Shoto Restaurant Review: A sight for tired eyes and a must-have for Japanese food lovers

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Not classified during the epidemic

“There is no bad seat in Shoto.”

So says Arman Naqi, London-born, Bethesda-raised founder and managing partner behind the new Japanese restaurant in downtown Washington, it’s the most gorgeous dining room to open in the area during the pandemic, and since it debuted in February, it’s been one of the most Restaurants difficult to book. . If you want to have dinner at 5 pm or after 9, here is the place.

Pure is right about the tables. No matter where you settle, there is something that catches your eye. On one visit, I looked at a constellation of hundreds of rocks taken from an active volcano in Japan. Another night, I encounter a wall crawling with preserved ivy, a mass of green dotted with dozens of fake fires. The 25-foot ceiling pays homage to Japanese basket weaving, and a seat at the chef’s counter gives you a view of the orchestral seat of the open kitchen, which is surrounded by green ceramic tiles molded onto live Balinese bamboo. Naqi and his partners, including London restaurateur and venture capitalist Arjun Wani, co-founder of international brand Zuma, excel at the little things. Check your coat and you’ll get a heavy brass tag with the restaurant’s logo.

Shoto is the work of famed Tokyo designer Noriyoshi Muramatsu, who helped fulfill Naqi’s request: “We wanted to provide a transformative experience.”

Cooking included. Shoto stars two chefs, Alessio Conte, 31, and Kwang Kim, a decade older than him. Conti, Executive Chef, is Italian whose last job was cooking at Nama Restaurant with a Japanese accent in France and Greece. Kim, an executive sushi chef, brings expertise under the guidance of some of New York’s most famous Japanese chefs, including Masaharu Morimoto and Nobuyuki Matsuhisa.

Taco from an Italian chef at a Japanese restaurant? Yes please. I was initially struck by the salmon mixed with wasabi mayonnaise and garnished with a bright salmon flan. Fatty bluefin tuna flavored with yuzu truffle sauce and topped with local sturgeon caviar enhances the concept of fusion. The special and delicious crunch of the wrappers: homemade potato chips!

Everything not so much sushi is the hour of Conte, a Lake Como native who found his passion for Japanese cooking in culinary specialty restaurants over the past decade. Looking around what other people are eating is apt to sell something fried, perhaps sweet, salty rock shrimp or squid coated with a mixture of rice and potato starch and topped with green pepper and lemon. A robata grill, fueled in part with binchotan, a type of Japanese charcoal prized for clean, powerful heat, is another source of pleasure. Lay stacked pork ribs on a bamboo sheet and top with bonito-flavored BBQ sauce. There are no finer scallops in town now than the greasy, faintly smoky beauties of choto, which leave the grill with plum butter and shiso and somewhat melt on the tongue.

Another sight for sore eyes is the front bar, where shelves display hand-blown glass containers containing spirits infused with the colors of gemstones, and the counter finds a prolific staff shaking, flipping and sometimes sampling their creations, based on Japanese spirits. Tip 1: A sour whiskey made with citrusy yuzu, lemon, and frothy egg whites has become my favorite trigger for “kanpai!” Tip #2: The bar is where I go, around the time a restaurant opens, if I want some of the most exciting food in town but haven’t booked weeks in advance.

You can choose to allow chefs to serve what they think is best by ordering omakase. The only decision you need to make is how much you want to spend for five courses: $115 or $195, the latter for a meal built around wagyu beef, lobster, truffles, and caviar.

The best strategy is to reserve at the chef’s table, where the person who made your sushi may turn it over and serve the fish. Kim buys most of his specialty fish from Japan and prefers products on the greasy and creamy side: golden snapper, amberola, and sweet, single-hooded scallops from Hokkaido were among his recently visited treasures. Kim cuts the fish with the precision of a Savile Row tailor. Like a conscientious waiter, he also takes care of the weight of sugar and salt for his sushi rice so that the seasoning is consistent from meal to meal. Notice how each piece of sushi is presented in one great bite? Shoto translates to “short sword” in Japanese, a name that denotes the subtlety evident throughout the restaurant.

The night I left dinner in the chef’s hands, it brought me some lovely surprises. Excellent sushi, including chives from New Zealand, followed by silky sea bass with a mound of julienne daikon, carrots and Japanese watercress, is a signature entree dish circled in a creamy yellow sauce smoldering with ginger and jalapenos. The lamb chops made a great look and feel too. Chunky meat–coated with pungent red miso, sancho prickly peppers, mirin and more–shares its plate with tangy cucumber and a whip of sesame-seed-spiced tofu. Dessert – a thin slice of yuzu-flavored cheesecake on a black sesame seed crust – extended bliss. The slide was lovely too, backed by a raspberry and strawberry garnish, red drops of fruit jelly, and little tiles of nori.

Throughout any night, passersby stop to admire the views indoors, through the restaurant’s wide front windows. Now I know how a panda feels at the Smithsonian National Zoo.

Four visits also allowed me to see shards of chopsticks. While the owner says he doesn’t want Shoto to feel like a club, the soundtrack evokes a Las Vegas allure, and stag parties. The servers tend to be knowledgeable, friendly and at times funny. When I asked a waiter about his job one night, he told me he played three roles: “psychologist, nutritionist, and photographer.” However, food spies have reported that VIPs can be fussed at the expense of parties seated right next to them. “urgent!” A friend texted me after she and her husband spent nearly $400 on a birthday. “He was also ignored. And indifferent.” Annoyingly, Shoto asks you to use QR codes instead of asking for a printed menu, a practice I’d like to see retired.

On a more buoyant note, Shoto, which has plans to expand into North America, gathers one of the most diverse audiences in Washington. To me, the combination of stunning room and high-quality dining is like the perfect follow-up to a slice of land where the former Washington Post building used to be.

Indeed, the feeling of being somewhere special begins at the door, whose handle is a tree branch that the designer found in a forest outside Tokyo and was cast from bronze in England. Over time, Naqi hopes the handle will wear out from use. I am more than happy to help.

1100 15th Street NW. (Entrance at L Street NW.) 202-796-0011. There is no site. Open: Eat indoors 5-10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5-11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Prices: Sushi and sashimi from $12 to $28, starters from $7 to $29, and specials from $34 to $48. Sound check: 82 dB / very loud. Accessibility: The front door is heavy, but the attendants help to open it. A seat at the bar and two chairs at the chef’s table are reserved for wheelchair users. ADA compliant toilets. Pandemic protocols: All employees are vaccinated and wearing masks.

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