Years in the making, chef Makoto Okuwa’s sprawling, ambitious love letter to Japanese cuisine is finally ready for its debut. Love, Makoto — a 20,000-square-foot culinary collection of grand proportions — unveils phase one of two on Tuesday, May 2.
The revered Japanese sushi chef moved to the U.S. at the age of 26 and held his first stateside job at Dupont’s revered Sushi Taro. Okuwa envisions Love, Makoto as “a homecoming, where I started. It’s back to my roots,” he says. He partnered with restaurateurs Eric Eden and chef David Deshaies, who run essential Italian eatery L’Ardente next door, to bring Love, Makoto to life at the growing Capitol Crossing complex where downtown and Capitol Hill merge (200 Massachusetts Avenue NW).
The first phase is comprised of three full-service establishments, each with its own personality and salutation; each menu begins with a personal note from Okuwa himself. Starting tonight, hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Here’s a look at each new venue:
Situated right off the Massachusetts Avenue NW entrance, Dear Sushi centers around omakase tastings. “This menu honors tradition (old school) and showcases what I’ve learned along the way (new school),” writes Okuwa. The dinner, priced at $75, begins with bite-sized seasonal snacks. Sushi courses showcase fish in both “old school” and “new school” preparations. Bluefin, for example, arrives with a touch of soy and wasabi in the more traditional version, and “burnt” miso and foie gras in a modern interpretation. Diners can order optional upgrades like prized cuts of otoro tuna, caviar, and wagyu. Drenched in light that pours in from floor-to-ceiling windows, Dear Sushi is bright and relaxed.
Down a glossy, deep-red hallway evoking a famous Kyoto shrine is Beloved BBQ, a 70-seat yakiniku (Japanese steakhouse) where diners find a smokeless grill at every table. Also expressed in omakase style, Beloved BBQ offers six cuts of Japanese ($150) or American ($85) beef, and includes sundry sides and a dessert.
“How I treasure the memories of family and friends huddled around the grill, sampling delicious wagyu beef,” Makoto recalls. Optional upgrades here include starters and add-ons like oysters, steak tartare, and niku miso, a condiment spread with garlic, wagyu, and fermented soybeans. One additional standout: a “mochi potato,” a playful, lightly fried dish that came about nearly accidentally. Steeped in dark greens and blacks, Beloved Barbecue is evocative of “clubby, sexy” steakhouses from the ’80s, says Okuwa.
Beyond Beloved BBQ lies Hiya Izakaya, a sleek, 52-seat bar that pays homage to Japan’s storied nightlife. “I long for those buzzy Tokyo nights filled with good friends, potent drinks, and savory skewers,” Okuwa writes. The izakaya turns up the energy, dominated by a curved bar and dotted with high-tops. A one-of-a-kind Suntory highball machine pours whisky drinks freely, alongside sake, beer, and wine.
For eats, bar foods on offer include Japanese-style, shatteringly crisp fried chicken (karaage), along with more than a dozen yaki skewers like chicken meatballs, squid, mushroom, and eggplant. A playful guacamole comes with wasabi and soba chips.
Beverage director Micah Wilder (co-owner of Chaplin’s and Zeppelin) designed distinct cocktail menus for each dining destination. Dear Sushi’s drinks lean heavy on sake, resulting in light, bright, acid-forward cocktails that pair with the freshness of the sushi. The martini, for example, marries tea-infused Japanese gin, vodka, and sake with shiso.
The Beloved BBQ cocktail menu embraces the room’s darker vibe, with more spirit-forward drinks like a negroni with Sakura sherry and a Manhattan accented by Cowboy Yamahai sake and shiitake mushroom-infused vermouth. “It’s funky and nuanced, and lighter than your traditional Manhattan,” says Wilder. “It’s savory and smoky and fits in so well with the barbecue food.”
Over in the izakaya, whisky highballs reign, served in frosted mugs from a specialty fridge. Check out options like a Paloma riff with ginger shochu, mezcal, peach, and grapefruit. The cocktail-menu necessity espresso martini also makes an appearance, served on vinyl in homage to Tokyo jazz bars. Wilder also serves a brashly magenta Gin Rickey, colored by steeped shiso leaves with a touch of sugar and vinegar to activate the shiso leaves.
A vast cast of sake reaches across all three spaces, playing up various regions, styles, and filtering processes.
“We hand-pick the sake to fit into entire spectrum of Love, Makoto, from delicate and polished to big, bold, umami options,” says Wilder. You can also pop open sake in a personal 180-ml can, or give your drink a hot bath to see the impact temps have on the pour.
Love, Makoto’s phase two — a fast-casual food hall — follows this summer and brings breakfast and lunch hours into the fold. Look for some of Okuwa’s casual faves like noodles, ramen, fried chicken sandos, curries, rolls, and dumplings. An adjoining cafe will wake up early to serve fresh-fried doughnuts, bubble tea, soft serve, and coffee drinks.
While the idea for Love, Makoto began in 2019, its execution took some time. The pandemic put a pause on planning, but Okuwa and the team view it as a blessing in disguise, “giving us more time to work out our vision.”
After his time at Sushi Taro, Okuwa went on to lead the kitchen at Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s Morimoto flagship in Philadelphia. Since 2011, his Makoto restaurant empire has expanded to Bal Harbor, Fla., Panama, Mexico City, São Paulo, and Caracas, with another en route to the Dominican Republic this year.
“I’m so excited to return to D.C. to show this city where I have been since we parted, and how those journeys have informed my perspective as a chef,” says Okuwa. “With so many ways to experience Love, Makoto, we hope our diners return again and again— always finding something new to love.”