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Japan Inn and Sushi-ko Washington, D.C. Two of the finest sources of sushi in the District are located just a few blocks away from each other. The two rivals, Sushi-ko and Japan Inn, on Wisconsin Avenue in upper Georgetown, are as different in style as they are equal in quality. Sushi-ko’s hip attitude is shown by its “Gone Fishing” sign, displayed when the place is closed. Japan Inn’s reserved mind-set is represented by owner Izumi Yoshimoto’s family crest of a trio of arrow tails, decorating everything from the chopstick wrappers to the dining room curtains. The oldest sushi restaurant in the capital, Sushi-ko lost its top chef – he opened his own Kaz sushi bistro downtown, also an excellent choice – but it has benefited from an extensive make-over of a few years back which gave its two floors a simple and casual look. Even the restroom sinks display a spare elegance. A more sedate choice, with its waitresses in kimonos, Japan Inn also recently remodeled, but did not modify its shoji screens, tatami mat rooms, and timber framing. When filled with the diplomatic crowd, as it often is, it can be noisy and smoky. Sushi-ko and Japan Inn have extensive appetizer offerings. Each serves good edamame, the increasingly popular soybean appetizer that is the rough equivalent of a bowl of nuts as an accompaniment to a bottle of Asahi or Kirin beer. Sushi-ko has daily specials, such as spicy mussels or soft-shell crab, but Japan Inn boasts more than 100 authentic “little dishes” such as age-dashi tofu (with a tempura-like coating, fried, and in a light broth) and eggplant topped with a thick miso paste. Sushi-ko has the edge over Japan Inn, however, in its sake list of a half-dozen premium labels of the rice liquor. Served cold in sculptural vessels, only experience in sampling exposes its subtleties. The real reason to visit either restaurant is the sushi, of course. They offer the nigiri, slices of fish on vinegared rice; maki rolls, including the familiar California variety with avocado and imitation crab; hand-rolls, large servings of fish and rice wrapped in nori (dried seaweed); and sashimi, slices of fish with a bowl of rice. Sushi-ko always changes; Japan Inn remains constant. Depending on availability, Sushi-ko may be serving fatty tuna, richer than the regular tuna; Spanish mackerel, more delicate than regular mackerel; bonito; or scallops. It has followed the trend of providing fresh wasabi — the sinus-clearing horseradish condiment daubed on the sushi — as a special option. The fresh wasabi is less powerful than but just as intense as its reconstituted-from-powder counterpart. Japan Inn has the greatest value in sushi, chirashi. Served in a faux-lacquer box, chirasi consists of a sampling of sashimi — tuna, salmon, egg omelet, red snapper, yellowtail, mackerel, octopus, sweet shrimp, cooked shrimp, eel, among other items — served with a bed of rice that has such toppings as shiitake mushroom, fish roe, cucumbers, and ginger. The egg omelet, painstakingly prepared as a measure of a chef’s talent, has the right flavor of slightly sweet. Those who are new to any fish that has not been filleted, breaded, and fried will still find plenty to enjoy on the menus at Sushi-ko and Japan Inn. The salmon teriyaki at Japan Inn in particular is probably the best to be had in the area. Dessert is not the strength of Asian cuisines. Sushi-ko has a light and refreshing sake sorbet that can be recommended. Neither Sushi-ko nor Japan Inn is a bargain — for that matter, worthwhile sushi generally cannot be found cheaply. Dinner for two, with drinks and a generous tip, is likely to run between $75 and $100. Anyone serious about sushi owes it to themselves to try both restaurants. While Sushi-ko is more trendy and popular and Japan Inn more traditional and insider, both establishments offer the freshest fish in town. Frank H. Wu is clinic director and an associate professor at Howard University School of Law. Restaurant: Japan Inn Location: 1715 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. Phone: (202)-337-3400 Restaurant: Sushi-ko Location: 2309 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. Phone: (202)-333-4187

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