Thursday, June 27, 2013

DAIKAYA IZAKAYA is indeed the "in" place for DC dining and delicious dishes (6-26-13)

Have you searched for a place to eat when you are on a diet and after the meal regretted going out to eat?
As you may recall, we have been dieting recently and wanted to try one of DC's newest hot spots.
The neighborhood from Penn Quarter to Chinatown and now NoMa, is filling up with dining spots
and DIAKAYA is right in the center at 705 Sixth St, NW ( and is really two completely
separate dining experiences. Downstairs is the Ramen restaurant and upstairs is the IZAKAYA or Japanese
tavern where Chef Katsuya Fukushima reigns and creates delightful treats tapas-style to truly excite your taste buds.
We were worried about the high noise levels on arrival at 7:30pm, but the tables near us emptied out soon after and the din died
down. We were seated at the front of the restaurant facing the street (and the back of the Verizon Center) which is much quieter
than the center of the room or the rear closer to the bar. Upon being seated we were thrilled when our server Holly showed up and we remembered
her lovingly from our last and only visit to Bandolero in Georgetown (where the food was superb, but the noise levels beyond unbearable).
Holly was the perfect server at Bandolero guiding us through the huge menu and helping us to choose. Here at Daikaya, she really showed her
knowledge of Asian food, drink and ingredients. It made our dining experience one of the best we have had in DC in a long time.
Menus are presented staples in the pages of Japanese magazines which is oh so whimsical. My mag was a fashion type/catalog type which I really could not decipher
as so little was in English. Will's was all about tattoos!
Will started with a RICKEY-SAN Cockatial made from Hendricks Gin, Matcha Green Tea Soda, Yuzu and Lime which he liked a lot.
I decided to stick with sake and when I told Holly I was a big fan of Junmai Daiginjo, she suggested KAMOTSURU TOKUSEI GOLD, a Daiginjo  which comes in a small 180ml
bottle ($34), about 6 ounces, with a fleck of gold flake at the bottom--more whimsy. It is high in alcohol at 16.4% as sake is wont to be and full of earthy flavors with a hint
of watermelon. It is indeed a great sipping sake as an aperitif or with many of the dishes on the menu. After this we moved on to a large bottle of Unfiltered Sake (Nigori)
from KAMOIZUMU "Summer Snow", Ginjo named for its opaque unfiltered frosty white snow color. Holly told us that the Nigori water is considered the best in Japan, but what we loved about this sake was its
dark chocolate aftertaste. It is not sweet at all, nor rich, just a hint of chocolate, which worked especially well with some of our spicier dishes (think Riesling or red Zin). At $46 for 500ml (2/3 the size of a wine bottle) and 18.1% alcohol this would be our limit, and is the perfect larger sake bottle for a meal here.
I must add here that while we had an alcohol bill of about $100, our total food bill for 12 small shared plates was UNDER that amount, meaning we each ate for under $50.00!
The Izakaya menu is divided in sections and we proceeded pretty much in that order with two Cold Dishes to start:
House FERMENTED JAPANESE VEGETABLES can be ordered for $2.00 each or a small combo (which we had for $5) Napa Cabbage was the lest exciting of these,
yet the two pickled daikons were superb. Housemade NUKAZAUKE is a style of pickling that gives one flavor, while TAKUAN has a carrot-looking daikon fermented
in another style.
CUCUMBER SALAD is another pleaser, especially for the dieter or vegetarian, made with RAYU (a Japanese chili oil made from ramps) Vinaigrette, Crispy Garlic, Ground Sesame Seed and Chili threads.
I am not sure how these threads are made, but boy are they yummy giving just the right amount of medium spice to the dish where the cucumber is served sliced but arranged as a whole for a very
Yen feel.
UNIQUE Dishes are next on the menu and yes these were. FRIED GARLIC with KIMCHEE-MISO Sauce and Pickled Garlic has a similar taste and consistency to roasted garlic and is served with toothpicks
to pick up each clove and dip it into the tasty sauce which is not very kimchee spicy at all. It is another vegetarian treat that rings in with low calories as well.
WASABI OCTOPUS is one of the best treatments of the seafood and it is served raw cut into tiny pieces with Granny Smith Apple, Celery, California Arbequina Olive Oil and Wasabi Sprouts.
Again spice here is treated with great respect and the fish comes through winning.
GRILLED Dishes will also attract dieters as we adored the GRILLED AVOCADO with Housemade Ponzu, Fresh Wasabi and Nori Salt. Holly suggested we try the avocado alone first to appreciate the grilled style and it was a treat (new ideas for home grilling for sure!). We then added a bit of the (yes, not very spicy) wasabi and a dash of the nori salt, which is really a sea salt with flecks of seaweed. YUM!
JAPANESE EGGPLANT could win any non-eggplant person (we are two) over easily. It is served with a sesame-lamb sauce, Greek yogurt and mint and reeks of the Mediterranean.
While not for vegetarians, the small amount of lamb with the yogurt and fresh mint leaf make the most perfect and refreshing combination.
FRIED Dishes are less attractive to us dieters, but as we both adore Brussels Sprouts we could not skip the
PORK & BRUSSELS SPROUTS Skewer "Okonomiyake-style" with Kewpie mayo, Okonomiyaki sauce, Bonito Flakes and Aonori.
Aonori is a seaweed and Wikipedia describes Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki meaning "grilled" or "cooked". Holly says they are often fried and made with cabbage. This was the winning dish of the night and at $6.00 for two large skewers, one of the best deals around town.
The pork and sprouts are alternated on the skewer giving the perfect flavor balance and the pork is a slightly fatty belly cut that just melts with each morsel.
The next group is BRAISED, SIMMERED & STEAMED DISHES from which we chose CHAWANMUSHI-a steamed egg and dashi custard with braised SHITAKE, Parmesan and ENOKI MUSHROOMS and is probably (other than the pork belly) the richest dish we had all evening, but a superb treat marrying the traditional Japanese custard with the Parmesan flavor and superb fresh mushroom morsels.
As soon as anyone mentions TONGUE, my face lights up and I know I have to order it. On the other hand, Will frowns and pouts, but he gave in to a special dish Holly spoke of which seemed like it had been a French/Asian afterthought, rather than a Japanese treat: BEEF TONGUE CURRY in a Vol Au Vent with Peas & Carrots brought the adorable pastry pot filled with delicate pieces of meat (cut up so that
Will not only loved it, but said he could eat it this way again!) and fresh peas (they are truly in peak season now) and carrots in a mild curry sauce. Even the pastry shell was perfectly made and delightfully flaky.
We still felt we could try a couple more plates and returned to the Unique Dishes for the "HAMBAGU" a Japanese-style WAGYU BEEF HAMBURGER Steak, which was nice, but our least favorite
dish of the evening, perhaps because it was indeed just a very flavorful burger. We went on to the next section on the menu of RICE & NOODLE DISHES for the
COD ROE SPAGHETTI with American Caviar, Nori, Chervil & Cream Sauce which is a small and not too rich portion, so that the cream sauce would not add a lot of fat to our already large dinner.
It was a superb noodle dish making us want to return for the ramen downstairs very soon.
We tried one dessert: PURIN with CARAMEL ICE, Orange, Purin Espuma & Burnt Orange Zest. The simple custard dish was slightly frozen and perfectly refreshing as a palate cleanser after our superb meal.
Holly was approaching our table with Chef Fukushima who is an enchanting fellow with a wonderful background from all over the world, and I, for one, would go anywhere he is cooking, as this was indeed
a great dining experience from top to bottom and in every aspect. Thanks to Chef, Holly and the wonderful staff for making it so great.
On a final note, after dieting for almost two whole months, when I weighed myself yesterday, I was at the lowest I have been in about 5 years (my goal is to drop to 150lbs. where I was when I turned 50).
Upon hitting the scale this morning, I had not gained AN OUNCE! WOW, that says even more about this meal!