Hatoba, which means “dock” in Japanese, features floor-to-ceiling displays of ceramics and baskets, a callback to the Kappabashi district of Tokyo, where warehouses hawk restaurant supplies. A continent-spanning homage to baseball shows up in the jerseys on display from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Sapporo’s pro team. (Fun fact: Just like Hatoba’s new neighbors, the team was once called the Senators.)
Even a trip to the restroom feels like a seventh-inning stretch. Metal lockers line one wall, and a mural of the stands at a Japanese ballgame graces another. The soundtrack is audio from a Nippon-Ham Fighters game.
Distinctions abound on the menu, too, with the classic shoyu ramen — its broth rich and full of garlicky bass notes — getting upstaged by its more fanciful brethren. Here, I’m happy to flip the usual script, where the meat dishes get all the attention and vegetarian options are mentioned as a dutiful afterthought. My favorite bowlful was the vegan option, a curry- and miso-flavored ramen in which a rosy poached tomato, with its stem intact, floats in the center.
At first, it’s a little unclear how to attack the unwieldy-looking dish. But as you swirl, bits of the red flesh break off into the broth where they mingle with the noodles and . . . wait, is that basil? “It’s like Italian ramen,” enthuses a dining companion. (Make that Italy by way of Mumbai — the curry packs a fragrant punch.)
Red miso and clams are an unexpected pairing in Hatoba’s signature bowl, though the briny broth and plump bivalves make an argument for breaking from the familiar. And a yuzu-scented version is another welcome innovation, the delicate citrus leavening the dish’s double-pork punch (both ground and sliced meats bob around in the broth).
While Americans might not think of these flavor combinations as classic, co-owner Daisuke Utagawa notes that there’s actually wild variety even among the some 1,000 ramen shops in the city of Sapporo alone. “It is difficult to say what is traditional and what is not,” he says, noting that the dishes on their menus are developed in Sapporo at the Nishiyama Seimen Company, where they ultimately earn the blessing of the resident ramen master. “Our line is drawn by many people we trust who give us the stamp of authenticity.”
Not everything interesting here requires a spoon. Think you can’t get a top-notch cocktail from a receptacle typically used for sugary colas? Hatoba’s answer: Oh, yes, you can.
In addition to sakes and beers in pop-top form, options include a Maui Mule from Indiana craft distillery Cardinal Spirits, whose spicy ginger and fruity notes all but call out for an umbrella topper. You’ve probably heard of orange wine, the trendy category of white wines that use grapes fermented with their skins on. But it is less likely you’ve encountered Tarongino, a canned wine from Valencia, Spain, that’s made by fermenting citrus fruit instead of grapes. It’s slightly sweet, but complex and funky, too.
The place is often jumping, but the service system keeps things flowing. At busy lunch hours, customers place their orders at a host stand, then take a seat. Service is amiable and attentive, despite a few opening kinks (several times, servers responded to orders with a “let me check if we’re out of that”). And on two visits, the restaurant had sold out of the gyoza dumplings.
But we’ll chalk that up to another reason to plan a return trip — even in the offseason.
300 Tingey St. SE. 202-488-4800. hatobadc.com. Entrees, $14 to $16.
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