50 Best Restaurants 2017: No. 1 Nasime

A Japanese restaurant in Old Town Alexandria

Photo by Rey Lopez

“Is this the best restaurant in Northern Virginia?” I said out loud, to myself, and also to the man I just met sitting next to me at the counter of Nasime.

He laughed and nodded, a little confused. “Did you read that somewhere?”

It was my turn to laugh. He would be reading that somewhere.

And so it is that this small, bare-bones Japanese operation is Northern Virginia’s best restaurant.

Courses oscillate from simple and pristine to fascinating and complex. A potato chowder would be more at home in a New England diner, but here it’s chilled, smoky, almost cloudlike, revealing edamame and a swish of funky, fishy bright orange uni.

A sashimi platter ushers in the familiar tuna, yellowtail, fluke and scallop, the latter so buttery it makes the cooked version seem unnecessary in life. The plate’s garnishes are a shiso leaf, yam stem (tastes like a cross between apple and cucumber) and a little yellow bud dubbed a buzz flower that the waitress/host/manager—and the only employee outside of chef Yuh Shimomura and a dishwasher—instructs us to eat at the end of the course.

Photo by Rey Lopez

We oblige, and all of a sudden our mouths are tingling, almost numb. If we came across this in nature, it would seem like a sure sign this isn’t meant for humans. Water only spreads the sensation. After a bite of the next course, creamy bits of foie gras and eel sandwiched with long beans in a crispy spring roll and finished with a scattering of miso-sauced barley, my mouth felt more alive—like this little flower opened the taste buds to understand flavor more deeply. It was wild.

And then, a return to simplicity: roasted guinea fowl, noodles, a soup brightened with floating lime slices. Spoons aren’t served. “We slurp in Japan,” says the chef from behind the counter as he passes bowls.

The five-course kappo-style dinner ends with a green tea ice cream made with ricotta. It’s roasty and grassy. And then there are these pink cubes of coconut jelly infused with pinot noir and berries; they are chewy and bursting with juice, almost like the first chomp of Bubblicious.

The $48 prix fixe menu changes daily and is affordable enough to visit often. Guests were turned away on a Tuesday night because this 20-seat sliver had already reached capacity. It’s also why a couple, upon paying the check, asked their waitress to make them a reservation two weeks from that night. “It’s my birthday.”

Japanese | $$$$*
1209 King St., Alexandria

(50 Best Restaurants 2017November 2017)