Cafe Japone and Sakana: A Tale of Two Sushi Restaurants (in D.C.)

Typical home delivery Sushi platter.

Image via Wikipedia

My friend and I got sent to Washington D.C. for a FAR workshop.  For those of you unfamiliar with the federal acquisition guidelines, they are basically the rules by which the government acquires goods and services.  It’s dry and dull stuff.

After our first day long session was over, we needed a drink and a nice meal.  Since we happened to be staying near DuPont Circle, we started the evening with some cocktails at the trendy DuPont Circle Hotel, a great spot to people watch.

The heat made sushi an ideal choice, who wants hot pasta and pizza in 108 degree weather?   My friend looked up a few sushi restaurants before we left the hotel, so we headed to P Street.

Sakana is pretty much next door to another sushi place, Café Japone.  We were torn between the two, because from a distance, they look equally appealing.  At first, we decided to go to Café Japone because of the posted the happy hour specials.  As we climbed the stairs to the entrance, we paused and asked each other, is this a restaurant or a weird S&M club?  The restaurant was painted black with a weird, looping neon light along the ceiling, ala the Culture Club 1986.  We shook it off, thinking we were being snarky.  Poor taste in décor doesn’t equal hepatitis or food poisoning.  Maybe these people just really like statement lighting?

Since there were some of those yelp.com and other newspaper seals of approval pasted to the window, my naïvity told me that clearly no one would just hand out these stickers (I am an idiot, clearly they do).

We were greeted by a weird, musty odor upon our entrance and a surly hostess.  She sighed like we were such an inconvenience before “greeting” us with a mumble and a scowl.  The restaurant’s only other inhabitants were two oddly silent couples (was I imagining at least one of them giving us the eye?!).  There was no music, it was just so creepy and weird and silent.  I felt like I was in Hitchcock’s Birds, when the diner goes from lively to dead silent and creepy in a minute.  If you haven’t seen this film, Netflix it.  It’s amazing.

My friend went to the bathroom and came back with a weird look on her face.  I asked how the bathrooms were and she responded that they held a condom and aspirin dispensary.  Good products for the bathroom of a club, not such a good sign for a dining establishment serving raw fish.  Since no one had brought us water or acknowledged us in any way, I felt less guilty about leaning over and whispering: are you creeped out?  I am creeped out.  She nodded and we dashed out saying that what we were looking for wasn’t on the menu.

Dearest reader, there are two valuable life lessons that I feel I should point out: 1. If a place looks like it doubles as a sex club after hours, get out; and 2. don’t let those happy hour offers distract you from obvious signs that a place is deficient in meeting its health and safety obligations.  Trust your gut.  There is nothing worse than spending a whole night pooping and vomiting.

After escaping the weird place, we headed next door to Sakana.  We were immediately refreshed by how much more pleasant and lively this establishment was.  Apparently these folks believe in appropriate lighting.  Their bathroom was much more pleasant and clean.  It was also free of any condom dispensers.  Nice.

The menu was also more extensive.  As we ordered our green tea, I mentioned my gluten allergy to the waitress and asked her about tamari, she stared at me for a minute, nodded and left.  I was unsure what had jut happened, but a minute later, an older woman approached me and starting asking me about my allergy.  I explained that many brands of soy sauce contain wheat, which I am allergic to, blah blah and asked her if Sakana carried tamari, the gluten-free variety of soy sauce.  She said they did not, but she said that she would buy a bottle because more and more people had been asking for tamari.  She even asked where to buy it.  So if you live near DuPont and are gluten-free, check out Sakana!   She also made sure there was no tempura or crunchy bits in my order.

In my experience, sushi is an easy option when dining out.  Generally, sushi is rice, dried seaweed, fish and vegetables, done.  Do be on the look out for rolls that include tempura, which is breaded with panko bread crumbs and fried.  I also avoid any sushi that says it has crunchy or spicy sauce topping.  The crunchy topping is panko and spicy sauce sometimes has gluten.

Not only was the service great, but the sushi was amazing.  We were impressed by the nice presentation.  I haven’t had sushi that good in goodness knows how long.  I had a green caterpillar roll and a bagel roll (no gluten included, it is basically just the Philadelphia roll with avocado).  Everything was just a little cooler than room temperature.  Even without soy sauce, I was able to eat my sushi without choking on dry rice.  The avocado was so perfectly ripe.

My friend had some vegetable and scallop variteies of sushi.  She said the vegetable maki was really good, apparently, this is normally a boring dish, apparently most sushi places don’t do much with the vegetables, but this maki was much better than average.

We shared some edamame, which was perfectly steamed and salted.

Overall, I found Sakana, while some what unaware of food allergies, to be more than willing to listen to accommodate.  If you do no suffer from a gluten allergy, I would certainly head over to give Sakana a try.  Even if you have a gluten allergy, you may want to check them out now that they have said they would get tamari or another type of gluten-free soy sauce.

g/f friendly: 2 out of 5

taste and quality: 5 out of 5

Sakana is located at 2026 P Street, Washington D.C. 20036

Cafe Japone: 2032 P Street, Washington D.C. 20036

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