With Don Julio 1942 espresso martinis, tiny A5 wagyu tacos, and who’s who clientele competing for an early taste, weeks-old Shōtō shows D.C. is ready to spoil itself.
A snapshot of its sleek downtown dining room one night included dolled up dates, suits pulling sake from wooden ice boxes, Washington Capitals players double fisting chopsticks with bottled beers, and starstruck college students nearby ordering shimmering plates of sashimi (quite possibly with dad’s credit card). There wasn’t a dry seat in the house — and that was just a Tuesday.
Midtown Center’s modern, 155-seat Japanese izakaya (1100 15th Street NW) is the newest family member of London-based restaurateur Arjun Waney’s global collective of brands that includes high-end sushi outfit Zuma, Miami’s Riviera-themed LPM, and Peruvian hotspot Coya. The hotly anticipated sibling brings downtown D.C. a sushi counter showcasing raw fish flown overnight from Japan, clear orbs of infused spirits seen from the street, top-tier Japanese whisky list, and a robata grill tasked with cooking fish, meats, skewers, poultry, and produce over pressed Japanese white oak.
Despite not even having a Google maps or online presence yet — a calculated move during its “soft” opening phase — Shōtō is already packed to the gills on any given night. A basic reservation link through its Instagram shows little two-top availability before 9:30 p.m. for the next few weeks. (Walk-ins are available on a limited basis, and the bar is first come, first serve.) The team plans to “formally unveil full operations” with a website once lunch and cherry blossoms pop this spring.
Shōtō has all the makings of a hot Vegas restaurant, starting with its luxe look from the group’s go-to designer Noriyoshi Muramatsu of Tokyo-based Studio Glit. Its Sin City Zuma was Eater Las Vegas’s 2017 Design of the Year. Unlike Zuma, which has 18 locations around the world, there is only one Shōtō.
“This is a first of its kind. I’m from here and I really wanted to do something unique. We want patrons to have a transportive experience,” says managing partner Arman Naqi, who spent the past eight years based in Miami working for the company.
Shōtō lured a pair of group vets to work in D.C. full time. Executive sushi chef Kwang Kim (also of Morimoto, Masa, and Nobu fame) joins executive chef Alessio Conti, who recently cooked near the Spanish Steps at Rome’s rooftop Zuma.
Kim is known to take sudden iPhone breaks behind his sushi counter at night, but it’s not to blow off work. He’s actually live texting with seafood vendors starting their days at Japan’s renowned Toyosu Market, sending photos of freshly caught fish he picks to appear at Shōtō the following day. His 20-year relationships overseas result in on-demand amberjack, fatty O toro tuna, mackerel, uni (sea urchin), amberjack, scallops, and even tamago (egg). Kim’s favorite fish to work with is tuna, he says.
“It’s a boring answer but it’s the biggest fish, with many different cuts, regions, textures, and tastes,” Kim tells Eater.
With supply chain issues, he hopes to start sourcing from more local purveyors like ProFish as he did in New York while leading the counter at Madison Avenue’s Zuma.
Patrons can treat themselves to omakase menus that start at $95 per person, with a $27 weekday business lunch coming soon. Dinner service, starting at 5 p.m. daily, includes a la carte sections for snacks and soups; tacos; salads; cold dishes; signature mains; tempura; and robata skewers, seafood, meats, and veggies. An entire section devoted to wagyu swings from an Australian tomahawk steak ($210) to various A5 Japanese cuts by the ounce (market price).
“We are by no means authentic or traditional — this is modern Japanese cuisine and we think we are kind of different in a way,” says Naqi, giving props to Michelin-rated Sushi Taro and Nakazawa for setting D.C.’s sushi bar high.
A delicate, homemade potato chip shell builds a list of a la carte tacos, starting at $7 for a filling of fried eggplant with moromi miso and sesame seeds. A grilled A5 wagyu option sets back diners $19 and is gone in two bites.
An entire page is devoted to sushi, sashimi, nigiri, and maki. Most eight-piece rolls are $16 or under, but there’s also plenty of places to splurge. Bluefin tuna or tempura poached lobster rolls run $60, while two-piece wagyu foie gras or fatty tuna caviar specials go over $30. A section of fancy add-ons include tins of Oscietra’s prized caviar extracted from Russian sturgeon (no need to boycott, it’s produced in Italy).
A Japanese magnolia tree helps make a miso-marinated black cod main, cooked in one of its large leaves and unwrapped tableside. All of Shōtō’s plateware was handmade by a Japanese artist using a wood-fired ash technique.
“It’s no secret I had been looking in this market so long and was dying to come here,” says Naqi. “D.C. is very cosmopolitan and international. As a dining destination, it couldn’t be better timing.”
Its Midtown Center lease was signed back in 2018, but like many fine dining openings — including Nicholas Stefanelli’s prix fixe Greek showpiece Philotimo in the same development — Shōtō had to wait out the pandemic first.
“It’s hard to bottle that magic to take home in a to-go bag,” says Naqi.
Shōtō will add a lively (and a little more casual) counterpart in the back later this spring. All-day Ākēdo (which means “arcade”) will transition from a Japanese street food spot with sandos and yakitori into a high-end speakeasy with creative cocktails and bottle service.