Chef Darren Norris thinks Kushi, his critically acclaimed izakaya bar in Mt. Vernon Triangle, was ahead of its time — and definitely ahead of the neighborhood’s boom — when it opened in 2010. Nearly 10 years later, he’ll attempt to delight D.C. diners again with a three-piece Japanese complex opening in the recently closed Bourbon space in Adams Morgan (2321 18th Street NW).
The business, expected to open in mid-January, will have a floor with Japanese hot pot and kaiseki small plates, called Shabu Plus, on the main level. In the basement, Shibuya Eatery will sling bowls full of buckwheat soba or udon noodles typically sold by street vendors in Japan. On the top level, Death Punch Bar which will offer yakitori skewers and bear a resemblance to Norris’s bar on 14th Street NW, Black Whiskey.
Returning to Adams Morgan closes a circle for Norris, who was executive chef of Perry’s sushi about 20 years ago.
Despite developing a customer base of Japanese expats and earning a nod as a semifinalist for a James Beard award, Kushi closed after four years. A lawsuit from landlord Edens claimed that Norris and his partners owed nearly $160,000 in unpaid ren Norris had fast-casual Maki Shop on 14th Street NW, but that closed in 2017 after only two years.
Norris spent a year and a half searching for a space for his new project, and Bourbon’s three-story structure was perfect for the multi-venue idea.
Here’s a look at each piece:
Norris’s entry-level restaurant is the heart of the project. It focuses on shabu shabu, the communal eating experience of swishing meats and vegetables in a pot of broth. Shabu Plus will seat 50, and a few big booths have room for six. Tables are outfitted with flameless, magnetic induction burners ready to heat up vegan, vegetarian, and duck bone broths. Customers will dunk thin slices of proteins ranging from high-end A5 Miyazaki beef ribeye to Berkshire pork rib loin. Lighter accoutrements include tofu, mushroom and Japanese leeks.
“You take the cooking into your own hands at the table with the server’s help,” Norris says.
The bar has been moved to the front of the space, and Norris plans to unveil the patio portion once spring hits.
In addition to shabu shabu, there’s his version of a kaiseki — or a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner — with eight to 10 artsy, seasonal small plates. One dish features cucumber and carrot mousse with fresh wasabi and matsutake mushrooms. Another presents live uni in its shell with dashi foam and micro ginger.
Fresh sashimi will be flown in daily from Tokyo, where he Norris has a fish broker. He says another purveyor from Hawaii texts him from the boat to tell him about catches that will be cleaned, packed in ice, and put on overnight flights to Dulles.
“I don’t deal with the middle men,” Norris says. “I’ve been around long enough to know how farmers work,” he says.
Shabu Plus will be last piece of the complex to open. Hours will be 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. six days per week (closed Mondays).
About 1,000 square feet of the 1,600-square-foot basement is designated for an open kitchen supplying a fast-casual izakaya with a 15-seat bar counter.
Patrons can load up on pork belly skewers, cooked sous vide for nine hours and finished on a binchotan charcoal grill. Soba and udon noodles, both made on-site, are available in two broths with a choice for several toppings. When summer hits, some noodles will be served cold format.
Customers can expect to spend around $15 to $19 per person, about half of what they’ll shell out upstairs. The bar will stock Japanese sake and beers (five on draft).
“I think I had one of the best [sake] lists in town at Kushi — with 40 to 50 varieties,” Norris says. He plans to keep about 30 bottles, mostly cold, which he puts in the higher-quality camp.
Shibuya Eatery will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
The top floor pulls friom the success of Black Whiskey, the perennially packed Logan Circle spot Norris opened in 2013 (he still owns half).
“The name comes from a bit of an ominous warning about drinking,” he says. “Kids drink fruit punch, adults drink death punch — if you’re not too careful it can catch up with you.”
The tongue-in-cheek name also refers to Bruce Lees’s two-fingered “death punch.”
The bar was moved to the left side to mimic the layout of Black Whiskey, where it takes up three quarters of the wall. A new 25-foot bar top is a massive slab of live edge sequoia. A spiraling wrought iron staircase takes patrons up its a mezzanine where DJs will spin. The bar will be big on small batch spirits, filling out cocktails with proprietary shrubs and bitters under the direction of a longtime bartender that Norris is taking from Black Whiskey.
Like Black Whiskey, a free pool table will be on the dance floor. “If you don’t act like an ass you’re welcome to play as much pool as you want,” Norris says.
Death Punch will be open daily from 5:30 p.m. to close.