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Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 Top 100, Washingtonian 2010 #68
Neighborhood: Gallery Place/Chinatown/Penn Quarter

The Setup

Heading off to E Street Cinema for Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Official Girlfriend/Co-Writer of DCWD Texas and I, on the advice of Official Friends of DCWD Sam and Shawn, decided we needed to indulge in some sushi. We settled on Sei, and its happy hour specials.

The Vibe

Sei sits aside the Lansburgh Theater and Jaleo on the tenuous border between Gallery Place and Penn Quarter. The restaurant sets a clear tenor that strikes you almost immediately upon entering: this is a sushi place for the popular people. Like a high-speed collision between Ikea and Louis XIV (but you know, Asian influenced), the decor combines functionalism with an attempt to paint the atmosphere on the walls.

Everything is clean, white, and square - even the bar stools and chairs - with its stark Euro modernity interrupted only by the occasional faux gaudy French goldleaf on the walls, or the red sticks that serve as a divider between the bar/lounge and the main seating area. The former space is a long bar with counter seating surrounding it the front, and a small lounge in the back. The latter consists of one round six in the middle of the room, a sushi bar along the far wall, and rows of twos and fours otherwise. Despite its whiteness, the space is pretty dim, even in the daytime, the weirdness punctuated by the artwork: one, the middle row of a woman's face; another, a nude burlesque dinner sitting backwards in a chair.

The Food

The restaurant's chi-chi-ness continues onto its menu, where even the happy hour specials are what would pass for normal prices elsewhere (our inattentive server's matter-of-factness about this only highlights the restaurant's relatively high price point). Undeterred, we preceded to order drinks; Texas started with a "liquid Wasabi" and followed it with the "Silver Samurai" - the former, a sake and vodka creation infused with habanero and ginger simple syrup, the latter an Asian version of a cucumber drink.

As sushi munchies, we ordered two happy hour rolls: the spicy salmon roll and eel avocado roll, along with an order of fatty yellowtail sashimi. Now granted, these were happy hour rolls and as such were reductive in terms of complexity. Still, even their happy hour prices ($6) were in line with what passes for regular prices pretty much anywhere else. More importantly, along with that price increase, the sushi wasn't any more spectacular. For all the pomp and circumstance, this was nearly indistinguishable from any neighborhood sushi shop. The sashimi was meh, and everything was fairly ordinary.

The Verdict

With the run-of-the-mill sushi, for me, probably not worth the high price of admission.

Food Rating: **
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
: We headed to Sei after watching a screening of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the awesome documentary about the incomparable Michelin-starred chef. Head over to E Street to catch it before the run is over.

SEI on Urbanspoon

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