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Reservations Recommended

Kushi’s Sushi = Kushi Izakaya & Sushi

If you are plugged into DC’s dining scene, you’ve heard of Kushi Izakaya & Sushi over in the Mt. Vernon Square neighborhood. You may have even eaten its superlative sushi. But if this is one dining experience you’ve missed, take note: make a reservation for dinner — especially on weekends. Crowds line up at the door, or they grab an inch or two of standing room at the bar to await a table. It’s packed. Jammed.

That’s the first fact you need. The second is this: Kushi is noisy, with decibels high and sounds bouncing off floor, walls, and ceiling. Chances are slim, maybe nonexistent, that you’ll hear your friend unless he/she is shouting in your ear.

Last point: Finally, it’s true. The food at Kushi absolutely dazzles with primo seafood arriving probably every other hour and the tops in beef — well, it is from Wagyu herds, after all. And the other meat products are equally first-rate: heritage breed chickens, Berkshire pork, Moulard duck, and farm-fresh veggies — though that does not apply to the seaweed, obviously.

If you find the menu a bit puzzling, don’t hesitate to ask one of the jacketed host types to answer questions. Our table had no idea how to proceed, so we did just that. An izakaya, explained the host, translates loosely as a “sake house,” and Kushi is no exception. As the staffer said, the restaurant offers two hot and 45 cold sakes for sampling or swigging — your choice. Pointing over our shoulders to a central grilling station, the robata grill, he added that that is a traditional wood grill where certain menu selections are cooked and served up. Its curling smokiness added a delicious aroma, and fires up lagging appetites.

Finally, when pressed about how to order, he said to consider this a Japanese tapas restaurant, so cull through the menu, and order like that, filling out your choices on the sushi sheet each table gets, writing in any of the day’s specials we wanted.

So many choices, and already several beckon: the Wagyu beef short ribs, the buta bara (pork belly), and the chicken breast with a wasabi smear come as charcoal-grilled skewers. And, yes, there is a wait because everything is cooked to order and (seemingly) 5,000 people are already at the restaurant, many crowded at the robata bar surrounded by swirls of the aromatic smokiness.

Friends turned to the specials and other menu offerings, from the sashimi and maki sushi to the wood-grilled, small plates, and kushiyaki dishes. We picked various sushi and sashimi, especially the fatty tuna, or o’toro, sashimi, which was bargain-priced that night at $22 for 5 pieces. After accumulating a king’s banquet table and a king’s ransom worth of eats, our group looked forward to the tapas, which come out a few plates at a time. A lesson learned that night: if you crave your solitary indulgence in, say, the short ribs, eat here solo. Sharing is expected, and unless you grab your plate and sit under the table, your faves will disappear before your eyes.

Despite the noise and crowds, Kushi offers an unforgettable meal with all the trappings that come with such a popular destination — noise, music, crowds, and a buzzy atmosphere. Perhaps the solution to its noisy shortcomings is to sit down for an unhurried lunch, when presumably the setting is calm and reflective. Whatever, it’s time to eat, and I want sushi and short ribs.

Kushi Izakaya & Sushi | 465 K St., NW; (202) 682-3123; www.eatkushi.com. Lunch, Mon.–Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm, Sat. & Sun. 12noon-2:30pm; Dinner, Mon.-Sun. 5:30-11pm. Individual sushi prices $4.50-$9; sashimi, $3.50-$12; robata, $3-$18; sushi sashimi sets, $24-$40; kushiyaki, $2-$10.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.