Which DC metro sushi restaurant reigns supreme in making sake nigiri? This is a report about my search for salmon nigiri sushi in DC metro area, a super enjoyable venture!
I first tried sushi when my college roommate, Solar, insisted on me trying raw fish at a Japanese restaurant in Cary. I could only convince myself to order a Spider roll, which is a fried soft shell crab roll. No raw fish! I now enjoy eating 2 boats of sushi/sashimi. It took me a few attempts at sushi to become an enthusiast and a purist. And my most favorite sushi roll is sake nigiri! I am going to share some of my recent experiences in DC metro area from recommended sushi restaurants. I have sorted them in an order of overall their salmon nigiri quality.
What is a perfect Sake Nigiri roll to me?
- Perfectly cooked and seasoned rice (best sushi rice is a mix of uruchimai and mochigome grains)
- Tiny addition of wasabi
- Fresh salmon (firm and cold flesh)
- Overall size (slightly bigger than a comfortable one bite size), texture and shape
- Balance between the salmon and the rice (60/40)
- No garnish!
- Fresh side of pickled ginger (Gari) to cleanse the palate
With those factors in mind, let’s look at these few restaurants, ranked only by my sake nigiri reviews. In each restaurant, I tried their sake nigiri and one house special roll. I will share a picture of the special roll, but their reviews will remain for another article.
Some keywords I used are:
- SN: Sake Nigiri
- Neta: Protein or vegetable toppings on sushi, usually salmon, tuna, or seafood
- Nigirizushi: rice + neta + wasabi
1- Sweet Ginger
120B Branch Rd, SE
I stumbled upon Sweet Ginger by pure luck, when I was craving for some good sushi in Vienna. The restaurant is very cozy and inviting. The staff are very friendly and will explain in details any of your questions about their menu. If you get a chance to sit at the bar, don’t pass on that. The sushi chefs are very easy to talk to. Well, don’t take their time when they are busy of course.
The SN is fantastic! It is so good that I look for a quiet moment to enjoy this roll and let it take me to happiest places possible! The salmon they use has the freshest taste. It is a firm flesh, yet melts in your mouth. The rice they use is cooked perfectly and is tasty enough. The rice flavors do not overwhelm the roll and let you enjoy the salmon. They also use enough amount of wasabi over the rice. I love the meat to rice proportion. When the bigger piece of salmon melts in your mouth, it is balanced by the smaller portion of fluffy and tasty rice. They get my vote for the best sake nigiri I have tried in the DMV area.
The other sushi roll I tried is their Omega-3 roll, which is most delicious. It is a combination of Spicy Salmon, Cucumber rolled outside with Salmon, Avocado, and Roe & Flax seed (Omega 3&6).
Cruising through Chinatown, I was told by the other Capitol Crumbs crew to try SEI. That I did and I walked into a contemporary and calming atmosphere. I decided to sit at the bar, which was beautifully decorated. I ordered my SN and the house recommendation, Fish and Chips roll.
The SN was a winner from the first bite. The rice was the tastiest sushi rice I have tried and the salmon was very fresh. The proportions were great, and only amplified the roll’s delicacy. I would even enjoy this roll more if the salmon pieces were a bit thicker and the overall roll size was bigger. Yet, I will be having many more SN’s at SEI soon.
The Fish and Chips roll I tried was also consisted of the freshest fish meat. If you don’t mind fried onions on your sushi, you should order this roll.
Looking for a cozy sushi restaurant with great reviews, we found Asia 54. I got lucky in getting the window table in this small and romantic restaurant. I ordered my SN and few more special rolls were ordered also! The plate was packed with sushi rolls that were colorful, more bite size pieces than your regular sushi rolls, and packed with flavors.
The SN had the freshest salmon I have tried and you could easily mistake it for a toro piece that melts in your mouth immediately. The rice was cooked to perfection and each piece held its shape flawlessly. If you are in DC and want great sushi, I cannot recommend this place highly enough. About the special rolls I have, I will leave the great review for another day.
*Photo courtesy of Asia 54
Leaving the Verizon center and heading north on 5th street, was hoping to have sushi in a restaurant with a more casual setting. I didn’t have to search long as I found Absolute Noodles and Sushi Bar right before reaching H street! Offering indoor and outdoor seating, It provides a casual atmosphere for patrons who want sushi, noodles, or a variety of soup dishes. I sat at the bar, which is really the open kitchen. It is a bit noisier section of the restaurant because od the kitchen activities. But you get a view of their Asian fusion cooking process. I ordered my SN and Deluxe Spicy Tuna roll.
The SN salmon was a good cut (a bit warmer than I like it) and the plate was served with some tasty sauces and decorations. The waitress was very friendly and very attentive. While the proportions were very good, the portion of each piece could be bigger. Being a purist, I do not like garnish on my SN, I didn’t care much for the lemon pieces on the roll. I enjoyed the overall experience and had some friendly conversation with the sushi/wok chef.
The Deluxe Spicy Tuna was a great choice! I loved the tuna and the flavors a lot. Avocado addition took it up a notch.
Located in the heart of Chinatown, Momiji attracts lots of locals and visitors. Momiji has two floors with a deck and offers a mix of sushi with hibachi style cuisine. The hibachi section has its own table and the rest are smaller tables for sushi lovers. The bar is also downstairs and serves handmade cocktails. A friendly Japanese waitress took my SN order and suggested I try the Mango Madness roll.
The SN was a great portion selection. The rice was just one type of medium grain rice that most of its starch were washed off in the cooking process. As a result, the roll didn’t hold its shape well. But it was still a tasty rice. I think my least favorite part of the SN was the neta part. I must have been spoiled by the extremely fresh salmon at some other restaurants.
The Mango Madness roll served its name perfectly. It was a madness roll. It was packed with all kinds of flavors and netas, including an overwhelming portion of crabmeat.
With a super friendly staff and a great location, it is well worth a visit if you are in Chinatown.
My journey in finding the best sake nigiri will continue and you will hear much more from me soon. Hope you enjoyed this review. I loved all the restaurants I tried and what sets them apart are very small micro differences that appear to a super picky customer like me. Thanks for all the mentioned restaurants for their hospitality and great food.