The owners of OYA, SAX and SEI are celebrating their 10 year anniversary in Washington this month. OYA (777 9th Street N.W.) and SEI (444 4th Street N.W.) both serve a modern version of Asian cuisine. SAX (734 11th Street N.W.) is the newest addition to the restaurant group and not only does it serve up a variety of French dishes, but also behind a glass-enclosed stage there are regularly scheduled burlesque performances.
All month, each of these restaurants is celebrating the anniversary with “Gift Extravaganza,” is the company’s way of saying thank you to its patrons. Diners can purchase a $100 gift card and receive two bonus gift cards of $50 each. Purchasing these gift cards also automatically enters the purchaser to win one of five amazing prizes. First prize is “The Extravaganza” which allows the winner to host a three-hour party at SAX with open bar for 75 guests. Second prize is a five course wine-paired dinner for up to 10 people. Third prize is a specially prepared five course wine-paired dinner at OYA, SEI or SAX for up to five guests.
Having eaten and enjoyed meals at OYA several times over the past five years, I decided to make a reservation at SEI one night when my husband and I were craving sushi. Having just returned from Central America where we had some of the best and freshest sushi and sashimi, including tuna rolls wrapped in fried plantain, we were hoping for some standout rolls at SEI. While our main desire was sushi, we started dinner with the wasabi guacamole with lump crab meat served with wonton chips. Although heavier than the sushi we planned to have, it was a delightful way to start dinner with the crab meat adding richness to this refreshing appetizer.
We ordered four sushi rolls for dinner including what our charming waitress, Melinda, refered to as their “signature roll” the Fish and Chips. This was flounder, potato crisps and wasabi tartar. We also had the tuna serrano, the kobe tataki, and the spicy yellowtail. On top of those rolls we also had the Honmaguro Toro Sashimi; the fatty blue fin tuna with orange miso and fresh wasabi. Fatty tuna is an extra special treat so if it is on the menu I recommend splurging on this sashimi, whose luscious velvety texture that melted in your mouth made it well worth the $24 price. Don’t bother contaminating this sashimi with soy sauce — it’s delightful without it.
I found the “Fish and Chips” roll to have a very basic flavor profile, and I believe it’s a “signature roll” because it’s an approachable flavor and texture for a wide range of people. The Kobe Tataki had a layer of raw Kobe beef of the outside with spicy crunch and watercress oil. This was a favorite roll of the evening and was a creative spin on sushi. The spicy yellowtail was topped with a slice of fresh jalapeno and served with yuzu jalapeno soy which somehow managed to light your mouth on fire with every bite. If you’re a spicy fan like I am, then this is a great roll for you, but if you shy away from heat then select another roll from the numerous options. The winning roll for my husband and I was the well-balanced tuna serrano, it was fresh and flavorful. With just a light dip in your soy sauce and wasabi, it tasted exactly like fresh artisan sushi should taste.
There are many additional items on the menu at SEI including other sushi rolls, small plate dinners, large plate dinners and sliders including the sea bass sliders that a diner at the adjacent table had selected, and they looked divine. We finished our meal by splitting the chocolate fondant dessert, which was the equivalent of a chocolate lava cake with melted chocolate oozing from the center of the moist chocolate cake.
Overall, SEI serves up good tasting and approachable sushi rolls with fresh ingredients and some creative pairings. I have never experienced any service issues at OYA and the same seemed to be the case at SEI with the waitstaff being educated on the offerings and willing to help patrons. There’s nothing groundbreaking about SEI, but it is definitely worth visiting, and just like with OYA (and I assume SAX) you never know who will be dining at the table next to you.