SUSHI TO GO (FOR A SPELL): The owner of Sushi Taro (1503 17th St. NW; 202-462-8999) near Dupont Circle says he plans to close his wildly popular restaurant before Christmas for renovations. But instead of expanding the second-floor dining room, he's shrinking the number of seats, from 120 to 70.
"I'm happy to say, business is good right now," explains Nobu Yamazaki. "But we're concentrating on turning tables, so everyone can get in." For someone without a reservation, the restaurateur says, the wait for a table can run as long as an hour on weeknights, longer on weekends.
Although the current industry trend is lounge-style Japanese restaurants, all offering similar food, Yamazaki says, his new strategy calls for serving fewer customers and pampering them more. Think leisurely meals, ritual-laden kaiseki -- and higher prices. Right now, the average dinner check at Sushi Taro is $35; Yamazaki figures it will rise to $60 next year.
The renovation will feature soft lighting, booth seating, an intimate place for drinks and a sushi bar for a mere six patrons. The kitchen, now visible, will be hidden behind translucent glass.
The owner's goal is lofty: "I want to be out there changing the direction of Japanese cooking in this city."
Sushi Taro will close after dinner service Dec. 13. Yamazaki hopes to unveil a fresh look by March.
-- Tom Sietsema