Manhattan restaurateur Alessandro Borgognone first courted controversy by signing on to install his debut D.C. restaurant, Nakazawa, inside Trump International Hotel, the only building other than the White House that polarizing President Donald Trump bothers to enter inside the District. He then dug the hole deeper by dismissing the local dining scene.
When Eater recently caught up with Borgognone at Trump Hotel, however, the native New Yorker sang a different tune. He told Eater that the nation’s capital has grown on him — and not just because he’s excited about officially setting up shop inside the Beltway.
“There’s tons of potential here in D.C. … It’s become more of a respected foodie city,” Borgognone says of the home he’s selected for his omakase-themed restaurant. The seafood showplace, which is now expected to debut in October, is modeled after Sushi Nakazawa, the West Village restaurant he established with Jiro Dreams of Sushi co-star Daisuke Nakazawa in 2013.
Whereas fellow hospitality leaders José Andrés and Geoffrey Zakarian cut ties with Trump after he rhetorically bashed unauthorized immigrants on the campaign trail, Borgognone is confident that moving into D.C.’s de facto conservative clubhouse makes perfect sense.
“I don’t think I’m the only one that appreciates the building that I’m in. Because as you look around you, there’s not one open seat available,” he says, a grin spreading across his face as he surveys the bustling Benjamin Bar and Lounge.
While he appreciates the warm reception he’s gotten from the Trump Organization — “The family has treated us exceptionally well,” he says — Borgognone is hopeful that potential patrons won’t eschew his forthcoming restaurant just because POTUS’s name is plastered all over the building.
“We want them to have the ability to say, ‘I don’t like that president. But you know what, that’s an amazing restaurant,’” Borgnone says, adding, “We want this to be as perfect as we can get it.”
He says his understanding of perfection has been influenced, as of late, by the repeated trips he’s taken to Washington during his three-year search for a new landing spot. And though he declined to weigh in on any perceived rivalry between D.C. and NYC (“You have your favorites in each city,” was all he would say), Borgognone did share his favorite local restaurant. He calls his many meals at restaurateur Fabio Trabocchi’s Fiola Mare “the best that I’ve had in D.C.”
Borgognone hopes to accomplish a similarly unforgettable experience at Nakazawa. The 2,200-square-foot restaurant borrows both style and substance from the flagship location in New York City.
“We tried to duplicate it as best as we possibly could,” Borgognone says, ticking off every conceivable detail that he’s deliberated over: from durable chopsticks to extra soft toilet paper.
The space, which is projected to accommodate around four dozen people throughout — 10 at the sushi counter, about 25 in the main dining room, and another 10 in a semi-private dining room — may mimic some of New York’s design scheme, but also features custom flourishes, like a bar fashioned from imported Calacatta marble.
“It’s probably the most expensive marble that you can possibly get in the world,” Borgognone says with a level of bravado that’s dominated the news cycle in recent months.
Meals are expected to flow in the same way they do up north, starting with lighter bites and progressing into heartier fare. Sake pairings will follow suit. “It has to be very harmonious,” Borgognone says. There won’t be any menus, just a parade of artfully arranged selections dictated by the sushi chefs. Borgognone says a dedicated buyer keeps Sushi Nakazawa in all the smoked salmon, horse mackerel, live scallops, and triggerfish it needs; he’s working on developing a comparable supply chain here in D.C.
“We’re not in New York City so we’re still learning what’s accessible to us,” he says.
Another difference between here and there: Borgognone says he’s still deciding whether to incorporate lunch service at Nakazawa. Stay tuned for more details as the restaurant’s fall opening approaches.