There are two ways to experience this restaurant across from Verizon Center. Soup nuts stay on the ground floor to sip the broth and slurp the noodles of Sapporo-style ramen in a spare, 40-seat shop. “Your attention should be on the bowl in front of you, not the surrounding design,” explains co-owner and Tokyo native Daisuke Utagawa.
The second strategy — my preferred — takes diners upstairs to a tavern (izakaya) that is double the size and more colorful, thanks partly to Japanese fabrics on the wall. Customers order from a menu of fried, grilled, steamed and “unique” small plates inserted into Japanese fashion magazines; as with Spanish tapas, the food, from Katsuya Fukushima, comes out when it’s ready.
Make sure your table sees Brussels sprouts alternating with pork belly on a skewer dusted with shredded bonito, and cod roe spaghetti made creamy with Japanese mayonnaise. Gouda-stuffed shishito peppers and dry fried chicken take back seats to golden crab croquettes filled with molten seafood chowder and a snack of plump fried garlic cloves so compelling we order a second bowl.
The bar dominates Daikaya, whose names means “house of big cooking pot.” Indeed, what appears in a glass intrigues as much as what arrives on a plate; a moss-green cocktail with an undercurrent of tea proves a refreshing twist on a gin rickey.