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Capitol Hill’s New Food Hall Adds a Creative Sushi Counter From a Raku Alum

Ako serves far-out eel and fried plantain rolls inside the Roost

A plate of sushi rolls from Ako by Kenaki
Ako by Kenaki serves a variety of makimono and hosomaki inside the Roost
Stacey Windsor/For the Roost

kbThe Roost food hall in Capitol Hill has added a sushi counter from the brother-and-sister team behind Kenaki, a Japanese restaurant in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where chef Ken Ballogdajan has drawn attention with colorful makimono (rolls) and small plates.

Ako opened for dinner Friday, October 30, with Kenaki signatures like a Black Magic roll, built out of forbidden rice, spicy tuna, pickled jalapenos, and truffle oil, among other things, and new additions like a Red Phantom roll that dresses lump crab meat and roasted asparagus in a an onion ponzu vinaigrette. One of the more far-out options to come over from Kenaki is a Donkey Kong roll, with eel, fried plantain, cream cheese, cucumber, tempura flakes, togarashi spice mayo, and sweet shoyu. Another new addition is a Tomate roll, a play on lox and schmear with smoked salmon, a tomato cream cheese, basil, chive, cucumber, and a chile pepper crouton. Ako opens from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, and from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Ako general manager Aki Ballogdajan, left, and chef Ken Ballogdajan run Ako by Kenaki pose for a picture
General manager Aki Ballogdajan, left, and chef Ken Ballogdajan run Ako by Kenaki in the Roost.
Stacey Windsor/For the Roost

There’s a menu section full of hosomaki (one-filling rolls) and two donburi bowls: one built on spicy tuna and another billed as a California roll in a bowl. Ako plans to add an omakase (chef’s choice) menu at some point, which might make more sense once D.C.’s public health protocols allow restaurants to serve customers from across a bartop. That’s prohibited under the city’s Phase 2 reopening regulations. For now, customers at the Roost (1401 Pennsylvania Avenue SE) can order Ako’s rolls from QR codes at their seats at indoor-outdoor beer hall Shelter or from an online takeout menu.

Ken Ballogdajan and general manager Aki Ballogdajan, his sister, opened Kenaki in 2018. Before that, Ken Ballogdajan was previously a corporate executive sous chef at Raku, the pan-Asian cafe that sells bento boxes, sushi, and various entrees in Bethesda and Cathedral Heights and runs Japanese-leaning Rakuya in Dupont Circle. The siblings grew up in a family that ran Japanese/Thai Kyoko’s in Cleveland Park and Cafe Kyoko in Frederick, Maryland. Ako is named after their mother.

Unlike Kenaki, where Ballogdajan has served karaage chicken nuggets and hanger steak with bearnaise sauce, Ako will prepare only sushi and other raw fish dishes.

The Ako by Kenaki sushi counter inside the Roost includes a neon sign and a mural of an octopus in the background.
The Ako by Kenaki sushi counter inside the Roost includes a neon sign and a mural of an octopus in the background.
Stacey Windsor/For the Roost

Last week, the Roost also added State Fair, a frozen custard shop from Buzz Bakeshop’s Allie Cheppa that offers build-your-own sundaes alongside preset combos like a Notsofogato (vanilla custard, toasted almonds, molasses cookie crumble, espresso sauce).

The food hall already has new vendors for coffee and tea, tacos, and New York-style pizza. A Red Apron Butcher stall sells burgers, poutine, salads, and charcuterie plates. The Roost will add a retro Euro all-day cafe from Richmond chef Brittanny Anderson by Thanksgiving. Caruso’s Grocery, a standalone red sauce joint from former Osteria Morini chef Matt Adler is expected to open last, sometime after the holiday.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Caruso’s Grocery is expected to open after Thanksgiving

The Roost

1401 Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast, , DC 20003 Visit Website

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