When Alessandro Borgognone announced last fall that he would be bringing his renowned New York City restaurant, Sushi Nakazawa, to D.C., he made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Just two days after the announcement came, an interview with New York Magazine ran, and let's just put it this way... Borgognone definitely didn't make any friends in our fair city.
"With D.C., I had reached a point where I saw so much bad that I was actually looking for the good. I couldn’t find it," Borgognone said. He went on to say that he saw no competition for his restaurant in D.C. "Can you name an amazing sushi restaurant in D.C.?" he asked. And the icing on the cake was when he used the most outdated, and probably D.C.'s most reviled, criticism of our dining scene: "It’s a meat-and-potatoes town. It’s a steakhouse town."
So I have to admit, when I was invited to sit down with Borgognone for a cup of coffee at The Trump Hotel and chat, I was unsure what I was getting myself into. Would the man across from me have actual contempt for D.C.? Would he stand by his previous assessment of our city's dining scene? Instead, I met a man who wanted to show me photos of his kids, ask about my history in D.C., and tell me about his goals for his latest project-- a man who wanted to connect. Is Alessandro Borgognone a man who is unabashedly confident in his product, and its ability to succeed? Absolutely! But is he also a man who seems to genuinely believe his product adds value to D.C. and wants to create something that positively contributes to the dining scene? Absolutely!
Read on for a few more tidbits of what I learned about Borgognone, Nakazawa and his views on Trump.
1. He's realistic about what his landlord's name could mean for business
"Could the name 'Trump Hotel' affect our business? It might. I am very honest about that, and I’ve discussed it at length. But if the product is that good, can you dispute that fact? As I’ve said to many people, you may not like the president, but hopefully you won’t be able to turn around and say, 'you know what, I had dinner there… meh.' But that’s up to you."
2. He fell in love with the restaurant's location long before it was The Trump Hotel
"We wanted a home that was going to feel like the West Village, so we were looking for a piece of architecture that was going to stand out and that was going to mean something. The Old Post Office meant so much, and was probably one of the most beautiful buildings in D.C. and that’s why we felt it was going to be a perfect home for us. The fact that it was historic was key."
3. He doesn't mean what you think he means when he says he sees "no competition" in D.C.
"I think we do something specific. Everyone has their own thing, their own niche, what they do best. I don’t want to think of anyone as our competition. I think what we’ve created in New York City, all the omakase restaurants, we have an incredible relationship with them. What Nakazawa has created is a forum of these chefs, and they all get together on a weekly basis, and they speak about the market, what’s going on and what they’re doing. And that’s what it should be like here – we shouldn’t have any competition. We all eat in each other’s restaurants in New York, and that’s what it should be. We should be creating relationships, not competition."
4. He wants to be in D.C.
"I’m excited to bring something that is special to us to a new city. And hopefully it will become special to Washingtonians like it’s special to New Yorkers. The more time I spend in D.C., the more I like going out in D.C. I have my favorites, don’t get me wrong, I’m a creature of habit and that’s my fault; if I like something I continuously go back to it. Like tonight, we are going to Oyamel, by Jose Andres. I love Fiola Mare -- I love Fabio’s restaurants. Whenever I’m here, I’m always at Fabio’s restaurants, and my kids love Fabio too. I try to get out as much as I can, but I’m never here long enough. I’m here two-three days at a time and then I go back to New York, so I don’t get to have dinner out as much as I’d like. Most of the time I’m having something quick because I’m in meetings all day. I'm excited to try everything, and see everything on every different level once I’m here more often."
5. Nakazawa will look almost identical to Sushi Nakazawa, but will have its own identity
"I think the biggest similarity between D.C. and New York will be that the product will be exactly the same here in D.C. as what people in New York have come to expect. As far as everything you would possibly experience walking in, to how we do business on a daily basis, to what you’re going to be eating and to the beverage program. The fish that’s being sourced out is exactly the same as in New York. As for the aesthetics, we are trying to get it as similar as possible. We want it to feel familiar when you walk in. But it’s also its own restaurant, here in D.C., so there are going to be some changes: different carpets, different flooring, the type of marble that we are using on this counter. Yes, they will be similar but we wanted this to have its own identity."
6. And, most importantly, he has some really exciting menu plans
"The menu is 21 pieces, and that all depends on what is fresh at the market that day and what Nakazawa is bringing in himself. That does change. Of course there will be a few staples on there, like Blue Fin Tuna, that won’t change, but yes, the menu does change. As far as the beverage program, in the beginning we will be starting with half the amount that Sushi Nakazawa has in New York, which means we’ll be bringing in 3,000 bottles. And we’ll work our way into having those 6,000 bottles that Sushi Nakazawa is known for."
Nakazawa, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave NW, $120 in the dining room/ $150 at the bar, slated to open before the end of 2017