Food critic

Mosaic sushi and tofu dengaku, a trio of tofu on sticks, are colorful highlights on the playful menu at Sushi Gakyu. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

There’s no fryer or grill at Sushi Gakyu. Don’t visit expecting tempura or skewered meat, in other words. As in his native Japan, chef-owner Yoshihisa Ota specializes in sushi at his 54-seat restaurant, whose name is an alternative way to say Yoshihisa.

You may already have sampled Ota’s handiwork. The chef, 50, has cooked at both Yuzu in Bethesda, which he owns, and Sushiko in Chevy Chase. In 2010, he also helped open the ambitious Kushi (since closed) in Mount Vernon Square.


Chef-owner Yoshihisa Ota is a whirlwind of activity as he sears salmon with a blowtorch for customers Norman Anderson, left, and Christopher Tucker. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

One of the most arresting dishes from the a la carte menu is the aptly titled “mosaic” sushi. Dominos of fish — orange salmon, scarlet tuna, glazed eel — alternate with tender omelet and buttery avocado in a small cedar box lined with warm rice. Picture jewels in a frame, only every gem is edible. A fun way to ease into lunch or dinner is with tofu served as a trio of savory lollipops, each firm square of bean curd threaded on a stick and dabbed with a different miso sauce, one of which is green with spinach. Count yourself lucky if your server is Masa Koizumi, a veteran of Yuzu and an engaging guide.

Reservations are required for the omakase, or “chef’s choice,” staged at the sushi bar and starting at $100 a person. The wave of dishes starts with multiple appetizers, maybe a refreshing salad of raw tomato, cucumber and dashi jelly that tastes like gazpacho by way of Tokyo and a tartare of fatty sardines sparked with ginger and scallions. Next comes a stream of little dishes — including a sampler of salmon featuring the prized toki shirazu from Japan — that shows off Ota’s careful shopping and deft knife skills. (Some fish is bedded on pads of rice stained with black vinegar, thought to have health benefits.) The feast concludes with a one-bite sweetened omelet and a silken panna cotta dusted with green tea powder and ringed with a light caramel.


Yoshihisa Ota has cooked at Yuzu and Sushiko in Montgomery County. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

A short stroll from the White House, the room, dressed with white maple tables and two-toned wood walls, seems designed not to steal attention away from the food. As Koizumi accurately sums it up, “Fish is the star” at the spare and satisfying Sushi Gakyu.


Mosaic sushi and nigiri sushi. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

Tofu Dengaku, a trio of tofu on sticks. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

1420 New York Ave. NW. 202-849-3686. gakyudc.com. Sushi plates, $15 to $42.