Lucas Irwin distinguishes himself from the rest of the small crew at NaRa-Ya, a significant-conclude Japanese cafe that opens next week on the Southwest Waterfront, when he turns his interest away from a countertop where he’s been braiding tangerine-colored strands of uncooked salmon and lifts his head to say howdy. On a current take a look at to the kitchen in the third-story space that appears to be in excess of the Potomac River, the Hawaiian chef wiggled his pinky and thumb to flash a helpful a “hang ten” hand gesture.
Irwin, the latest in a string of sushi cooks hooked up to the lengthy-establishing waterfront cafe, left Maui a long time back, using experience performing for Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and Hawai’i legend Alan Wong as a springboard to vacation about the nation for work in areas like Beaver Creek, Colorado, the island of Nantucket, and, most just lately, Palm Beach front, Florida, where by he answered a Craigslist advert from NaRa-Ya culinary director Kaz Okochi. The “neo-traditional” Japanese dishes Irwin designs to send out when NaRa-Ya opens for indoor dining on Wednesday, March 10, retain a tropical island vibe with a flood of colourful bouquets and fruits like kiwi, passionfruit, and sweet kumquats.
Even though several high-quality eating venues have adopted a far more relaxed tactic all through the COVID-19 pandemic, NaRa-Ya (88 District Square SW) is likely the reverse route. Parking is a challenge at the Wharf enhancement, which will make carryout and shipping difficult, and there’s no outdoor seating. So rather of the present day izakaya Okochi prepared to develop a yr ago, the restaurant is opening with a tasting menu-only format that contains 3 possibilities: vegan ($75), common ($89), and “luxury” ($135). Irwin claims Okochi (Kaz Sushi Bistro) has given him the inexperienced mild to place alongside one another prix fixes with a theatrical tactic to match the restaurant’s maximalist design. Inside of NaRa-Ya, seats are coated in very hot pink leopard print material, and one wall is wrapped in a print of cherry blossoms in peak bloom.
The NaRa-Ya roll, for example, involves a filling of Alaskan king crab and purple sweet potato, a topping of A5 Japanese wagyu beef with black garlic aioli and crispy onions, and rice that is been milled, or “polished,” on-web site. Irwin utilized that approach at Morimoto Maui and states he only appreciates of a handful of other sites in the U.S. that do it.
“It just adjustments the grain fully, and you have a fresher product or service,” Irwin says. “You can convey to the variance, you can smell it.”
Two approaches Irwin claims he’s made above time are incredibly hot rock cooking — offered tableside at Nara-Ya with Sixty South salmon that is raised with no antibiotics off the southern suggestion of Chile — and zuke tuna (marinated in dashi, mirin, and soy) carried to the table in a cigarette smoking chamber. Yet another product Irwin expects to catch the attention of attention is a plate of torched tuna marrow. Cross-sections of fish backbone clearly show off the gelatinous merchandise topped with ponzu sauce, scallions, and momiji oroshi (a spicy daikon condiment).
“I’d say it’s nearly acquired its have flavor,” Irwin claims. “It’s a minimal salty, but it is a savory salty with this kind of light-weight, magnificent gelatin flavor, gelatin texture. It’s anything that you simply cannot seriously look at to anything.”
Irwin’s vegan prix fixe contains courses like green tea soba noodles in a shiitake green tea dashi (chazuke) crammed with “ultra-baby” bok choy, pickled carrot flowers and parsnips, viola bouquets, and nasturtium. “Luxury” menu dishes span from an amuse bouche of passionfruit and uni butter on a rice cracker to grilled squab and crispy enoki mushrooms served over a puree of shishito pepper and miso. For a surcharge, tables can pile on marked “luxury touches” such as caviar, foie gras, truffles, fresh new wasabi root, toro, and much more wagyu.
Typical manager Michael Deery, a Nobu alum, has stocked the bar with sake bottles that value wherever from $26 to $1,800. Eaternity Hospitality Group owners Naeem Mohd and Rajiv Chadha, who also have Mediterranean place La Vie straight above NaRa-Ya, inquired about acquiring Deery’s personal Japanese whisky collection for the restaurant, but he states he’s holding onto it as an financial investment for his daughter’s school fund. Bar Manager Ali Altayli is working with Suntory Toki and Ichiro’s Malt and Grain inside florid cocktails, far too.
Once D.C. eases capability restrictions on indoor eating, NaRa-Ya will insert a comprehensive a la carte menu with some of the touches Okochi, the culinary director, at first envisioned. That will consist of which includes takoyaki (octopus balls) served with grilled octopus legs and okonomiyaki, savory pancakes loaded with sauces and garnishes that Irwin’s Japanese grandfather utilised to make him for breakfast, lunch, and supper.
D.C. at present enables indoor eating at 25 % capacity, which would enable Nara-Ya to host about 30 buyers at a time. Restaurant staff are not however suitable for the vaccine in the District, even though they are listed as portion of the Tier 1C group that just opened up appointments for persons with qualifying health-related ailments. COVID-19 instances in the District have been steadily declining due to the fact mid-January, although there’s been a 9 percent rise in new circumstances above the past 7 days. The CDC classifies indoor eating at a restaurant as a “increased-risk” activity for publicity to the virus.
Irwin is searching ahead to a time when he can provide his entire menu. He’s pumped about the arrival of the once-a-year cherry blossom competition, whilst organizers are emphasizing digital functions this yr. He’s preparing to serve sakura-infused rice, but is not confident if he’s authorized to acquire regional bouquets.
“I don’t want to get arrested for stealing cherry blossoms,” Irwin says. “Right now we’re just sourcing them from Japan.”