Vibe Check

DC is feeling a way about Shoto. And it’s all good.

By Stefanie Gans

Overheard on an unusually warm winter night: “This is the most packed restaurant in the city.”

Shoto had been open for a week, and on this Thursday night, there was not a single seat open at the bar. It was 9:30, nearing late for a DC dinner. There were maybe two tables empty in the whole place. 

The place was buzzing, shimmering like the gold sequin pants worn by the gorgeous woman with the lush, Disney-princess lashes. There was a long-bearded DJ playing to guests sipping coral-colored cocktails, squeezing thick slices of fatty tuna between chopsticks. The place was on fire. Literally. One wall is at least 20 feet thick with greenery jutting around window boxes framing faux flames, flickering to the beats, the hums, the vibes. 

It’s not easy to pull off this scene. Especially during a pandemic. Especially during the winter.
Especially ever. 

Shoto comes with pedigree. And though it is a singular restaurant, designed with DC’s tastes in mind, it’s born from the hit-making family behind ZUMA, ROKA, COYA, La Petite Maison [LPM] and The Arts Club from London to New York, Miami, Dubai and Hong Kong. Credit goes to venture capitalist and the restaurant owner Arjun Waney and his protege and managing partner Arman Naqi.

Growing up between London and the DC suburbs, Naqi studied finance at George Washington University. But it wasn’t what he wanted to be doing. His travels to the world’s hottest cities gave him a taste of the sceney, glitzy restaurants that are so on point they might as well be a mirage. He wanted in. 

And like the good student he always was, he studied how to make that happen. He wrote a cold email to Waney. If he wanted to get into the hospitality industry, he wanted to learn from the best. Eventually Waney relented and gave Naqi a chance to open COYA. In the decade since, Naqi kept his eye on the bet to bring DC one of these gems. 

Shoto is a modern Japanese restaurant complete with two full-time leads, executive chef Alessio Conti and executive sushi chef Kwang Kim. Both bring resumes filled with bold names (Conti for AMAN Resorts’ NAMA and Kim for Morimoto, Masa and Nobu, and both with plenty of time in the Waney world of restaurants). 

The food ranges from straightforward cuts of the most pristine fish flown in from the waters off Japan; scallops with shiso and plum butter streaked with charmarks from the robata grill; and the wagyu tomahawk steak for which there are no words. The menu is vast: thin, crispy potatoes shaped taco-style and filled with salmon and wasabi mayo; pork ribs glazed in a katsuo barbecue sauce; and the omakase, an outlandishly sexy way to spend a night eating the best from the kitchen. Dinner can end with an extravagant ice show, where a rainbow of tropical sliced fruits and scoops of ice cream and sorbet sit amongst crystal clear ice pebbles. 

Food is one thing, and Shoto does it well. Mood is another, and Shoto perfected it.

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