Whether it’s fate, kismet or constant coincidence, Carlie Steiner and Kevin Tien spent more than a year bumping into each other working at Oyamel and other DC restaurants, one creating interesting cocktails and the other cooking up inspired cuisine. Now these two are close friends and the partners behind Himitsu, the new Japanese-inspired restaurant opening at 828 Upshur Street. They’re looking to mix their individual skills into a new take on food and drink.
“It’s a collaboration,” Kevin told me as we spoke about the way they plan to have chefs make some of the drinks, and the bartenders make some of the food. They said the chefs will craft a cocktail or two, while the bar staff will similarly make one or two of the dishes.
“This is the first time a bartender and chef both work out of the same kitchen, working together,” Carlie said. “It’s unusual, and it takes a lot of training.”
The shape and feel of the small, intimate space that was once Crane & Turtle and the short-run Cappy’s Crabs helped inspire the idea of collaboration. “The space pushed us in doing what we want to do,” Carlie said, pointing out how the bar area will be in the kitchen, just past the counter where customers can watch both the bartender and the chef do their work.
Carlie is the bartender, bringing experience from restaurants around New York City and DC, as well as a degree in culinary management from the Culinary Institute of America. Working in restaurants since she was 14, she planned to be a chef. Her first job put her behind the bar, where she fell in love with cocktails and learned to use her skills to create culinary-based syrups, infusions and juices using tools found in the kitchen. Drink as food, so to speak, and it became her passion.
Kevin is Himitsu’s chef, and has worked in the restaurant industry since he was 13, starting at his family’s own restaurant. “I grew up in a kitchen,” he said, “and worked in many other different ones. I’m taking from those experiences for Himitsu.”
They’re eager to use their different and similar skills to offer something unique. “We want to make food we like to eat,” Carlie said. “Latin American, Southeast Asian… we don’t want to limit ourselves. We’re not a sushi restaurant, per se, but we are definitely Japanese inspired.”
There will be sushi, however, just not necessarily always the typical kind. “We’ll have all types of rolls, but more flavorful, more experimentation,” Kevin said. “We want to have a large nigiri selection, with yakumi accents.”
He said they plan to offer a wide selection, but it depends upon what is available each day from the fish market. The menu will change often, depending upon their interests and the interests and feedback from customers.
“We’ll have cold, composed sashimi plates,” Kevin said, as well as vegetarian and vegan options. “And we’ll have meat-lover options,” he said, smiling. “We don’t want to exclude anybody.”
As the Washington City Paper mentioned in its recent article, the menu will be interesting.
Sample dishes from Tien's menu, which is divided into sushi and sashimi, maki rolls, cold tastings, and hot tastings, include yellowtail with thai chili nam pla prik and tobiko; karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken) with a sorghum Szechuan glaze; and a "tamago tonton" roll meant to taste like bacon and eggs with katsu pork belly, miso, tamari, and egg mustard.
Also, those who want the ultimate Himitsu experience can verbally request an omakase-style experience in which Tien and Steiner craft a meal tailored to diners' food and drink preferences.
The Japanese inspiration includes the bar. “No limitations,” Carlie said. “Expect to see lots of sake and Japanese whiskey and sherry.” Carlie mentions a few times that she has developed a love affair with sherry, and customers should expect to see different pairings between Kevin’s dishes and options for the best sherry to go along with the dish.
“I love to pair sherry with Asian food,” she said. “And I think our classic cocktails will be the top fan favorites. We’ll have the staples along with daily changes to the drink menu.”
While both now live near H Street, they both have a connection to Petworth. Kevin worked in the area as recently as a year ago, and Carlie lived in Petworth and helped some of the local restaurants create their cocktail menus.
Unlike Cappy’s and Crane & Turtle, Himitsu isn’t a Paul Ruppert restaurant. “We’re subletting the space from Paul,” Carlie said. “We’re really excited to be part of Petworth,” Carlie said. “We want feedback and a connection to the community.”
Some of that community feedback has already expressed itself with unhappiness that Himitsu won’t be taking dinner reservations. “Yeah, we saw those comments,” Carlie said. “We definitely understand the concern, and we want our customers to understand why we’re doing that. We only have 24 seats in the restaurant, and our goal is to fill to capacity. We don’t want to be one of those places where you show up asking for a table, seeing an empty table or two, and being told no, that the empty tables are for someone else. We want to fill the seats when they’re available. We think that’s the best approach.”
“Yeah, we get it,” Kevin added. “We really want to provide an equal opportunity for everyone to come and dine.”
They’re planning on having outdoor service and eventually, outdoor tables (but not by launch). For now, if you show up and there isn’t a table, they’ll take your name and suggest you grab a drink or cross the street to one of the other bars while you wait. They think the flavors of their drinks and food will make the wait worthwhile. And right now they say the most expensive thing on the menu will be $18-$22 for an entree, mainly due to the cost of the quality fish and ingredients. “We want to be a place people can feel comfortable coming to and finding something different each time.”
Meanwhile, they’re hoping you only have to wait a few more weeks until they open. They’re spending 16-hour days fixing up the restaurant and getting it ready for Himitsu. “We’ve been working all day, going home to sleep for a few hours, and then back again,” Kevin said. “It’s great, we’re really excited.”
Himitsu plans to open its Japanese-inspired restaurant in mid- to late October.
- Cappy's Crabs gets a new concept and name (September 30, 2016)