Nama Sushi Bar & Restaurant: On a Roll

I must admit that until somewhat recently I didn’t have much of an affinity for sushi.  Of course, I’ve eaten my share of California rolls over the years.  Who hasn’t?  But honest to goodness maki and nigiri didn’t float my boat.  But now I’m on a roll.  And Nama– the Mount Vernon Triangle sushi restaurant from the Schlow Restaurant Group (Tico, Casolare, Alta Strada, The Riggsby) is an ideal venue to explore my new-found obsession.

I’ve sat at the counter on two visits to Nama, and this birds-eye view has played a role in fueling my blossoming appreciation for sushi.  If you want to see artistry and precision in cooking, watch a sushi chef at work. Nama’s Chef Young Oh performs his craft with ease and grace.

Chef Oh joined Nama Sushi Bar & Restaurant at the end of 2018.  He brings with him over 15 years of experience in the kitchen. Most recently, he worked as the head chef of Street Market & Cafe in Alexandria.  He has also held various positions in smaller establishments in Northern Virginia, Maryland, and California.

Oh first became interested in sushi at the age of 18, and began his formal training at that time. Influenced by his father who grew up in Japan, Chef Young imbues creativity and fun into his food. My husband and I are mesmerized as we watch Chef Oh slice, tweeze, scoop, pat, and roll ingredients together.

The happy hour menu at Nama is offered daily from 5:00 until 7:00 pm. It features a selection of Nigiri -sushi rice topped with raw fish- and Maki Hand Rolls. (Nigiri- 2 pcs for $8; Maki- 3 rolls for $15) There’s more. Tuna and avocado rolls, eel and cucumber, crunchy shrimp tempura, and the requisite California rolls are also a good deal.

Vegetarian nigiri make a strong showing at Nama. Even fish aficionados should give it a try. There are royal trumpet mushrooms with lime and truffle; spicy eggplant with curry and tempura flakes; and spicy beet tartare with crispy quinoa, white soy, and mint. Each induce my animated exclamations of praise.

I’m particularly enthused about the interplay of textures and the spurt of sweetness that erupts in Vegan BBQ Rolls with kampyo (dried gourd strips), crispy rice pearls, and cucumber.

Nama Vegan BBQ Rolls
Vegan BBQ Rolls

Cocktails with Japanese influences put the “happy” in Happy Hour. The Kakuteru cocktail combines Mizu Lemongrass Shochu and Tonic ($8). I’ve been expanding my horizons recently when it comes to cocktails – steering away from my usual preference for a blend of sweet and spicy. Pairing miso soup with a cocktail isn’t exactly intuitive, but shochu plays well with food. I’m ready to dive deeper into this compelling Japanese spirit.

Kakuteru cocktail and miso soup

There is a broad assortment of fish at Nama, thoughtfully sourced from around the world, including Japan. Amberjack comes from Hawaii, sea bream may come from Spain or Mexico. A new one for me is botan ebi, which is a type of Japanese prawn. It’s served with the head deep fried and resting on a bed of daikon. The fish is sweet and succulent. The head is not my thing, but I appreciate the creativity.

Nama botan ebi
Botan Ebi

Nama Uni

Signature maki rolls on the dinner menu are pleasingly offbeat. “Candy Cane” is a compilation of three types of fish- shrimp, tuna, and yellowtail – sugar and spiced up with avocado, apple, jalapeno, and a topping of roe. “Namaste” blends Maryland Crab, spicy tuna, cucumber, avocado, and crunchy sweet potato. A little heat, a little sweet, and super fresh ingredients are what make these special rolls stand out.

The Washington Post‘s Tom Sietsema in his 2019 Spring Dining Guide says “Young Oh makes fine sushi- and even better dumplings and tempura.” He calls out shrimp tempura, pork gyoza, and waygu beef burger as his favorites.

This is a Michael Schlow restaurant, which means that Corporate Pastry Chef Alex Levin creates the desserts.  Lucky diners.  His creamy matcha cheesecake is the dessert you want. But then again you should also say yes to the very cool and delicious white sesame gelato on a bed of shorbread crumble with dulce de leche.

Nama is attached to the Italian-concept Alta Strada, although it’s accessible via a separate entrance. The 32-seater enables diners to view the action from wherever they are seated, unless they choose a table outdoors. I’ve dined here in its previous iterations of Calle Cinco and Conosci, and admired the sleek and sophisticated space.

Since Nama has taken over there is an added touch of whimsy, including bottles of Japanese sake and beer, alongside an assortment of toys and action figures. On our first my husband becomes fixated over the fact that there is no Godzilla in sight. Fortunately Godzilla is now in the house. However my husband still cannot talk about Nama- which he thoroughly enjoyed – without mentioning the fictional monster. Go figure.

Chef Young Oh torching tuna belly
Chef Young Oh torching tuna belly

Nama Sushi Bar is described as a neighborhood restaurant, but I’m happy to drive or take Metro to Mount Vernon Square to dine here. I’m on a roll when it comes to sushi, and this space finally seems to be on one too. Oh so good!

Nama Sushi Bar, 465 K Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001

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