Zeppelin opened earlier this week in Shaw, bringing the neighborhood a karaoke bar that boasts sushi sourced from the Toyosu Fish Market in Tokyo and yakitori skewers cooked over Japanese charcoal.
The restaurant will showcase around 30 varieties of seasonal wild caught fish and shellfish via nigiri, sashimi, and maki rolls. An early sampling includes Pacific mackerel, Japanese amberjack, sea bass, and golden eye snapper.
Partners Adrian Williams, Ari Wilder, and Micah Wilder also own Chaplin’s, the always-packed ramen spot down the street. They teamed up with revered sushi chef Minoru Ogawa for the new two-story project a few blocks north (1544 9th Street NW).
To accommodate Ogawa’s preferences, the group installed a negative 100-degree freezer that will preserve fish and keep fat intact while Ogawa ages cuts on-site. It’s the same kind of freezer used in transit from Japan.
Ogawa is a Tokyo native and second-generation sushi chef with four decades of experience. He founded D.C. staples Sushi Capitol and Sushi Ogawa, makes large-scale meals for the Japanese embassy, and recently opened the eight-seat sushi bar at the local Mandarin Oriental hotel.
But Zeppelin offers much more than sushi.
A gamut of chicken parts make their way onto Ogawa’s skewers (soft knee bone, gizzard, liver with salt or sauce, and skin). They’re joined by grilled rice balls with soy sauce, short ribs, Kobe beef, and Shishito peppers cooked with Japanese sea salt.
Skewers also make their way into cocktails. The Chesterfield (Toki, Banana Armagnac, Pineapple Pastis, Peychauds Bitters), comes with a yakitori “ice” skewer, which diners are instructed to nibble in between sips. Yakitori will make its way into more cocktails at brunch, which will join the mix later.
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It’s hard to remember the 3,000-square-foot space’s former life as the failed Shaw Bijou. A full redesign from Reid & Taylor Studio takes its cues from the bygone era of passenger airships. That includes vintage silk tapestries cast in resin on the walls and soundproofing to keep karaoke cornered to its upstairs area.
Crooning kicks off nightly at 10:30 p.m. in a room with a long communal table with partitions that can be moved around. Artwork spelling out song lyrics in Japanese hover above diners.
The Zeppelin team has history in D.C.’s karaoke scene, having worked at the now-shuttered Cafe Japone in Dupont Circle. The super-modern sound system at Zeppelin includes 30,000 songs to choose from.
At the centerpiece of its custom laser-cut steel bar is a highball machine, which makes six of its 16 cocktails ($8 to $14) for the energetic 20-seat setup. Magnetic agitators constantly swirl the liquid in the keg to produce a balanced cocktail.
A Kabuki Springs highball cocktail (Roku Gin, Italicus, grapefruit, lemon, bubbles) is inspired by a spa that Micah Wilder used to frequent in San Francisco’s Japantown.
An 800-square-foot patio equipped with old lamp posts and a Godzilla mural will seat 65 once weather permits. A soon-to-bloom cherry blossom tree will add to the Japanese vibe, too.
The team plans to take advantage of the temperature-controlled wine room downstairs to expand upon its selection of sake, which has a limited shelf life. A collection of 80 premium varieties range from $7 to $30 by the glass and $30 to $600 by the bottle.
Three omakase menus are also available for guests who want to let the chef plot their courses (6 p.m. and 8 p.m. nightly seatings). Diners can order 15 pieces of nigiri for $65 per person. Add a trio of appetizers with clam miso soup and dessert costs $85. For $100, customers also get seven pieces of sashimi, and a hand roll. There’s also an option for sake, wine, and Champagne pairings.
Zeppelin is located at 1544 Ninth Street NW. It’s open 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m on Friday and Saturday.