One part laid-back Latin lounge, one part energetic izakaya, a dash of trendy U Street cocktail bar, shaken and poured into a new and stunning two-level space. Welcome to Sakerum.
The name is a clear combination of inspiration across two distinct, but here united, cultures. The interior, the food, and the drink all reflects this unity. Inside, interweaving international textiles back up unique wall décor and statement pieces, including a golden bird cage. And in a direct nod to the name, diners will find patterns inspired by rice and sugarcane throughout the space. The open-air upstairs space is now complete with a retractable rooftop.
Owner Stephanos Andreou said “I’m just all about people. I wanted something less serious, more fun, and both sophisticated and a touch mysterious. I was inspired to blend Latin and Japanese cuisines because I have always believed that though their perspectives are quite different, their flavors complement each other very well. I was also excited to bring this unique concept to a city like Washington where I was unable to find another restaurant like this before.”
Officially opened on August 22, the kitchen is helmed by Chef Khan Gayabazar, who crafts contemporary sushi, sashimi, and other dishes that cross Pacific trade and national barriers. Take the Mar y Tierra Roll – sushi made with lobster tail and tableside-scorched Miyazaki Wagyu beef, or the Yaki Tako, sweet and tender lightly grilled octopus kissed with lemon oil paired with a just-spicy-enough orange-mango salsa that provides a perfectly complementary bite.
Meanwhile, as for the liquor, talented Gina Chersevani of Buffalo & Bergen heads up the bar program as beverage manager, where she coordinates the crafting of equally alluring and creative cocktails. The “Pirates Creed,” for example, has rum, coconut, pineapple, yuzu, and nutmeg. Of course, she includes the featured spirits in her drinks, as well as housemade sugarcane juice, made from a machine right behind the upstairs bar (ask for a taste!).
At the opening party on Tuesday, August 23, Mixtress Gina debuted her cheeky tiki cocktail menu. Guests were greeted at the door with the “Welcome to the Bamba… Baby,” a warming concoction of red wine and bitters with berry, grapefruit, and lime. In a Caribbean take on a Manhattan, there’s the “I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so,” with rum instead of whiskey, and the addition of amaro sfumato and both orange and Angostura bitters. These are served at the mood-lit downstairs space, izakaya-style, snug up against the sushi bar and booths made both for boisterous groups and perhaps a canoodle.
The upstairs bar, meanwhile, goes full-on Latin lounge, with everything from the aforementioned sugarcane juicer to a frozen-drink maker. Slushie-style drinks are slung by bartenders in sleek copper cups adorned by shaved ice and sprigs of mint. Andreou said, “One of my favorite parts of the restaurant is the retractable rooftop on the second floor. It’s a gorgeous space that we can control the atmosphere around, and the small details, like the greenery and plants, make the area feel luxe and spacious.”
Chersevani told us that she “didn’t know much about sake when I started the project a couple years ago, but my passion for unique spirits means now that we have an list of rums, sakes, and other liquors that you’re not going to find at any other bar. It’s been an incredible learning process.” She also gave us the scoop on her Wednesday-only Sake Bamba parties, where she’ll serve unique sakes in limited quantities, giving her the opportunity to showcase the spirit and let different iterations shine that she’d be unable to do so on other nights.
Passed small bites wandered through the dense crowd during the event, including sushi rolls and chicken with mojo sauce. The party lasted well into the evening as the lights got low and the music turned up. Surely a good sign for this exciting space.