A multi-sensory experience awaits guests at SHŌTŌ, the contemporary izakaya that opened in Midtown Center in February. With equal weight given to design, architecture, and Japanese culinary arts, the restaurant hopes to provide a multi-dimensional dining journey that transcends all others.
“There’s a story behind absolutely everything,” according to managing partner Arman Naqi. From the first touch point (literally), he and his partners wanted guests to feel transported to Japan. The front door entry handle, fashioned from an actual branch taken from a forest near Tokyo, does just that. Hand delivered from Japan to Nottingham, England where it was cast in bronze before being added to the grand entryway, the branch provides a tangible connection to the restaurant’s Japanese roots.
Acclaimed designer Noriyoshi Muramatsu was tapped to lead the artful conception of the contemporary Japanese restaurant, focusing on natural elements. “He really wanted us to stay true to some organic materials, wood, glass, and concrete. But at the same time, we’ve drawn upon a lot of traditional elements of Japanese architecture,” says Naqi of the restaurant’s basket weave ceiling and wood flooring inserts.
With SHŌTŌ’s art design nearly two years in the making, Naqi says that time allowed for the team to, “Really focus on these details and ensure they were done right.” That includes scouring the globe to source the right materials. “We have a wall of tile that is hand molded on real bamboo. And that was done for us in Bali,” he says. “No single tile is like the other and it creates this very unique effect.”
The focal point of the restaurant is a statement piece to rule them all: a hanging stone feature comprised of hand picked pumice rocks from a volcano in Japan. The stones were meticulously selected ensuring size and color were consistent before being painstakingly strung by hand, one-by-one. Not only does it serve as a conversation piece, it also bridges design elements with culinary ones. “It’s like an art piece hanging down in our restaurant, which was inspired by the charcoal that we cook over: a form of white pressed Japanese oak that we cook over on our robata,” says Naqi.
Speaking of the robata, at the helm of the kitchen, executive chef Alessio Conti and executive sushi chef Kwang Kim oversee a lofty omakase menu with a sampling of dishes from SHŌTŌ’s vast menu. More of a tasting menu, guests can choose between the signature or premium omakase offerings, where they’ll be taken on the chefs’ hand picked journey through the entirety of the main menu—which includes everything from premium sushi and grilled skewers to a full slate of tempura dishes, wagyu steaks, robata seafood, and so much more. Options change regularly based on what’s fresh and what the chefs are inspired by. One recommendation Naqi has for those who go the omakase route? “Please come hungry, because it is a lot of food.”
For those who prefer an a la carte experience, Naqi encourages guests to try as much as they can. The menu is meant to be enjoyed as a sharing concept, with dishes hitting the table as they’re completed, steadily and continuously.
To pair with dinner, SHŌTŌ’s selection of rare whiskeys rivals most collections in D.C. and, Naqi hopes, on the East Coast. “We are constantly curating,” he says of the restaurant’s inventory of hard to find whiskeys. “We have this dream of being one of the top places on the east coast where patrons can come and enjoy Japanese whiskey.”
With every detail meticulously mapped out—from the omakase menu and the curated whiskey collection to all of the unseen design touches, Naqi and team at SHŌTŌ hope to immerse guests in a uniquely transformative restaurant experience.
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.