Ian Martorana



O-ku is a new restaurant around Union Market in DC, serving "traditional sashimi and sushi, innovative Japanese specialties and wood-fired robata-style dishes." In reality, O-ku is a lot more. With an hyper-modern design (it has a warehouse feel, and it's a windowless restaurant), a range of seating options (I recommend the sushi bar), a friendly staff, and fantastic service, O-ku is built to impress. At the time of this writing, it's only been open about a week; I expect O-ku to get better. I had the Omakase, better known as a Japanese tasting menu. Let's dive in:

Course One: Salad


The first course was a light, crisp salad. Not too many bells and whistles here, but it was a good way to start a meal, and the pine nuts were a nice touch.

Course Two: Wagyu Croquette


This was maybe one of my favorite bites of the entire meal. It was crispy and light, and the wagyu beef (you literally can't go wrong with wagyu) was medium rare on the inside. On the bottom of the croquette was a mixture of soy sauce and scallions, and on the top was a remoulade-style sauce. The result was a peppery, salty, creamy, delicious amalgam of sauces with delicious beef.  

Course Three: Sashimi


The third course was absolutely divine sashimi. From left to right: salmon, chu toro (tuna belly, the wagyu beef of fish), and white fish. These were expert ingredients treated expertly, and that's all you can ask for out of sashimi. No fancy stuff here (with the exception of the citrus caviar #hearteyes) - just delicious food.

Course Four: Prime Rib Eye


The fourth course was prime rib eye (hey, you read the title!), and it was better than I expected. Cooked over a charcoal grill near the sushi bar, the wildly high heat created a great sear and medium rare inside. It was topped with a soy/mirin glaze, adding a salty sweetness. Accompanied by charred shishito peppers and a tiny onion, it was the peak of the meal in terms of heaviness, and was absolutely fantastic.

Course Five: Seabass


Having peaked (in terms of heaviness), the meal shifted back to seafood. This was the most unexpected course for me - seabass coated in puffy rice. It was delicious, without a doubt, but overall, was my least favorite meal of the dish. I should be clear - just because it was my least favorite doesn't mean it was bad (it wasn't), but the other dishes were so loaded with flavor that this course felt like a clear step down. 

Course Six: Nigiri


O-ku has a section of their menu devoted to specialty nigiri. These pieces of nigiri have extra toppings that dial up the flavor and textures. Left to right: Snapper, king salmon, and Otoro. The Otoro is topped with uni, and basically tasted like amazing fish butter on top of amazing fish butter. Without a doubt my favorite bite of the entire meal, and something - whether or not you opt for the Omakase - you absolutely must order. 

Courses seven and eight are not pictured here (although there's a boomerang of the seventh course on my Instagram, because I do it all for the 'gram), which were a soup and chocolate mousse, respectively. The soup was a delicate, fragrant miso soup that I absolutely loved. The chocolate mousse was about three times too big for me, but anyone that knows me knows I am not a huge chocolate guy, so I feel ill equipped to judge.

Overall, O-ku was one of the more delicious (and fun) dining experiences I've had in a while. The food was great, but many places have great food. The ambiance, the environment, and the staff really made O-ku a uniquely exciting dining experience. I will absolutely be back - I have a lot more sake to drink.