Boston-based celebrity chef Michael Schlow will go all in on Japanese cuisine next month on 14th Street NW. His eight-year-old Latin standby Tico will close this weekend to make way for Nama Ko, a polished, sushi-centric replacement led by an acclaimed Morimoto chef.
Tico will serve its last taco during bottomless brunch service on Saturday, July 30. The brightly-colored Schlow space will undergo a fast interior makeover and resurface some time in September as Nama Ko (1926 14th Street NW).
Schlow scooped up fellow James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Stephen Starr’s star Morimoto chef in Philly to lead Nama Ko’s kitchen in D.C. Derek Watson was most recently executive chef at Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s 20-year-old flagship and Momotoro in Chicago before that.
“In addition to his raw talent, Derek is such a great human with positive energy. He’s all about teaching and giving to everybody,” says Alex Levin, Schlow Restaurant Group’s director of strategic business initiatives and pastry programs.
Watson came on board in May and got right to work on an opening menu full of high-quality fish, small hot and cold plates, beautiful sashimi presentations, and a private omakase experience.
“Nama Ko is the culmination of the years I have been spending studying the culinary techniques of Japan as well as other cuisines,” says Watson, in a statement.
Dish details, hours, and reservations will be released closer to Nama Ko’s opening.
The new restaurant builds upon the success of Nama, Schlow’s four-year-old sushi staple next to Italian sibling Alta Strada in Mt. Vernon Triangle. Nama Ko’s 14th Street NW space already enjoys a raw fish following. In 2020, Tico carved out room for a sushi counter called Nama 14th — an extension of the original that sends out rolls, nigiri, and sashimi.
Sales of Nama’s takeout-friendly sushi spiked during the pandemic, says Levin, and the new offshoot inside Tico was an “instant home run.” Mt. Vernon Triangle’s Nama will continue operating as usual.
Tico’s current kitchen layout is well suited for a Japanese restaurant, says Levin, so the largely cosmetic renovation will wipe an existing space full of international street art and nods to Schlow’s travels to Latin American countries. A 12-seat sushi bar will be joined by a reconfigured 80-seat dining room and 15-seat bar. Studio //3877 is putting together Nama Ko’s stylish look.
Whereas Tico was known for its tequila and mezcal lists, Nama Ko will be big on sakes and Japanese whiskeys. Newly named general manager Aziz Ghazaz, most recently at BLT Steak DC, will also lead the service and bar programs. Every Tico employee was invited to stay on at the new venture, says Levin.
“Tico was an amazing experience to bring to D.C.,” says Levin. “When the pandemic hit, it gave us all an opportunity to pause and think about what we want to do with our spaces.”
Tico debuted under the now-nightlife nexus of 14th and U Street NW in 2014, back when Mexican and Latin cuisine options weren’t aplenty. Now there’s Mexicue, months-old Salazar (formerly El Centro D.F.), and an incoming Mi Vida across the street.
But Japanese cuisine and sushi options still remain sparse on 14th Street NW, especially after Sakerum went dark during the pandemic. A Nakazawa alum showcases his knife skills at year-old Takara 14th, but that’s way down the strip.