In preparing for Kappo’s D.C. debut, its detail-oriented chef Minoru Ogawa went the extra mile by flying to Japan to handpick 500 plates and bowls that spoke to him in person.
The intimate, 21-seat destination to enjoy Ogawa’s elegant eight-course tasting menus ($150 per person) opened on Wednesday, March 22 in the treasured Palisades space occupied by omakase institution Sakedokoro Makoto up until 2018 (4822 MacArthur Boulevard NW).
“Everything that’s not screwed or bolted down here came from Japan in [Ogawa’s] suitcase,” says Kappo partner Ari Wilder, which includes every spoon, utensil, and chopstick in sight. “They’re all really specific to what he’s serving.”
That varies on any given night, depending on seasonality and what Ogawa can get his hands on, but the common thread throughout each meal is luxe wagyu beef imported from Japan.
The reservation-only restaurant offers twice-nightly seatings on Wednesdays through Fridays (5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and three on Saturdays and Sundays (4 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 9 p.m.). Seatings for the month of May go live on April 1.
Kappo is the brainchild of Ogawa and co-owners Wilder and Adrian Williams, whose sushi menu at Shaw standby Zeppelin is designed by Ogawa. The sushi master also maintains a showy namesake restaurant in Kalorama.
Kappo reactivates the cozy dining room that amassed a devoted following of upper Northwest neighbors, Japanese embassy employees, and expats over its 26-year run. After Makoto’s original chef-owner Yoshiaki Itoh passed away, his son asked Ogawa—who once worked with Itoh—to resurrect the Japanese restaurant in some form or fashion in the same spot. Unlike its formal predecessor, Kappo’s diners aren’t asked to remove their shoes before entering. And while the layout remains similar, the secluded space received a completely revised look under designer Rachel Aikens’ watch.
“Kappo is more neighborhood-driven and a comfortable and social gathering spot, versus being stuffy, super traditional, and very quiet,” says Wilder, who’s a Palisades resident himself.
The name “Kappo” refers to more casual-leaning restaurants in Japan that encourage a playful, dinner-party atmosphere and frequent interactions with the chef at work. Diners can watch—and snag photographs of—the next plate being carefully prepared close-by in an open kitchen spanning the length of the dining room. In one course, pieces of wagyu nigiri are theatrically torched and immediately passed over the counter to each guest in a synchronized style. Complimentary touches include mini highballs in frozen glassware and bite-sized chocolate finales from Eaton DC-based Secret Cacao Garden, each presented in a small origami box.
Ogawa showcases various styles and grades of its headlining ingredient, with the Holy Grail of buttery wagyu being prized A5 Miyazakigyu beef from Miyazaki Prefecture. Ogawa hopes to debut a fish omakase option to appease guests that don’t prefer red meat. Another goal is to operate daily one day.
A minimalist outdoor entrance—marked by a flickering gas lamp, zen Japanese pines surrounded in smooth stones, and a grand wood door carved by hand—leads the way to a modern omakase experience inside. The narrow setup, slathered with shiny, colorful tiles and provocative female photographs by Japan’s famous ’70s-era artist Yoshihiro Tatsuki, sets the tone for an energetic evening paired to a throwback Japanese jazz playlist that’s also audible in its matte-black bathrooms.
The eight-course format stays pretty consistent on any given night. In chronological order, that includes a wagyu appetizer, chawanmushi (egg custard) topped with wagyu and veggies; various styles of sashimi; a wagyu croquette; wagyu nigiri; and a sukiyaki-style hot pot experience accented with a bowl of wagyu fat-seasoned rice.
The relatively quick pace of the evening caters to a post-pandemic clientele that doesn’t want to stay put for too long—or pay a ridiculous prix-fixe price for a special-occasion menu. Kappo diners can be in and out in under two hours.
“The age of the four-hour experience is now for once in a blue moon,” says Wilder. “This is a monthly or biweekly dining experience. You’re able to come back frequently.”
Ogawa regularly flies back and forth to Tokyo once a month to develop dish variations and maintain relationships with his faraway wagyu, seafood, and veggie suppliers (he sources from local Japanese farmers, too).
During its year-long renovation process, Wilder says multiple neighbors would walk up on any given day to say, “Oh my God, is Makoto reopening? I did my anniversary or birthday here or used to come with my dad. Nostalgia is so saturated into Makoto—that was so much of the appeal for Ogawa and us.”
Wilder and Ogawa go way back, first working together 20 years ago at Dupont’s dearly missed sushi-and-karaoke classic Cafe Japone.
A cocktail program created by Zeppelin barman Corey Landolt also signals new territory for the Palisades space, which didn’t delve into mixology as much as now. Kappo cocktails (starting at $19) include a wagyu fat-washed Old Fashioned engineered with Japanese whiskey, an updated Midori sour dubbed “Peak Excess,” and shochu-and-gin martini.
A wine list curated by Wilder showcases in-demand pours typically ordered with wagyu in Japan. Think: reds from California’s Opus One and Australia’s Giant Steps or Louis Roederer Champagne. Diners can order drinks a la carte or as tastings of wine, sake, or both. An opening list of 25 sake bottles, covering light-and-fruity to rich-and-dry flavor profiles, swing from approachable ($37) to excessive (up to $700) price points.