Sakana Japanese Restaurant

$$$$ ($15-$24)
Small, low-key sushi spot can feel either cozy or cramped but offers consistently good food with no real clunkers.
Mon-Thu: 11:30 am-2:30 pm
5:30-10:30pm; Fri: 11:30 am-2:30 pm
5:30-11 pm; Sat 5:30-11 pm
(Dupont Circle)
Dupont Circle (Red Line)

Editorial Review

Low ceilings and tightly squeezed tables make Sakana feel cozy or cramped, depending on your mood. The restaurant is small, with the kind of clean-lined, utilitarian tables and chairs that are comfortable and stylishly minimalist. One unusual touch: A window in front of the restaurant has a display of realistic-looking plastic food, from sushi to fried cutlets with rice. The presentation is notable for its sheer kitsch value.

The crowd consists of the young, the hip, the restless. This is a Dupont Circle venue, where you'll find the crowds in their twenties and thirties, popping in for dinner before casing neighborhood bars and coffee shops. The restaurant is very low-key, however, so you won't find a lot of the gratuitous posturing or the "see-and-be-seen" attitude that afflicts many nearby establishments.

There are no real clunkers on the menu at Sakana. But the real reason to come is for the sushi. Particularly if you're part of a group, there's a singular delight in receiving a beautifully arranged variety of Sakana's fresh sushi, with smooth, pungent dollops of wasabi paste.

This isn't an ideal date spot, as it can get loud thanks to the low ceiling and close-together tables. But it's a wonderful place to go with four or five friends and a healthy appetite. Plus, it's entertaining to watch svelte servers snake-hip around chairs and tables as they race back and forth to the kitchen.

Like a great character actor in a film, Sakana doesn't have flashy star quality and is not a headliner. In fact, you might overlook its excellence because the process seems so effortless. But don't be fooled: It's not easy to offer up consistently good food in an unobtrusive, pleasant setting -- and Sakana does it.

-- Lisa Dickey