It’s opening night for Nama Kothe Japanese-style replacement for Boston-based celebrity chef Michael Schlow for his Latin mainstay Tico.
Schlow’s planned new venture swaps tacos and tequilas for hot and cold small plates, a dizzying selection of nigiri and sashimi, homemade and specialty rolls, and plenty of Japanese sake and whiskey (1926 14th Street NW). Dinner is served from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; and 9 p.m. on Sunday (closed on Monday and Tuesday).
“We’re paying homage to Japan but breaking the rules a bit,” James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Schlow told Eater.
Nama Ko builds on the success of Nama, Schlow’s four-year-old sushi staple next to its Italian sister Alta Strada in the Mount Vernon triangle. Schlow enlisted Stephen Starr’s star chef Derek Watson to Morimototo run the Nama Ko Kitchen at DC Watson was most recently at the helm of iron boss The 20-year-old flagship of Masaharu Morimoto and Momotoro in Chicago before that.
“It was a no-brainer with his pedigree background. He’s a great cook and person and I feel like he’s been on our team forever,” says Schlow.
Creative entrees under Watson’s watch include homemade miso soup with matzo balls or dancing duck meatballs inside; charred shishito peppers with chili, garlic and mapo tofu; and chilled shrimp with somen noodles, aji amarillo-kosho paste and green papaya.
A “no rules” small plate section includes a potato “croquette” with a seared cube of A5 Japanese wagyu beef. The “ridiculously delicious” appetizer riffs on steak and potatoes, Schlow says. Hot plates include lobster pasta with dashi and yuzu whipped butter and king crab risotto with plain butter, miso, shallot and togarashi.
Luxe wagyu appears in many places in Nama Ko, in dumplings, rolls, tartar and nigiri. An Australian strip of New York wagyu flanked by asparagus, yuzu and béarnaise is the priciest menu item ($85), with the option of adding butter-poached lobster for an additional $20. The same “slightly larger” section includes seared Atlantic red snapper dressed with soy dashi and dry-aged duck breast served with kimchi.
Nama Ko’s nigiri and sashimi section has 32 surf or turf options to choose from, including fatty tuna, mackerel, sea urchin, Kumamoto oysters, Japanese octopus, and duck or monkfish liver. Eight specialty rolls, listed in a “sushi chefs just wanna have fun” section, include the candy cane (shrimp tempura, avocado, tuna, amberjack, apple, jalapeno, tobiko).
Nama Ko’s 14th Street NW space already boasts a raw fish following. In 2020, Tico made space for a sushi counter called Nama 14th – an extension of the original that sends rolls, nigiri and sashimi. The Mt. Vernon Triangle Nama will continue to operate as usual.
Tico served his last taco at the end of July and immediately went under the knife, reappearing with a new 12-seat sushi bar, a reconfigured 80-seat dining room, and a bar with room for 15. A seven-seat omakase experience is coming soon.
Tico debuted under the now-nightly tie-in of 14th and U Street NW in 2014, back when Mexican and Latin food options weren’t plentiful. Now there’s Mexicue, months-old Salazar (formerly El Centro DF) and the new Mi Vida across the street. The current “crowded playground” prompted the idea of focusing entirely on another kitchen, says Schlow.
While Tico was known for its tequila and mezcal lists, Nama Ko is big on Japanese sakes and whiskeys.
“DC has exploded with delicious and varied sake available,” says Schlow, attributing the spike in options to flashy Japanese newcomers like Michelin-rated Nakazawa and Midtown Center’s Shōtō.
Alcoholic and zero-proof cocktail categories join sparkling, white, rosé and red wines by the glass and bottle in a newly polished and sleek black bar. Look for paid sake events and tastings on Pike.
Studio //3877’s largely cosmetic makeover erased an existing space full of graffiti murals instead of rich dark blue paint and sheer gold curtains. The sound absorption ceiling remained in place.
“A restaurant is not just what you eat and see, but what you touch, hear and smell. It’s a five-sense experience,” says Schlow.
The layout of the existing kitchen, which fueled up to 450 diners on a busy Saturday night at Tico, translates well to Nama Ko’s small plate parade.
Alex Levin, director of strategic business initiatives and baking programs for the Schlow Restaurant Group, whips up a rotating selection of soft desserts for dessert. Opening flavors include Honey and Black Truffle Miso Ice Cream with Chocolate Caramel and Chocolate Sauce and Coco Mango Yuzu Sorbet with Candied Walnuts and Matcha Shortbread Crumble.
Schlow spent a lot of time in DC during the height of the pandemic to offer first-hand help when needed.
“Alex and I did everything – make pizza [at Alta Strada] and cleaning bathrooms to keep businesses solvent,” he says. “We are still standing.”