The novel coronavirus pandemic has slowed his progress, but longtime D.C. chef Darren Norris is making good on his plans to bring a three-level Japanese dining complex to Adams Morgan. The first piece, a below-ground street food spot slinging to-go sake, hot and cold noodles, and a variety of patiently prepared meat and vegetable skewers, opened this afternoon at the former Bourbon space (2321 18th Street NW).
Shibuya Eatery will open daily from noon to 8 p.m. Carryout and delivery will be the focus out of the gate, and 15 seats will eventually fill out the basement bar that’s lined with lanterns and action movie posters for Kill Bill and Terminator with credits written in Japanese. The opening marks a comeback to the neighborhood for Norris, who was executive chef of Perry’s sushi about 20 years ago. He also ran critically acclaimed izakaya Kushi in Mt. Vernon Triangle until its closure in 2014.
“I’ve been doing this a long time so it’s sort of auto pilot for me,” says Norris, who co-owns the three-part project with Candice Wise, his wife.
Shibuya Eatery brings one of of the top-selling attractions at Kushi: kushiyaki grilled over binchotan charcoal that reaches temps of 975 degrees.
Norris cooks short ribs sous vide for over six hours to get them tender, cools them off, then finishes them on the grill. Customers can dip the grilled meat in a side of chili flakes or ponzu and yuzu sauces. Pork belly is cured 24 hours and cooked sous vide for eight, then it rests another day before it’s cut, cubed, and grilled for a “melt-in-your mouth” result, Norris says. Skewered chicken wings are easily pulled off the bone thanks to an hours-long sous vide bath.
“We do a lot of pre-preparation — I don’t think you are getting this same treatment in other places,” Norris says. “It takes me three days to just to get that pork belly onto the skewer.”
The cozy operation also focuses on bowls full of buckwheat soba or udon noodles sold by street vendors in Japan. A la carte skewers combine with noodles and sides in bento box options.
Hard-to-find bottled Japanese beers include fruity varieties (cherry and berry ale and lemon lager) from Hokkaido Brewing and a Kyoto-born matcha IPA — yes, it’s green — that pairs well with matcha soba noodles. Colorful glass and canned containers of sake are well-suited for takeout, capped off with resealable lids. Cloudy-and-creamy imported options include an unfiltered Kikusui Perfect Snow (21-percent ABV) and Kunizakari Nigori.
“This is food designed for drinking — the saltiness and umami [flavors] goes well with sake,” Norris says.
Small plates include a nest of baby leeks in a salty-sweet plum sauce. Norris sources the vegetables from a Japanese farm in Delaware. “I’m not sharing who it is — it’s my secret,” he says. Japanese potato salad with ham features onions and cucumbers that are pickled separately. “It all kind of goes together with spicy mayo, Norris says. “It doesn’t read as special as it tastes but it’s a pretty awesome thing.”
A “parklet” outside will add 24 seats from Wednesdays through Sundays. Also parked outside: A bright blue shaved ice machine making traditional kakigōri — “like a snow cone but better,” Norris explains — with pieces of mochi and fresh fruit in each colorful container. Spiked versions will come with shots of sake.
Norris expects the business to grow in two more weeks with the arrival of Death Punch Bar on the third floor, featuring the same food menu as Shibuya Eatery and nods to Norris’s bar on 14th Street NW, Black Whiskey (there’s a pool table and a DJ booth). Shibuya Eatery will stay open until 10 p.m. when Death Punch opens.
A fine-dining event on the middle floor, called Shabu Plus, will focus on Japanese hot pot and kaiseki small plates with plans open last, around Labor Day. A sake bar there will hold sake barrels and higher-end varietals of the rice spirit.
Norris says the three-level enterprise is packed with “stacked talent.” General manager Leonard Howell moved over from Le Diplomate; executive sous chef D’Angelo Mobley worked at Maialino Mare and American Son/Allegory, and bar manager Jeremy Wetmore formerly stirred drinks at Left Door. D.C. muralist Chris Pyrate painted floor-to-ceiling floral artwork in the bathroom and made dragon-themed panels for the walls.