444 7th Street NW
Sei was glowing and glamorous on a cold winter night. The decor is all warm and creamy whites, with touches of red. Candlelight looked especially good on this space.
Curiosity made me order a cocktail called Hello Kitty: vanilla vodka, St. Germain elderflower liquor, muddled lemon and orange, and hibiscus "bubbles." The list of ingredients sounds overly perfumed, but the drink was unusual and not too sweet. Another time, I would try the Japanese whiskey sour made with five-spice-infused syrup.
Several of the more attention-getting items on the menu were not available that night, probably because the city was still digging out from Snowmagedden 2010. I wanted to try the foie gras sushi with daikon, teriyaki berry glaze, and yuzu; the sea-bass sliders with apricot-chili glaze and yuzu slaw; and a few of the more unusual sushi rolls, but as I named each one, the waiter shook his head, and it became almost a joke between us.
We started with toro tartar (sic), with wasabi guacamole, salmon roe, and lemon soy espuma. It turned out to be something like a briny Mexican seven layer dip, scooped with crispy wontons.
I ordered pork buns expecting to get the fluffy white steamed type, but I was happy with a plate of flaky pastries, stuffed with richly flavored meat. The Kobe beef sliders with tomato jam and tempura onion rings were good, but not too far from what you might get at an upscale happy hour.
The "snow white roll" -- eel, avocado, roasted apple, sweet soy and sansho (Szechuan pepper) -- had no discernible apple flavor, just a mild sweetness that suited the eel. Other dishes -- a hand roll made from a wasabi crepe and duck confit -- and the sauteed shrimp were satisfying but not distinctive.
I would go to Sei again if I was looking for an unusual cocktail and some interesting tapas, Asian style. It was a good setting for a sophisticated, pre-theater dinner date.