Sake Bombs for "Adults"
It has been almost exactly one year since my trip to Japan, and I have been craving the cuisine. What better way to satiate the craving than to celebrate DC Restaurant Week at Daikaya Izakaya. I've been to Daikaya for the amazing ramen on the first floor and was so excited to try the Izakaya upstairs. I was not disappointed. Keep reading to find out why you should head to Japan for your next meal in the District.
Restaurant Week: I typically think of this week as a marketing ploy to get the worst of what restaurants have to offer... sorry but it's true. If I'm going out for dinner, I want to try the best of what the restaurant has to offer, not the cheapest options on the menu. Thankfully, Daikaya Izakaya offered almost the whole menu and a choice of seven dishes to try for the restaurant week price of $35/person. What a treat! (That's why I chose it).
My friends and I started the meal with some Sake Bombs and were surprised by the nontraditional nature of the bomb. No table banging or sake dropping here -- the sake is encapsulated using the basic spherification technique and dropped into a mixture of Sapporo and ginger beer. As "classy" as this was, I sort of missed the interactive aspect of dropping the sake into the "bomb." I also swallowed the sake sphere whole, so I missed out on the flavor combination of the sake and the beer mixing together. Obviously I just ordered another one to try again. I think it's a fun variation of the drink, but also kind of scary and possibly a choking hazard, haha.
The rest of our seven courses were for the most part AMAZING. We were not aware that the menu was tapas style so there was some confusion when plates were dropped off at our table with no description or instruction. Once we figured that out, we were happily on our way to sharing and devouring.
Pretty much everything I sunk my teeth into was fantastic. The most memorable bites were:
Tuna and Watermelon Poke Simple, fresh and delicious. Perfectly portioned tuna to watermelon ratio with a little seaweed for some umami notes, sesame seeds for crunch and sesame oil for some clean richness to round out the sweet from the watermelon and complement the unctuous tuna.
Grilled Avocado I have a new obsession and addiction to grilled avocado. I didn't think avocado could be creamier, but this was. The creaminess was cut with housemade ponzu sauce (a citrus-y soy sauce) poured inside the pit hole, and the accoutrements were wasabi and nori salt for dipping. So simple but packed with flavor.
Fried Shishito Peppers I'm sensing a trend in DC with fried shishitos and I'm not mad about it. Simply fried and sprinkled with goat cheese and piquillo pepper sauce -- heaven. I was the winner of shishito roulette this round and finally got a super spicy shishito. It was spicy as shishito and I loved it. About one in one thousand shishitos are really hot - so try the game for yourself!
Pork and Brussels Sprouts "Okonomiyaki-style" My favorite dish during my Japan travels was the okonomiyaki- a thin crepe-like dough filled burrito style with pork, cabbage and other yummies. THEN it's topped with the okonomiyaki sauce - a Japanese mayonnaise sauce and a brown Worcestershire-y BBQ sauce (tonkatsu sauce). Basically crack. This play on okonomiyaki was two skewers of pork belly and Brussels sprouts smothered in the sauces. The pork belly was rendered to perfection, and the Brussels mimicked the crispiness of the pork with their yummy burnt tips from roasting. It was delicious and I didn't share any of it.
Chicken Karaage Why can't I get this at a fast food restaurant? Basically the best nuggets of fried chicken you'll ever eat. The chicken had so much flavor and juiciness, like I was eating a roasted drumstick right off the bone - and was encased in a salty, crunchy fried batter of addiction. The spicy Japanese mayonnaise (chili-kewpie sauce) was a wonderfully rich and creamy dipping sauce, satisfying the junk food aspect without having a moral hangover. Go get this.
Not so good: Fire Roasted Japanese Eggplant - the bechamel was broken, the eggplant was mushy - no textural interests and just really not good. I would not recommend this dish. It's ok though, there are plenty of other amazing things to try.
The common theme at Daikaya is the simplicity of each dish. Everything on the plate has a purpose and you're not overwhelmed by ingredients. Each bite transports you to the streets of Tokyo and tempts your taste buds into wanting more.
I can usually tell within the first minute that I step into a restaurant whether or not I'm going to enjoy my evening. It's not just about the food, it's about the experience. I'm paying for an adventure. At Daikaya I didn't want my adventure to end. The ambiance was warm and inviting - each table felt private but also part of the crowd. The staff was always smiling and helpful, and the bathrooms were AWESOME. I'm all about the private bathrooms.
But sadly, after a sweet ending of mochi and red miso ice cream, we had to say goodbye. I have already planned my return visit to Daikaya with my boyfriend and can't wait to try the rest of the delicious small plates.
Thanks for bringing Japan to DC, Daikaya Izakaya!
Two and 1/2 Hangry Stars for Daikaya Izakaya
PS - Since we didn't want our adventure to end, we stopped into Graffiato next door for a night cap and sweet Kevin our bartender was the shishito. After a bottle of shochu and multiple sake bombs, we were quite happy. Kevin put up with our outrageous cocktail requests with a smile and enthusiasm. Can't wait to try Graffiato soon, thanks Kevin!