Sunday, August 5, 2012

Izakaya Seki

1117 V Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
202.588.5841
www.sekidc.com
Izakaya Seki on Urbanspoon

After a long weekend of eating really rich, really not good for you foods, I wanted something clean & simple for dinner.  I thought about making my return trip to Toki Underground but ramen didn't quite feel right.  Then, I remembered that Izakaya Seki had just opened up last week and that the menu was really intriguing. So, off to 'authentic' Japanese-cuisine land I went.  Now, I have no idea what 'authentic' Japanese cuisine really is but there was enough promise in the menu for a good and healthy meal that I couldn't resist.


The restaurant is located on a quiet street just a block away from the busy U street corridor.  I got there a bit early since all the reviews warned of lines and I was a little saddened to see that there were already people gathering in front of it before it was even open.  Fortunately, they were milling about the newly opened Tacos El Chilango and you could just walk right in to Izakaya Seki (my guess is that this corner of V street is about to explode with people craving good food).  The front of Izakaya Seki is so nondescript that could be the front of any residence on the street since the sign in the window is so small and the only indication that it's open is when a red lantern is hung on the outside.

I sat upstairs in the dining room area but next time I think I want to try sitting at the sushi bar downstairs as it looked like an interesting experience.  The first thing that really gets me excited about restaurants is that when you open up the menu, there are a million and one things that you want to try.  This particular menu happened to have a million and two things so I was doubly excited.  The waitress suggested I try three to four dishes first (which, of course meant four) and then see if I was still hungry.  For this meal, I chose the Ankimo (monkfish liver and yuzu miso vinegarette), Mero grilled with miso, Kushikatsu (pork nuggets & onion), and assorted roast mushrooms (shiitake/king oysters/beech).  The waitress also suggested a bottle of "unfiltered" (okay, so yeah there's no such thing so I'll call it cloudy from now on)...umm...cloudy saki which I agreed was a great idea.  Yeah, the waitress was evil.

The saki, of course, came out first and I don't know what it is about cloudy saki but I like the boldness of flavor that comes with it.  I feel like there's less bitterness and a more pronounced sweetness to it than regular clear saki.  Oh, and I also drink it like it's water which doesn't happen with the regular stuff.  This particular kind (Dassai 50) was particularly smooth and went down particularly well.  Izakaya Seki had me at hello.

The Ankimo came out first which was three thick pieces of monkfish liver served cold smothered with a creamy yuzu miso vinegarette (just spelling like the menu, ma'am).  So, the first thing is, if this is authentic Japanese food then hold the line, I'm booking a flight to Tokyo.  The liver had a thick, fatty, rich flavor to it that was well offset by the creamy sweetness of the sauce.  I did find myself craving just a teeny tiny bit more acid from the yuzu but that's craving with a very small 'c'.

Out next was the Kushikatsu which was breaded, deep fried pork on a stick.   Correction, after one bite, I figured out that it was breaded, deep fried pork belly on a stick or at least I thought it was since there was an evident thick band of fat on the pork.  The coating was more of a dry coat of panko bread crumbs which crisped up nicely and helped soak up the accompanying teriyaki/mustard sauce.  I would write more about this but I'm still stuck on breaded, deep fried pork belly on a stick.  That's really all you need to know.

Sometimes while you're eating, you stumble across a defining dish that will keep you coming back because the memory of it's flavor is seared deep into your brain.  The bolognese at Dell'Anima, the foie gras sushi at Sushi of Gari, and the steamed buns at Momofuku Noodle Bar are just some of the few dishes that come to mind.  The Mero grilled with miso is just such a dish.   The dish is grilled sea bass served with what I think are pickled scallion greens, which were wonderfully refreshing and palate cleansing, by the way.  The fish itself came out with a nice golden brown char on the outside and was flaky and moist on the inside.   The flavor of the fish was smooth, incredibly creamy and a bit smoky from the grilling.  The waitress told me that someone ordered two of these on Saturday night and all I could think was that was a damn good idea.

Strangely, the mushrooms came out last after quite a long wait (well, long enough for me to want to order the beef tongue but they had run out the previous night) and it was honestly a bit disjointed in sequence.  I liked the roasted mushrooms but felt like they should have been served with any of the other courses so I could alternate dishes.  They seemed to have served the pork right on top of the sea bass and then spaced out serving the ankimo and mushrooms.  I'm going to chalk this up to the newness of the restaurant but since they really don't have traditional courses, I think they may have to put some more thought on what gets served when.

I didn't know what to expect when I made it out to Izakaya Seki this past weekend since I was unsure what authentic Japanese cuisine is.  I do know that the menu looked pretty amazing on paper and I wanted to try almost everything.  There were some dishes I missed, namely the beef tongue, trotters, and fried rice, which I've already earmarked for my next visit.  However, the dishes that I did try were well beyond anything I expected.  They all had a multitude of flavor and were well balanced especially the Mero which I will be dreaming about for long time.  I can't wait to go back yet I'm a little hesitant because if the food remains this good then it will be very hard to get back in the door.

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