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Kushi, Modern Izakaya in Mount Vernon Triangle - Owners Darren and Ari Norris on 5th and K Street NW - Closed


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This story may help explain Kushi's tax woes, though it may also raise other questions.

From the article:

“I can’t blame anybody else for the fact that I owed them the money,” Darren Norris says. “I agreed in writing, I signed a document saying that I would pay on specific dates, and I breached that agreement by not paying on that date.”

“We were taught a lesson: Don’t mess with the government,” Darren Norris adds. “I don’t blame them to be honest with you. Yeah, they flexed their muscles, but I mean, they wouldn’t have had to flex them if I paid on time.”

If only more people would own up to their mistakes without making excuses for them, the world would be a better place - this type of contrition goes a long way with me.

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If only more people would own up to their mistakes without making excuses for them, the world would be a better place - this type of contrition goes a long way with me.

It does with me as well, but the article goes a long way toward legitimizing my feeling that the once great sushi here has become merely good. The quality of what they serve hasn't declined, but I've thought that what they have offered lately has narrowed and become less grand. Am I wrong?

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It does with me as well, but the article goes a long way toward legitimizing my feeling that the once great sushi here has become merely good. The quality of what they serve hasn't declined, but I've thought that what they have offered lately has narrowed and become less grand. Am I wrong?

Not sure if you're asking me, but I haven't been in five months, and even then I didn't order any high-end sushi.

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It does with me as well, but the article goes a long way toward legitimizing my feeling that the once great sushi here has become merely good. The quality of what they serve hasn't declined, but I've thought that what they have offered lately has narrowed and become less grand. Am I wrong?

I went earlier this summer and definitely noticed a narrower selection. At the time I wondered whether it was a result of the Japanese nuclear disaster, since I'd read fish shipments from Japan had been affected.

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I wondered if we would see an affect on the sushi supply, as back when the reactor damage was still being mentioned in the popular media, it was reported that sourcing of their fish industry was being changed to a different area.

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This story may help explain Kushi's tax woes, though it may also raise other questions.

I definitely see the Living Social deal as a quick fix for their tax issue. If it helps them keep the doors open, great. I'm perfectly willing to pay for a meal in advance to keep a unique DC restaurant, run by good people, open for business. With over 6,000 vouchers currently purchased, Kushi gets $90,000 assuming the normal 50/50 split of $30 purchase price (and half of that upfront?). That should seriously dent their tax lien, but will it be enough to survive or without changing from what it was.

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Azami and I had an enjoyable date night here on Friday. Highlights were my yuzu drop cocktail (made not too sweet upon request), wakame seaweed salad (the flavor totally took us back to Japan), the hamachi scallon maki, and the sea salt and black sesame gelatos. I enjoyed the hamachi tartare more than Azami did, but as with other dishes I've had recently at Japanese restaurants that claimed to involve ponzu, there was no ponzu flavor at all. I was also underwhelmed with the chicken/shiso/ume skewer, which was dry. Azami enjoyed his pork belly skewer quite a lot. Overall, we really enjoyed Kushi, and left feeling nostalgic for nights spent at izakaya with our friends in Japan.

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Tried a number of dishes last night:

From the kobachi:

Soba noodle salad w/ pea shoots - soba noodles were really overcooked, they fell apart when a person with less than perfect chopstick skills (i.e., my wife) tried to pick them up with chopsticks. Our daughter had trouble with her fingers, but at her age, she tends to be clumsy.

Seaweed salad w/ ginger soy dressing - more vinegar flavor than ginger soy dressing. Note: they use the dark green seaweed instead of the bright green stuff.

Both of the above came in bowls, and the portions were quite big.

Stir fried mix mushrooms - pretty good but you can do this at home

Kara age marinated fried chicken - crispy yet tender, probably my favorite dish of the night

From the kushiyaki:

Negima Chicken & scallion, Kamonegi Duck breast & scallion, Prime NY Strip Loin, Corn cob w/ soy sauce butter - all were good, the duck might've been a tad tough.

From the robata:

whole snapper - it smelled a bit fishy when it first came out but didn't taste fishy at all. We were getting quite full by the time this last dish came out so we took most of the fish home.

I also had some uni, saba, and hamachi nigiri.

With a $60 certificate that I got for $30, it didn't break the bank (before tax and certificate, and with 2 echigo reds, the tab was $115). We were there early and the service was fine, even with a baby and a coupon.

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Since we bought that Living Social voucher last summer we decided to cash it in on Saturday night. Once again, we came away really enjoying our meal and experience as a whole. The menu is definitely paired down and a bit different than the last time we went, but some of our favorite dishes made the cut.

I also want to wholeheartedly recommend trying to get a seat at the large bar surrounding the grill. I've eaten twice at tables, and they were fine, but eating at the grill was awesome. Like dinner and a show. We would place our order and within a minute or two see our items being tossed onto the grates over the wood fire. We also made a couple of ordering decisions based on what we thought looked good coming off for other patrons. Which brings me to my second suggestion of ordering in rounds instead of all at once. We made our meal into three smaller courses, plus dessert, ordering a few things at a time to pace ourselves. Things come off the grill quickly, so it was nice to have some time to savor the dishes instead of feeling rushed.

We ended up sharing (the online menu is the old version, so I'm going somewhat from memory and don't recall the pricing):

  • Miso Soup - My +1 loves this, so it was mostly his. A good version with mushrooms and scallions.
  • Seaweed Salad - As described by Ericandblueboy above this is dark seaweed. Mine came through as ginger and soy, but was a bit overdressed (i.e. once the seaweed was gone there was a lot of dressing left at the bottom of the bowl).
  • Spicy Tuna Maki - Delicious.
  • Spicy California Maki - I rarely get CA rolls, but enjoyed this version with fresh lump crab meat and fresh jalapeno.
  • Pork Belly - So tender and succulent. Especially good with the seasoning mix and salt provided.
  • Eringi Mushrooms - I can't imagine not ordering these on a subsequent visit (this was the third time I've had them). A huge plate of mushrooms that taste so meaty. They make me start to understand "umami."
  • Crispy Duck Leg - Although billed as a grilled item, it is actually deep-fried and then only spends a few seconds finishing on the grill. Very tender and good, but a bit heavy.
  • Veggie Yakisoba Noodles - We spent the night watching a chef make these and were thus tempted to order them for ourselves. They were good, but probably lower on my list of favorites for the evening.
  • Grilled Asparagus - Good, but not spectacular.
  • Japanese Eggplant - Melted in your mouth with a nice sauce on top.
  • Sea Salt Gelato - So simple but so delicious. I am inspired to try to make something similar with our ice cream maker at home. Sea salt belongs in every dessert!

We also very much enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc from the wine list although I can't for the life of me remember the name (there was only one on the list).

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I went before the tax debacle and was un-impressed--I spend over $50 and left hungry, which is hard for me to do! I went back with a LS recently and spent around the same amount, this time for two people, and we both left pretty satisfied! I too noticed their sushi menu looked less exotic.

We had the agedashi tofu (crispy with a nice broth, though BF thought a tad too gingery), pork and sprouts roll (meh), yuzu salmon (nice portion and flavor), kabocha (interesting way that they sliced it; had a nice grill flavor), and honey banana (light yet sweet). The drinks were great there too and sitting by the robata grill kept us nice and toasty, definitely recommend it. We had the Oscar wilde's Shochu ride w/ Yuzu instead of lime, hum & rum, and Hakutsuru ume shu which are all pretty unique drinks for this area.

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Went to Kushi Izakaya for dinner because of a comment in the Izakaya Seki post saying that they expected Kushi to be something closer to what Izakaya Seki is. I didn't know what that meant so I went to find out. Well, they're absolutely right that the two places, while serving similar food, are completely different. Seki, to me, is a more intimate affair like the girl who you bring home to meet your parents and potentially marry. Kushi is more brash and louder like the girl who you like to have a good time with but stop short of calling it "dating". I felt like the food & atmosphere reflected those personalities well. But, still a good meal and I haven't been to that area since I've been back so good day overall.

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I went last night and noticed that the Okonomiyaki was no longer being offered. :(

On a more positive note, the Duck Fat Pork Ribs were delicious as ever! And FYI: even though its not on the menu anymore, you can ask for Chirashi.

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If you have a Kushi coupon (remember those things that didn't expire for over a year?), I advise you to use it sooner than later. You also may want to Tweet this to your friends.

Not sure what the above was about but...

THIS is how those pesky coupons are supposed to work!

Attract people who wouldn't go absent the coupon. Show 'em what you can do. Then, turn 'em into regulars. Or, at least, get 'em to come back without the stinkin' coupons.

HEADLINE

Kushi repositioned (probably smartly) a few months ago with a new, single-page menu, simplified offerings and, most important given the still uncertain and challenging environment, better value. Good to very good food with the same energetic vibe as previous incarnations. And, at least in one server's case, pretty outstanding service. Have been to Kushi maybe 4 times in total and only my first time did I leave saying I'd go back w/o a coupon. After this visit, I'd go back without a coupon.

CONTEXT

Kushi is one of those places I'd not have gone back to unless one of two things were true. Either compelling raves started appearing here on dr.com (hasn't really happened; not much activity over the past year on this thread) OR I had a damn coupon about to expire. Because it was the latter, we trudged down to Kushi, not especially excited, in the rain, to use the coupon before it expired. We weren't especially excited because we kind of felt like Kushi had proven itself in the past to be inconsistent, sometimes disappointing, a bit too hip for its own good and thus too expensive given the overall experience.

Japanese options have multiplied in the past year. Decent but inexpensive meal? Then Sakana, Kotobuki, Rens or Toki might fit the bill. Moderately priced but interesting? Seki Izakaya is a pretty fabulous new option. Daikaya coming on the scene soon as well. At the high end, Sushi Taro and maybe Makoto. So where does that leave Kushi? Before arriving last night, we weren't sure.

I checked this thread just before heading out. Made mental notes about Ericandblueboy's kushiyaki thoughts, New Foodie's enthusiasm for bar seating, the pork belly and the eggplant and Tina WDC's reminder about the Duck Fat Pork Ribs. Didn't expect an adventurous nigiri/sashimi menu (good thing--didn't find one).

VENUE

No changes here from the previous incarnations of Kushi. But, we did wrangle two seats at the bar and really enjoyed that perspective (thanks New Foodie!).

SERVICE

I often put Service below Food when I do a post because, well, for me it's really much more about the food than the other stuff. That said, I do very much appreciate good service and our server this week, a guy who has been at Kushi two years and is named "Names," was outstanding. This isn't a French service kind of place of course. But, in terms of walking the cliched attentive/intrusive tightrope, Names was a flying Wallenda with incredibly genuine empathy, kindness and credibility. He really made a big positive difference in our experience in a way few servers do. Not just 'keeping water glasses filled' kind of stuff. Rather, answering questions with unusual depth and candor, anticipating needs (i.e., brought a GF tamari bottle when my +1 had asked about a specific unrelated dish) and just having super interpersonal skills. Ask for Names if you go.

FOOD

Names explained to us that Kushi had done a bit of a repositioning a few months back. We asked about it because we decided to both order from their $50 tasting menu. Not that accustomed to fancier restaurant tasting menus below $65 or $70 pp, especially ones that include drinks (!), we ordered and asked.

Basically, Kushi seems to have heard and responded to feedback that the value equation may have been a bit out of whack in the past. Now, for $50, you get 8 courses including your choice of a house hot or cold saki. And, from the new regular menu, I'd think it easy to put together a few small dish courses for $40 or less. Average Kobachi (small plates) prices around $6. Average on Kushiyaki (grilled skewers) just under $4.

Names told us they're changing 10-20% of the menu every few days. Here's much of what was on offer for the tasting menu this week with brief comments next to those dishes we had and a couple of off-tasting-menu items:

- DRINKS: House Hot Sake/House Cold Sake: We tried each. I'm no sake expert and clearly these would be lower priced sakes since included. That said, they were drinkable.

- STARTER (choose 1 or 3): The were offering octopus as the ceviche option. We both got 2 shooting point oysters on the half shell. Fresh, medium brine, good. Same quality as you'd get at Pearl Dive or Rappahannock.

- Japanese Eggplant: We ordered this off menu in addition to the tasting menu. At $5.50, it was very good. Good sized eggplants grilled right in front of us with good flavor. Very minor nits: we'd have liked a bit more char and a less heavy hand on the hoisin squeeze bottle. Not necessary but still enjoyed this.

- Duck Fat Pork Ribs: We tried to order this off the tasting menu but were told they'd run out. Too bad as we saw one or two orders go out and they did look delicious.

- KUSHIYAKI (choose 2 of 9): Between the two of us, we had the kashiwa/chicken thigh (very good), the wild boar sausage (excellent flavor) and the buta bara/pork belly (also delicious).

- SERVED WITH: Miso soup was freshly made. Nothing special. Perfectly fine.

- CHEF'S SELECTION SUSHI: the 3 pc wasabi scallop maki had great flavor with some heat. 2 pc nigiri of tuna and hamachi were ordinary. Finally, 2 slices of salmon sashmi looked like the might have been a bit old the taste was fine. This was the least successful course save the maki; maybe a bit lower quality than what you'd get at Sakana or Kotobuki.

- ENTREE (choose 1 of 3): we both ordered the hangar steak w/ wasabi soy sauce. Good. The steak lacked the deep flavor of hangars elsewhere but, as one course of 9 at this price, this was fine. A pork tonkatsu and curry mussels were the other two options.

- SERVED WITH (vegetable cha-han/Japanese fried rice) or farm green salad w/ house made carrot dressing. We both ordered the salad. Though made with the familiar dressing, it was very good with crisp greens and enough other veggies to make it interesting. Refreshing.

- DESSERT (choose 1 of 3). We'd had enough at this point so bypassed the sea salt gelato w/ caramel and the black sesame gelato, also with caramel in favor of a fruit salad. The salad had canteloupe, strawberry and one or two others. Very fresh and a generous portion.

BOTTOM LINE

Kushi clearly is trying to provide better value and if the weeknight we were there is any indication, it's working. The place was as packed as it could be at 7:30 and later. All the food we had was respectable with a couple of items ranging into very good territory. With the LIving Social we had, the value was outstanding but, even without a coupon, a tasting menu with this many options, all freshly prepared at $50 per person, feels like a different (and maybe more compelling) value proposition that what they'd been doing previously. Can't be sure whether this will ensure long term success but I was impressed by how they've sensed and responded to the market. From a pure food perspective, it was good enough to return if in the area or need a place a bit more dynamic than some of our other great Japanese options in town.

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I stopped by an hour before last call on Saturday and wasn't impressed. Food was overcooked and dry. Even the duck leg, which I thought was 50% fat but somehow they managed to melt it all off. Scallops with yuzu butter, chicken breast skewer with plum sauce, same story. Chawanmushi was watery and underseasoned, a pale imitation of what I was served at the Daikaya pop up.

Mandu is right next door and I've had much better late night meals there.

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Decided to buck the trend and reviews on here and go to Kushi with the Hubby for v-day. He always hates trying to make reservations for us to go out to eat because he feels the need to find something interesting for me. There are so many good places in DC I don't understand why this is all so intimidating to him, he does a good job and I am so happy just to be out with him having a nice evening. Oh the woes of a foodie. Anyway we ended up at Kushi and I was hopeful. It is our type of vibe and I like eating at a bar.

The place wasn't particularly packed, but not empty, we got a seat at the grill bar. We had sake, seaweed salad- which I thought was one of the better seaweed salads I have had, but I don't particularly like normal seaweed salad (Hubby's order) tuna Tataki, beef tataki, fried chicken, pork belly, chicken breast with wasabi, pheasant sausage, duck leg, some sushi, pork belly roll and fried banana/ salt gelato for him. This was our first Izakaya experience so we are probably not good judges of what everything should taste like, but we had a really good meal. We liked the variety of items, that you could get small plates and sushi. We like that type of dining and watching all the action on the grill. It was reminiscent of sitting at the bar at Out the Door in SF, which I love. All in all we had a great evening and really good food, and would definitely go back. Maybe we aren't jaded not knowing what it once was, and maybe we really missed out not going earlier, but all in all I thought all the food was tasty and well prepared.

Their broths weren't as good as say Morimoto or Le Bernadin, but I wasn't expecting that. Overall it was a great evening. Well done to the Hubbs.

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Decided to buck the trend and reviews on here and go to Kushi with the Hubby for v-day. He always hates trying to make reservations for us to go out to eat because he feels the need to find something interesting for me. There are so many good places in DC I don't understand why this is all so intimidating to him, he does a good job and I am so happy just to be out with him having a nice evening. Oh the woes of a foodie. Anyway we ended up at Kushi and I was hopeful. It is our type of vibe and I like eating at a bar.

The place wasn't particularly packed, but not empty, we got a seat at the grill bar. We had sake, seaweed salad- which I thought was one of the better seaweed salads I have had, but I don't particularly like normal seaweed salad (Hubby's order) tuna Tataki, beef tataki, fried chicken, pork belly, chicken breast with wasabi, pheasant sausage, duck leg, some sushi, pork belly roll and fried banana/ salt gelato for him. This was our first Izakaya experience so we are probably not good judges of what everything should taste like, but we had a really good meal. We liked the variety of items, that you could get small plates and sushi. We like that type of dining and watching all the action on the grill. It was reminiscent of sitting at the bar at Out the Door in SF, which I love. All in all we had a great evening and really good food, and would definitely go back. Maybe we aren't jaded not knowing what it once was, and maybe we really missed out not going earlier, but all in all I thought all the food was tasty and well prepared.

Their broths weren't as good as say Morimoto or Le Bernadin, but I wasn't expecting that. Overall it was a great evening. Well done to the Hubbs.

Hey! Hey! Not all of us have been slamming Kushi as of late! Sounds like you sat where we did. Glad you enjoyed it and please pass on big kudos to your decider. :D

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You can now purchase their sushi at P&C Market on Capitol Hill near Lincoln Park. I have not done so, but they are carrying it.

I checked on this today, though I figured Sunday might not be the best day to look for sushi made off-site. I neglected to check for prices, but there were three kinds in the refrigerated case, including a California roll and something else with eel. The case was fairly empty, so I don't know how many varieties they're carrying typically.

The packages all said that it had been made on the 22nd, so I decided not to buy anything. When I asked, the cashier said that they get it in every other day. I doubt they're getting a delivery today, though.

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Couldn't have seen this one coming ...  :rolleyes:

Source: Washington City Paper Young & Hungry
Kushi.jpg
Image: Facebook

City Paper reports that Kushi Izakaya & Sushi in Mount Vernon Triangle faces eviction for "unpaid rent, taxes, leased art, and other fees." The landlord, Edens, filed a lawsuit in D.C.'s Landlord & Tenant Court on Jan. 24, seeking payment of more than $131,000 accrued since August 2013. Edens also filed a separate lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on Feb. 24, seeking over $160,000 for breach of contract from owners Darren and Ari Norris and lease guarantor, Ichio Kushimoto, who lives in Japan. Edens previously filed a suit seeking to evict Kushi in May over $61,000 in unpaid rent, but later dismissed the case.

Read full article >>

Get all the news at DCDiningGuide.com >>

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Looks like they're finally closing:

Edit: And more information.

Yes, these are the folks I want to do business with in the future.

However, Mr. Norris did win the Washingtonian 2011 Restaurateur Of The Year award.

To quote from the article:

"With the success of Kushi, Darren Norris has sent a message to restaurateurs with plans in the works: Think outside the box."

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