Growing up in the D.C. area, I didn’t realize how special cherry blossom season was until I left. Even fall foliage in New England (where I went to college) doesn’t compare. So when I found out that bushi-tei restaurant in Japantown had a four-course prix fixe meal in honor of cherry blossoms, I took action. Unfortunately for me, I’m not the only one who pounced on this unique offering of cherry blossoms mingled with wild shrimp, a brined cherry leaf stuffed with tuna tartare, veal loin stuffed with dried cherries and a cherry mousse with cherry compote.

Cherry blossoms in D.C.
Photograph by Heidi Sung

By the time I arrived on Saturday night, the last cherry blossom dinner had been served, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my own three-course meal. I’d been warned that the portions were on the small side, so I was surprised by the size of my friend’s lobster and crab salad. The generous chunks of meat expelled any concern that I might walk out hungry. We also got the classic tuna tartare, despite the owner Takumi Matsuba’s suggestion of seared foie gras with pumpkin pot de crème. (Tip: don’t go to an elaborate meal after a failed attempt at jeans shopping.)

Lobster and crab salad                                              Tuna tartare

I thought a second about getting the pan-roasted duck breast. I spent another contemplating the grilled Sonoma lamb chop and one more on the Kobe beef with pommes frites before deciding on the pan-seared Maine scallops. What caught my eye was the black rice tabbouleh accompaniment.

We finished things off with green tea and a black sesame blancmange, which was not like any dessert I’ve tried. Light and not too sweet, the black sesame seeds were pulverized and made into a pudding with a coconut milk reduction and pineapple salsa on top.

If you haven’t tried bushi-tei, it’s just the spot to take someone for a special occasion. No detail is left unconsidered—even the water is a micro-structured electrolysis water with a pH of 8.5-9.5—I don’t know what that means, but it was good.

As for décor, the wood on the walls and stairs comes from a Japanese home in Nagano that was built in 1863. The utensil holders are a design by Tak’s wife. And the toilets are like no other you’ll find in the city.

No wonder this spot got one of the coveted Michelin stars.