined the mix at Le DeSales for the first time in years this week, with an all-night happy hour to cause a buzz.

“We’ve heard many guests say it’s hard to find a decent restaurant on a Monday night. We want to fill that hole.”

Sashimi and sake at Le DeSales.
Le Dessales

Lunch, currently served Wednesday through Friday, has rings served in beet bowls and bento boxes. Lunch is still on its way.

During the pandemic, another stellar spot of sushi appeared in an unexpected location. After breaking up with upscale Japanese sushi restaurant Nara-Ya in Wharf, Hawaiian chef Lucas Irwin is now showing off his knife-wielding skills at Navy Yard’s Sukuta—a pint-sized takeout and delivery service attached to Side Door Pizza.

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