Dining Review

Japanese Flair Comes to Federal Hill

Federal Hill adds a chic sushi restaurant to its repertoire

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Though most diners think of to Atwells Avenue for Italian food, other cuisines often make an appearance along the dense strip of restaurants. Nami, which opened earlier this year, describes itself as a Japanese sushi restaurant, but the menu also features appetizers, hibachi and entrées.

Step inside Nami’s black lacquered door and it’s evident that the designers aimed to create a sexy, trendy ambiance. The decor is a mixture of textures and elements, such as wood panels, a marble bar, white leather booths, a glittery gold wall piece and soft brown leather menus. Seating is ample and you can take your pick of environments: bar, sushi bar, booths, tables, hibachi tables and even a private hibachi room one can reserve. Carved wood panels separate the seating areas, so although the restaurant is large, it doesn’t feel cavernous.

In order to get the full Nami experience, we sat at a hibachi table but also ordered appetizers and sushi. I perused the cocktail menu and couldn’t resist the Wasabitini ($10), made with vodka, ginger and wasabi. I’m a big wasabi fan, but the cocktail was sweet enough that even the less enthusiastic would still find it palatable. I had to stir it once or twice to redistribute the wasabi, but it might have settled because I was sipping slowly. My husband had the Lycheetini ($10), a classic that must be a popular choice.

To accompany our cocktails, we ordered the Soft-shell Crab appetizer ($14), described as “fried Japanese crab mixed with sea salt.” It was served in a martini glass over a bed of mixed greens with sweet dipping sauce on the side. The crab was perfectly fried and tender.

On the signature sushi list, the Tuxedo Roll ($13) consisted of shrimp tempura, cucumber and avocado wrapped in soybean paper and topped with spicy tuna, black tobiko, wasabi dressing, spicy mayo and unagi sauce. We were considering ordering a second specialty roll, but when the first arrived, it was huge. The flavors and textures were creative and well matched, but like many large rolls, it was difficult to pick up without dismantling (a hazard well worth the trouble).

Nami’s hibachi meals come with soup and salad. I didn’t expect the soup to be such a high point of the meal, but it was outstanding – a velvety, rich beef broth with enoki mushrooms. The greens in our salads were very fresh and we enjoyed the gingery dressing. To be honest, I was nervous about the hibachi. Like stand-up comedy, good hibachi can be enjoyable and involving, but at its worst it can be awkward and uncomfortable. I was relieved when other diners were seated at our hibachi table halfway through our appetizers. Hibachi is always more fun with a group, and even better, our tablemates were in a party mood.

Our hibachi chef, a young man who (with a wink) told us to call him Jackie Chan, was amazingly skilled behind the grill. He juggled the implements and ingredients with such ease that we never feared that something would be dropped or splashed, a trust that’s important to cultivate whenever knives are flying through the air. He started by preparing the fried rice, juggling and cracking the eggs, then mixing in the rice and other seasonings. We enjoyed watching the show while sipping Sapporo on draft ($5).

After piling the fried rice on our plates, our chef began cooking the main ingredients. Nami offers many hibachi options – I chose the Scallop ($29) and my husband ordered the Filet Mignon, medium rare ($32). The chef managed the table’s five orders without a problem, even accommodating specific dietary needs. We were impressed that the cubed filet was cooked perfectly to order, and I noted the flavor of the fried rice, which was more complex than most and not too salty. To accompany the hibachi, the chef prepared an ample pile of vegetables, and we each had creamy seafood and tangy ginger sauces. While cooking, he continued to interact and entertain us with hibachi theatrics. His most appreciated trick was squirting sake in our mouths, and we must have made a hilarious sight trying to catch it without laughing.

We wisely packed up some of our hibachi to save room for dessert. The Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse ($7.50) was a surprisingly large dish: the orange-laced dark chocolate mousse was accompanied by a scoop of ice cream and a sliced half orange.

Tying the meal together was a high standard of service – our hostess, waitress and hibachi chef were very experienced and attentive. With all that Nami had to offer, a return visit is definitely in order.