Explore Washington D.C.

Back to the Future at D.C.’s Sei Restaurant & Lounge

Opened in 2009, this glamorous Japanese restaurant continues to entice with tantalizing sushi and inventive drinks.

Is it possible for a restaurant to inspire nostalgia and, at the same time, resemble a millennial dreamscape? So it seems inside the Seventh Street venue called Sei (pronounced “say“).

Glam lighting and provocative art plus the handiwork of chefs Noriyaki Yasutake and Avinesh Rana brought diners here (Michelle Obama among them) when Sei opened in 2009. And all of those appealing elements remain. As Penn Quarter itself has evolved into an even more bustling zone of theater, dining and nightlife, this dramatic Asian dining spot continues with grace, freshness and the same fine team, a rarity indeed for any city.

Sushi chefs Avinesh Rana and Noriyaki Yasutake
Sushi chefs Avinesh Rana and Noriyaki Yasutake (Courtesy Sei Restaurant & Lounge)

Begin with concoctions that offer either a gentle tang (Asian Pear Sangria of pear vodka, vanilla and sparkling wine) or high impact (Liquid Wasabi of unfiltered sake, lime, habañero and ginger-infused syrup). Sommelier Andrew Stover has devised a smart wine list featuring full and half-bottle sakes. Those delightful sakes pair with signature appetizers such as wonton chips to dip in wasabi guacamole (tofu, yuzu and a zing of japaleño) or seasonal dishes such as the autumn squash soup with ginger, lemongrass and green curry.

Three ways to dine here: create a meal of small plates such as the tacos tucked with Korean short rib or blackened snapper and mango relish; branzino with crispy okra or Chilean sea bass with caramel sauce, edamame and salmon roe. Or opt for a feast of sushi—rolls including salmon with cilantro, lobster with yuzu mayo and kobe with kimchi; sashimi such as tuna with shiitake and spicy ponzu or hamachi with truffle ponzu; nigiri including eel with chocolate soy. But the most adventurous plan? Call 24 hours ahead for Nori’s omakase, a chef-selected, market-inspired, multi-course array that’s offered Monday through Thursday.

The chic main dining room
The chic main dining room (Courtesy Sei Restaurant & Lounge)

Beyond a thatch of red bamboo, the lounge area sometimes buzzes at happy hour, thanks to drinks with names like Silver Samurai, Emperor’s Dream and Lavender Margarita. Yet even with a muted, thumping sound track, Sei projects a cool serenity. Its black-clad servers move between the illuminated columns of capiz shells, presenting menus laced up with “gold.” And the intimate chef’s counter with an infinity mirror seemed for one writer a space “carved from a glacier.” All makes this the right context for a dessert of sea salt ice cream, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and sweetened with a jigger of Madeira. 

Sei yes!