First Look: Daikaya’s Izakaya
stephanie | Mar 29, 2013 | 11:50AM |

It’s no secret that Daikaya, D.C.’s newest ramen shop, is one of the most popular spots for grabbing a bite this year. What is more secretive–or hidden, at the very least–is the traditional Japanese izakaya that sits atop the restaurant, newly opened. Co-owner Daisuke Utagawa explains that it’s common in Japan for a restaurant to have multiple dining establishments on each floor of one building, with izakayas–taverns designed for drinking, eating and general lounging–occupying at least one level. In fact, Utagawa says izakaya hopping is a tradition deeply ingrained in their culture.

“We’ll snack and drink and snack and drink all night and then someone will say, ‘we’ll we should eat something!'” Utagawa laughs. “And that traditional meal will be rice or noodles.”

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And so of course Daikaya’s Izakaya will offer these traditional meals up a narrow staircase just to the left of his ramen shop. He is thrilled to offer the Onigiri Rice Balls with salmon, kombu or abura-miso, and the Spicy Cod Roe Spaghetti (if you’re feeling adventurous). Guests can also enjoy traditional items, more or less in the form of Japanese small plates, like stuffed cabbage braised in dashi, or Ruibe–essentially frozen salmon sashimi–that literally melts in your mouth. Live oysters grilled with sake and oyster salt, and grilled avocado with ponzu and fresh wasabi are some additional mouthwatering options just plucked from a menu full of intensely unique plates, though their beverage program is nothing to snub either.

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Beverage director Eddie Kim notes his choice of simple cocktails that compliment the food, incorporating traditional and popular Japanese ingredients like Japanese whiskey, sake and Shōchū. Though the full bar will serve you whatever your heart desires, the team at Daikaya’s Izakaya hope you’ll venture out of your comfort zone and try one of their 20+ varieties of sake. (In Japan, Kim says, it’s more traditional to get a bottle so while they will serve carafes, they encourage bottles.) The impressive bar also serves three different options of sake bombs, as well as eight draft beers (Japanese and American craft), and a handful of Japanese whiskey–this izakaya is one of the only restaurants on the easy coast with this selection, with a goal of becoming the largest single source of Japanese whiskey in the region.

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Upon entering, the izakaya feels like the nighttime counterpart to its incredibly popular ramen-slinging sibling. Inspired by natural materials, the upstairs is dark and rich and textured whereas downstairs is bright and clean and simple. The walls are lined with digital prints of manga about eating, or a patchwork of Japanese fabric. It certainly is its own restaurant, however; Utagawa and his team aren’t worried about the proximity.

“Ramen is where you to and be alone and slurp,” Utagawa explains. “But if you want to hang around people, you go to izakaya.”

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