Oh Fish!

$$$$ ($14 and under)
Oh Fish! photo

Editorial Review

Good to Go: Oh Fish!
By Timothy R. Smith
Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011

Chef Kazuhiro "Kaz" Okochi earned his stars crafting omakase sushi at his bistro on I Street. At his new carryout spot in the District, customers design their own sushi rolls.

They don't wield the knife at Oh Fish!, of course, but they can pick and choose the ingredients from a menu of nine basic rolls and 16 add-in vegetables, of which up to five can be added per roll.

On an initial run, I start with a basic eel roll ($11). Add kimchi. Cilantro, check. Carrot sounds like a safe bet. Ten minutes later, I receive a tray of eight, with soy sauce and a mound of pickled ginger. Each roll is considerably bigger than your average takeout sushi. I realized afterward that you can request mid-size rolls, available for a dollar less.

The compact restaurant has 15 stools. The staff works behind a counter, assembly line-style, the fish and vegetables prepped and held in metal pans, not so different from a Subway or Chipotle.

In fact, Okochi says he got the idea for Oh Fish! about five years ago while dining at a Subway. He wondered whether the sandwiches-built-to-order concept was possible for sushi. A few years later, he heard about a machine that could shape and cut sushi rolls. He now has the machine at Oh Fish!, where it can crank out 40 rolls in 10 minutes.

Okochi launched Oh Fish! in July and recently opened an outlet at the new Whole Foods Market in Foggy Bottom.

For those who are disinclined to design their own sushi, signature rolls are available, including spicy tuna, shrimp salad, crab and smoked salmon. Each has a double name that translates as a human emotion, Okochi says.

My companions liked the Niko Niko roll (Satisfaction, $7), with an unexpected yet welcome addition of basil in its vegetarian blend of avocado, cucumber, carrot and sweet tofu. According to Dave Gullick, the restaurant's manager, the customer favorite is the Kira Kira (Happiness): spicy tuna with lettuce and cucumber ($9).

The Poka Poka (Warmth, $8.50), with tuna, kimchi, radish sprouts and toasted sesame seeds proved excellent, the slight sourness of the kimchi balancing the sweetness of the Japanese rice.

Sides include crisp edamame ($2.50) and two variations on seaweed salad ($3.50), one of which is made slightly creamy with mayonnaise.

There's watermelon green tea to drink, made with freshly squeezed watermelon juice, but mine tasted less than fresh (16 ounces, $2.75).

Breakfast is forthcoming, but they have not yet composed a morning menu, Gullick says.