Daikaya Izakaya, Chinatown

Last night was Daikaya’s first “official” night of being open, and after a long walk across town, I got there at 4:30, only to discover the Izakaya opened at 5 (the ramen house is open all afternoon). 

I walked next door to Graffiato, and nursed a beer while watching baseball, then got into an empty, but eager, Daikaya right around 5, and took a seat at the bar. It’s a good thing my hip bone isn’t any wider – the seats that have backs are pretty narrow, but I’ve always had a birthing pelvis. 

The Dyson Airblade has competition in the hand-drying niche: Daikaya uses the Mitsubishi Electric Jet Towel which enables the diner, apparently, to request the check from the restroom – it has three buttons with lights: Power, Heater, and Check.

The Rickey-San ($12) is a wonderful way to start Spring, it’s a wonderful way to start dinner, and it’s a wonderful drink, period, actually I guess this is a comma, that could pretty much take you through your entire meal. It’s made with Hendricks gin, Matcha green tea soda, yuzu, and lime, and is bitingly acidic and only mildly sweet. I could drink this all night, and pretty much did.

Jessica Sidman of Washington City Paper describes my Combination Pickle Plate ($5 for three) perfectly, and the one I got looked *exactly* like the photo in the City Paper article, “Fickle Pickles: Only One Man Can Touch Daikaya’s Fermented Vegetables.” You’ll want to get these early in the meal, as if they were Korean banchan, and nurse them throughout. I loved all three (nukazuke, Napa cabbage, and takuan), but was particularly enamored with the takuan which, according to the article, is the only of the three that’s not house-made, being imported from Japan.

Ankimo ($8.50) with miso escalivada (a classic Catalan dish similar in spirit, if not in execution, to ratatouille) hints at the pan-everything lexicon that Katsuya draws upon in modifying Japanese classics. The escalivada was by no means an afterthought, and it was wonderfully made, albeit just a few precious bites. If you think about it, it’s an odd combination, but it works perfectly well.

My bartender warned me, correctly, that the Onigiri Rice Balls ($2.75) were ample, and I probably ordered them too early in the meal (but nibbled them throughout). This is one dish – which, incidentally, I haven’t ever seen in the DC area – that I know extremely well, Matt’s (my son’s) nana being from Okinawa, and this being her home-run specialty dish. Hers are to kill for, and yes, taken as a whole they’re even better than these, but both the kombu and abura-miso at Daikaya were good enough to make me crave them a day later. Interestingly, you have to wrap your own seaweed around the ball of rice (Shhhhh! Don’t tell Matt’s nana, but the rice itself was better), and I prefer mine pre-wrapped so the seaweed gets moist and loses its crackle – a minor nitpick that only a Rice-Ball Snob would even mention. Save these for late in the meal – they’ll make sure you don’t go away hungry, and won’t break the bank in doing so.

Either I’m just not remembering, or I’ve never before had, seen, or heard of, frozen sashimi, until last night, when I ordered the Ruibe ($6.50) – a traditional Hokkaido presentation of frozen (yes, still frozen) salmon sashimi with a dot of fresh wasabi, grated ginger, Sekigahara tamari, and some unannounced strips of white onion which, dipped in the tamari, were just wonderful. I’m not the biggest raw onion fan, but try dipping this by itself in the tamari and you’ll see – this wonderful flavor would never be created with regular soy sauce. As for the salmon itself, I certainly found it interesting, but also feel that some of the flavor is lost because it’s frozen – I’m going to research this dish a bit more to educate myself about it, and I look forward to trying it again after I do.

Late in the meal, I switched to beer and ordered a bottle of Coedo Shikkoku Schwarzbier ($12), a fine black lager, dark in color, low in viscosity, and mild in flavor. If you drank this with your eyes closed, you wouldn’t know it was this darkly colored. This lager would be a good transitional beer to introduce people to the world of darker-styled ales.

 I once claimed I didn’t love Rappahanock oysters, but boy I sure loved Daikaya’s Grilled Live Oysters ($2 each) which I assume were alive earlier in the day. Grilled in-shell with sake and oyster salt, the grilling and the sauce really made this *the* perfect oyster for the dish. In today’s world, $2 per oyster at non-happy hour prices is almost cheap, and if you take into account the preparation involved, these are a fine value for the money.

 Pretty well stuffed at this point, I finished the meal with the interesting Stuffed Cabbage ($8.50) which I grew up with as my mom’s extra-special dish, so this is my Ground Zero for comfort food. And Daikaya’s version did not disappoint at all, the cabbage stuffed with ground Wagyu, ground pork, a bit of onion, and rice, braised in the striking combination of dashi and butter which took traditional Japanese, modified it to traditional Eastern European, and modified that to something else still. Dunk the inner meat liberally in the sauce surrounding the cabbage.

 My first visit to Daikaya was a success, with not a single bad dish in the entire meal. I didn’t get a chance to request my check in the restroom, but I was highly amused, baffled, and befuddled by the menu which is inserted, page by page, into a magazine. I don’t get it, but I’m not complaining either. You’re off to a good start, my friends.

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