Update: Tom Sietsema reports that Daikaya's izakaya has passed inspection and will open for dinner March 28 at 6 p.m.
Whoo-hoo! More than ramen to slurp at @daikayadc now that it passed inspection forsecond-floor izakaya, which opens tonight @ 6 p.m.
— Tom Sietsema (@tomsietsema) March 28, 2013
There are surprises to be found in Daikaya's soon-to-open second-floor izakaya. "The more you come, the more you will discover," said co-owner Daisuke Utagawa, who pointed out the meticulous space's hidden details, from the whimsical skulls hidden in a traditional Japanese fabric, to the vintage Japanese "Star Wars" poster that hangs over one booth. Here's what you need to know about the 90-seat izakaya.
The inspiration: Izakaya means "bar" in Japanese, and Utagawa and his co-owners Yama Jewayni and Katsuya Fukushima have created a space that is entirely different from the ramen shop below, with a separate menu, too. "For me, what was important was that it felt like an izakaya," said Utagawa. They culled elements from the best places they visited on a trip to Japan. "I wanted a non-Japanese person to design it, because things would get lost in translation," said Utagawa. "I wanted someone who knew the hearts and minds of people here."
The space: The laser-cut rain screen that covers the building's facade becomes a piece of wall art when the sunlight streams into the space. "Traditional izakayas hang a lantern outside to indicate that they are open," said Brian Miller of Edit Lab by Streetsense. "We thought of the entire building as a lantern." While the ramen space is open and bright, they wanted the upstairs izakaya to be a little more secretive, and more of a journey.
The decor: The posters, chairs, lighting fixtures and wall decor emphasize "the Japanese philosophy of beauty in imperfection and beauty in randomness," said Jewayni. The chairs, lights, and decor change throughout the space -- some lamps are ceramic, while others are modern. Pointing to one fixture, Jewayni said, "I envision it as being in the house of a Japanese gangster in 1972." A rope wall separates off two of the larger booths, while other small ones are adorned with movie posters and advertisements brought back from Japan, or found on eBay. The wallpaper is taken from Japanese food manga, or comics.
One of the bar's most prized possessions is a stack of Japanese beer crates in a hall by the restroom. "In Japan, restaurants have such little space that they stack them outside," said Miller, who grew accustomed to seeing them everywhere on his design trip. "It became, for us, an icon of the space."
The owners' attention to detail extends to the glassware. They had Sapporo glasses custom-made with the Daikaya logo, and faux-aged. They also brought back mugs by Torys, a Japanese whiskey, with a popular cartoon character of a drinking man that can be found in many izakayas in Tokyo.
The food: Unlike the ramen menu downstairs, the izakaya will focus on shareable plates: Grilled and fried or braised small bites, rice and noodle dishes, miso soup and desserts. Some are authentic dishes that would be found in izakayas in Tokyo, like grilled whole oysters with a touch of sake and oyster salt, made by evaporating the water inside oysters. Others are chef Fukushima's modern interpretations of Japanese bar cuisine, like a shishito pepper with gouda cheese -- a smoky take on a jalapeno popper. For the grilled avocado with ponzu and fresh wasabi, Fukushima says he treated the avocado "like it was a piece of fish." Abura-miso, a fatty pork imbued with miso, is a recipe that he learned from his mother. The pork is so rich that you only need a dollop of it, he said, or it overpowers the rice.
The beer, wine and cocktails: All of the beers at the izakaya are either American or Japanese. Sapporo is the only Japanese beer of the eight on draft, but there are 40 beers total. They will sell large 22-ounce bottles, like Japan's Orion Lager, intended for tables of friends to share small glasses. European wines -- approximately 30 whites and 20 reds -- are also on the menu. Cocktails will be whimsical Japanese takes on classic drinks, like the Gran-Guro Girl, which beverage director Eddie Kim says is a less-sweet take on a Cosmopolitan: Byrrh apertif, Gran Classico, lemon, Peychaud's bitters and candied soba.
The sake: There will be 28 types of sake available, and they're organized by flavor profile to make it easy for anyone to order, regardless of experience. General Manager James Horn said that the sake menu is grouped in categories like "aromatic and fragrant," "dry and crisp," and "light and smooth," to help patrons understand what they were getting. He also didn't want people to struggle with the language: "If you look at Kiku-Masamune Taru, as an American, you might just order a beer instead," he said. "It's hard to sell something that people can't pronounce." They decided to give the sake Americanized names -- like "Pretty Boy," "Drunken Whale," or "Snow Beauty" -- to make people feel more at home.