Chef de cuisine Toyoaki Kitamura, sous-chef Miwa Johnson, executive chef and owner Katsuya Fukushima and sous-chef Jose Maldonado sample their handiwork at at Haikan. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

Haikan: 2.5 stars, Good/Excellent

In preparation for their third ramen shop in Washington, the owners of Daikaya and Bantam King slurped their way through more than two dozen purveyors in Sapporo, Japan, their source of inspiration. Reflecting on the trip, and the restaurant that resulted, executive chef Katsuya Fukushima freely admits, “There’s nothing like this in Japan.”

First, there’s the size. Compared with the small noodle shops in Sapporo, the freshly minted Haikan in Shaw is “a monster,” with 55 indoor seats and a sidewalk patio capable of hosting an additional 40 diners. The menu would be out of place, too, starting as it does with an array of appetizers, including such cross-cultural mash-ups as mapo tofu with french fries. Ramen connoisseurs know the soup is meant to be dispatched quickly; snacks stretch out the time customers might spend at the table.

As far I’m concerned, that’s a good thing. As much as I’ve enjoyed the spare Daikaya and the spirit (and chicken focus) at Bantam King, both in the shadow of Verizon Center, the new addition to the family is the owners’ most community-minded effort yet. Haikan comes with a bar that dispenses novel cocktails and a palette of burnt orange, mustard and avocado that calms rather than agitates the eyes.

Look up. You have to admire a business that puts some thought into even its ceiling, coffered and as much a visual treat as anything else in the glass-wrapped room. Look out. Your view is that of Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Rear Window,” an apartment complex whose floor-to-ceiling windows reveal more than their occupants might want us to see. Indoors and outside are separated by a glass garage door that pivots in good weather, allowing for what feel like intimate street parties on the best days. Haikan takes its name for the Japanese word for “pipework,” an apt moniker for a dining room set in the Atlantic Plumbing building.

A pea-based take on the Caesar salad features snow peas, pea shoots, edamame, sea beans, a soft-boiled egg, Parmesan cheese and fried baby sardines. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

Act 1 on the menu taps into Fukushima’s lighter side. His riff on Caesar salad hews to the classic with shaved Parmesan cheese, but it swaps in snow peas, sea beans and edamame for the usual romaine and fried baby shirasu for the standard anchovies. Open wide, then, for the “Pea-sar” salad. Crab Rangoon — the San Francisco treat that launched a thousand hips — also makes an appearance. Haikan’s version is a cheffy one, with béchamel incorporated into the fried wonton’s cream cheese filling, its true seafood flavor acquired from sauteed crab shells steeped in milk. Those who don’t eat meat can get around jade-green kabocha squash, a warm wedge of which is served with whipped ricotta cheese and finished with a vinaigrette of brown butter and honey. “You can eat the rind,” a server tells us.

My candidate for the appetizer most likely to succeed is that mapo tofu, basically a bean curd gravy fueled with Sichuan peppercorns and draped over french fries, which, together with mozzarella curds and ground chicken, makes the delicious mess a poutine. (Fukushima uses frozen fries and makes no apologies for them. “If Thomas Keller can use them,” he figures, “so can I.”) The snack, ratcheted up with a crack of freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns just before it leaves the kitchen, is best washed back with something from the drinks list. “Smoke Show” looks as innocent as a glass of water. Just ask the server who mistook the clear cocktail for
H2O and gave me an unfortunate refill. But the drink, featuring a spirit made from aged long-grain rice from Thailand, plus Dolin blanc and a peppercorn tincture, packs a punch. The cocktail picks up smoke from its garnish, a thin sheet of cedar ignited just before serving and extinguished in the glass. Kanpai, kids!

Bean curd gravy with Sichuan peppercorns, ground chicken and mozzarella curds draped over french fries makes poutine that’s a delicious mess. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

The Smoke Show cocktail looks like a glass of water, but packs a punch. Just watch out for an unintended refill. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

The underperformer among the appetizers: steamed mussels dropped off in a little cast-iron skillet. The seafood comes with melted nori butter that leaves you wishing you hadn’t wasted calories on such a vague dip.

You’re probably here to slurp rather than chomp. On, then, to the ramen. Save for the vegetarian bowls, Haikan relies on a clear base broth (chintan) that gets its character from both chicken parts and pork, specifically bones, feet and ears. Diners select one of three accents: shio (flavored with dried scallops), shoyu (informed by a delicate soy sauce) or miso (seasoned with toasted sesame seeds).

Each flavor has its merits. The sleeper, however, is the vegetarian broth, its body developed by kelp. One meat-eating waiter volunteered the meatless stock as his No. 1 pick. “Then I add roast pork,” he shared, for a clean yet robust ramen. Haikan buys rosy, well-marbled Duroc pork, which it seasons with house-made five-spice powder and Chinese wine for warm effect.

The noodles, made for the restaurant in Sapporo, are thin, firm (yet springy) and best eaten first. All but the meatless ramen bowls get a surface of crumbled pork, roast pork, a sail of seaweed and crisp bean sprouts. Accents, including onions and garlic, encounter the harsh heat of the wok before they go into the bowl. The singed elements give the ramen a “whiff of the fire,” says the chef. Eating is believing.

Vegetable Ramen with chashu and a side order of pork. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

“A bright future” was the inspiration for the design. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

Additional toppings include supple, faintly nutty preserved bamboo and a loose, marble-size “spice bomb” built with crumbled pork and a variety of chilies. The latter releases its TNT as it subsides.

While the servers are reliable guides to the food, some of them helicopter around diners. “Can I offer you anything else at the moment?” one of them asked three times in less than 10 minutes. “A little time between dishes?” a companion replied under his breath. I get that Haikan isn’t serving a leisurely steak dinner, but it’s not as if we’re ordering from a drive-through, either.

The desserts at Haikan move me to (another) drink. Shaved ice infused with green tea and served on vanilla ice cream is simply not to my taste, while a squishy white roll plied with butter and red bean paste, a nod to Japanese sweet red bean buns (anpan), resembles something a stoner might throw together from not much in the pantry. If the restaurant dropped the category entirely, I wouldn’t complain.

Co-owner Yama Jewanyi, who helped create the restaurant with the design firm Edit Sense, was inspired in part by the forward-thinking Metabolism architecture movement in postwar Japan. The concept, he says, anticipated “a bright future.” A diner could forecast the same for Haikan.


805 V St. NW. 202-299-1000.

Open: Lunch Friday to Sunday, dinner daily.

Prices: Ramen $12.75 to $13.75 (not including optional toppings).

Sound check: 84 decibels / Extremely loud.

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805 V St. NW. 202-299-1000.

Open: Lunch Friday to Sunday, dinner daily.

Prices: Ramen $12.75 to $13.75 (not including optional toppings).

Sound check:
84 decibels / Extremely loud.