The Washington Post Magazine – 03/16/03
Sunday, March 16, 2003
A Double Order of Sushi
Weighing in at a mere 55 seats, Sushi Aoi packs abundant style into its small space. Shiny bamboo poles grace the little tangerine-colored foyer, while the walls of the dining room segue from soothing yellow-green to blue-gray and are punctuated by a streak of recessed red light. Singles gravitate to the welcoming sushi bar; groups have the option of two big tables near the front window, where a rice-paper screen can be pulled around for privacy. Taped jazz plays at a level that enhances rather than intrudes on conversation.
But more than aesthetics draws crowds, particularly at lunch, to this restaurant across from the “old” convention center in downtown Washington. Masatoshi Seino, who worked at Sushi-Zen in Arlington and at Ginza in the District before moving here, has a sure way with raw fish and vinegared rice. Connoisseurs on a budget know to time their visits to Sushi Aoi; between 5 and 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, a lot of the sushi – including salmon, tuna, flounder and eel – is available at $1 a piece (and can be washed back with sake or beer for $2.50 a drink).
A gentle way to ease into a meal is with a bowl of clear broth rounded out with bites of chicken and soft dark greens or osuimono. A few spoonfuls of this elixir are the equivalent of a reassuring pat on the back. If it’s something more forceful you’re after, seek out the pork-filled dumplings, served with fruity ponzu sauce and bound in wrappers ignited with wasabi (here come the tears!). Grated mountain potato is one of those dishes you either like or run form; its slightly gluey texture and Cream of Wheat complexion are broken up here by a rectangle of ruddy fresh tuna and b bright yellow quail egg on top. Green tea noodles show up on a small bamboo plate with chopped scallions and a dark brown dunking sauce. Light and satisfying, the entree is just the ticked before that meeting back at the office. Of the fried dishes, tempura and gyoza are upstaged by lightly breaded and simply seasoned squid legs, a recent special.
Sushi AOi’s next-door neighbor is Haad Thai which shares more with the Japanese eatery than just a block: Charles Kiatrungrit, who owns the Thai outpost, also has a stake in Sushi Aoi, which is watched over by co-owner Sumiko Abe. She’s the graceful figure in the pretty kimono, her warm greeting one more reason to seek the place out.