The sense that you’re leaving Washington for someplace serene takes hold the minute you show up at Sushi Ogawa in Kalorama and part the cloth curtains near the door. From there, a short stone pathway leads to a host stand, where you announce yourself. Most visitors are ushered into an eight-table dining room with a coffered ceiling, an a la carte menu and no indication that it used to be Pines of Florence.
The list is small but pleasing. A first course collects three small tastes within the dimples of a white china “flower”: hamachi pricked with lemon, a pinch of sweet crab with sesame dressing, fish marinated with onion. The bites are followed by tempura-battered julienned carrot and onion, served with a fine dip of mirin, sake and soy sauce, and a miso soup intensified by shrimp heads in the broth. The sushi — ruddy raw tuna, lightly seared mackerel — shows up on delicate pads of seasoned rice, while a little roll enclosing salty plum, minty shiso and cool cucumber does somersaults on the tongue.
There’s another, dearer way to experience the young Japanese restaurant, a sibling to the smaller Sushi Capitol, and that’s to reserve one of seven stools at the newcomer’s smooth cedar sushi bar. The counter is where the omakase (chef’s choice) menu is staged and chef-owner Minoru Ogawa’s four decades of experience is best admired.
A Tokyo native whose late father and living brother preceded him at his craft, Ogawa, 58, might begin by serving you a single kumamoto oyster set off with shaved dried roe and black sturgeon caviar. This can be followed by a plate on which the pleasures include a chunk of hay-smoked sturgeon, scored salmon sparked with lime and a bite of tender octopus, glazed with a dark syrup made from boiling octopus head with sugar. There’s more: a shallow bowl of broiled amberjack alongside a fried shrimp head, which tastes like a potato chip from the sea and is best followed by a bite of pickled young ginger.
Ogawa once oversaw the sushi programs for the Mandarin Oriental hotels on the East Coast. When he pulls out a chilled box of a dozen or so gleaming fish filets in a rainbow of colors, he smiles like a jeweler showing off his finery.
“He’s like a musician!” cries my 88-year-old guest. “Just think if he played piano!” she adds, admiring his smooth, deft hands. Mom is right. Watching Ogawa slice fish and mold rice feels like taking a master class, with the distinction of front-row seats.
Counting individual pieces of sushi, the omakase runs to 15 or so courses and costs around $90. It’s a splurge, for sure, but also a show of quiet civility at a time when the world seems anything but quietly civil.
2100 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-813-9715. sushiogawa.com. A la carte sushi, $7-$18.