Since we moved from NYC to DC last year, my wife Jun and I had been struggling to find good Japanese and sushi restaurants in the DMV area. We had finally found a pretty decent sushi restaurant in Chevy Chase, Maryland nearby our home, but in terms of destination-worthy restaurants in DC and beyond for our regular nights out, I just could not find a place that offers compelling propositions. Perhaps that is due to us being spoiled from having checked out many of the pricey sushi restaurants in Manhattan (although nowadays a $400 per person omakase makes no sense to us no matter how good the food is). When Shōtō opened earlier this year in DC, I was very hesitant to try the restaurant after looking at the photo of the dining space which seemed to exude the glitzy vibe of TAO in NYC. After a favorable review from Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema recently surfaced did I finally decide to check out the restaurant with Jun. Unfortunately, my initial trepidation turned out to be more or less correct.
After we got seated at the chef’s counter section, Jun and I didn’t bother to look at a la carte options and moved straight to the omakase option to get a full range of what the kitchen wants to showcase to the diners. At $115 per person at the time of our visit, it sounded like a huge bargain compared to the pricey counterparts elsewhere in NYC, but it wasn’t the kind of omakase offering that we had in mind. Certainly not “a must for Japanese food fans” as Mr. Sietsema describes with glowing approval. We were ready to be greeted with a few appetizers followed by a series of nigiri sushi pieces like we typically had in our previous omakase experiences but what we had instead was a lot of derivatives of dishes you would find at a place like TAO, with a focus on display than the freshness of ingredients or execution. Catering to the American dining crowd, the overall seasoning also involved rather generous use of ponzu and soy sauce.
Sure, some fried baby calamari and tuna tartare tacos, followed by raw sea bass sashimi and salmon tataki would be just fine if you are at a happy hour and need some bites alongside expensive cocktails, but for diners expecting a serious Japanese meal, this was not it. The assortment of sashimi and rolls was also fairly pedestrian. How about the grilled dishes coming from the robata grill side of the restaurant? The baby ribs were just OK from texture standpoint and the sauce was way too strong, and the black cod (one of the most overused Japanese dishes since Nobu pioneered it) accompanied by asparagus was solid but not particularly remarkable. After a few desserts of churros with cinnamon ice cream and some mochi ice creams, I could tell that Jun was fairly disappointed.
Despite the mediocre food, Shōtō is puzzlingly one of the hardest tables to reserve in DC at the moment. Perhaps, the interior of the dining space, which is a stunner if you are into that kind of aesthetics with sleek design and massive lava stone formulation at the center sourced from an active volcano in Japan, helped the restaurant in making it one of the hottest places to be in the District. The restaurant does seem to have some good sake options so if you are a sake aficionado and want to just get a few small dishes to go along with it, that’s probably a good way to spend your time at Shōtō. Our journey for legitimate Japanese restaurants in the DMV area will continue, and I hope to in the near future report with jubilation that we had finally found a place that would satisfy our Japanese food craving.
KenScale: 6.75.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 6.75/10)
Address: 1100 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20005
Reservation via SevenRooms