One year ago today, I decided to start blogging my food adventures, so happy blogaversary to me! Not coincidentally, this was also my special birthday dinner.
You wouldn’t recognize the 1100 block of V Street NW as being just a block north of U Street. At 5:30 on a Saturday, U Street was already bustling, but this place feels like a neighborhood. Izakaya Seki is almost disguised here, sandwiched between Tacos El Chilango (shoutout to that place!) and a bunch of soulless condo buildings. They don’t even have a sign, opting instead for a single round paper lamp. It’s only because of my naturally curious/hungry nature and my love for tacos that I even knew it existed. They don’t take reservations, so I was concerned about the prospect of getting seated (hence getting there even before the senior citizens), but there were still plenty of seats available, both upstairs at the tables and downstairs at the bar. It’s actually kind of criminal that they don’t have a line down the block like Little Serow and Bad Saint do every single night.
Look at this specials menu. Have you ever seen a cuter menu? Sanrio is missing out big time producing Hello Kitty instead of Hello Eggplant. Big ups to our server, who patiently translated all of the many sashimi options and then went through them again when we promptly forgot everything she said.
To drink, we ended up ordering a Toki Highball and a Japanese sake-barrel-aged beer. I’ll be honest that I had no idea what I was getting with the highball and let’s just say that if you like the slightly smokey taste of Japanese whiskey, you might enjoy this, which tastes like drinking lemon-lime LaCroix out of an ashtray. I’m sure it was fabulous if you’re into that sort of thing. The beer, which was not your typical light Asian lager but instead was stronger and lightly barreled, was actually much better. We also put in an order for four dishes. “For now,” said our server. We were nervous that $100 worth of food still wouldn’t be enough.
Our Chu Toro (fatty tuna) sashimi arrived in record time. I feel like we could have done worse for $27, but it’s not exactly a bargain. On the bright side, there were six thick cuts of fish and they had a melt-in-your-mouth consistency and a flavor that was mild but distinctly ocean-y. You know all those people who say things like “I like fish but I don’t like it to taste fishy.” Yeah, those people would HATE this. Also, you should probably stop being friends with those people. Who doesn’t want their food to taste like what it is?
P.S. Another fun fact: it turns out that real wasabi is actually not offensive, but instead offers a granular texture and a light hint of peppery spice!
Next, the vegetable platter arrived. We ordered three vegetables: the kinpiri (aka burdock, aka a plant that looks like a garden weed), the hijiki (black seaweed), and the gomae (spinach with sesame seeds).
Okay, furreal: this is one of the most delicious things I have eaten. Ever. I was a vegetarian. I cook a lot of vegetables. I understand vegetables. I feel like my life’s work has been defending vegetables from broccoli-steamers and brussels-sprout-boilers everywhere. And yet, I didn’t know vegetables could taste like this. The burdock and lotus root (bottom left) was earthy with a light chewiness like delicious mushrooms, the seaweed (top left) was ridiculously umami with a good crunch, and the spinach gomae (right) was cold, salty-sweet, and nutty all at once. Zero complaints, so much happiness.
We ordered the short rib off of the specials menu and ended up with this huge pile o’ meat:
They were caramelized with a delicious, sweet glaze. I think the most hurr-durr but also best flavor descriptor here is that this beef tasted BEEFY. Although there were a few really choice pieces here, in general it was a little chewy and hard to get off the bone despite being cut super-thin. I don’t blame it, though. Those veggies were a tough act to follow.
We finished the meal with the soba noodles in hot dashi. I would have preferred to try the traditional cold noodles, but the soup was the only way we could add on the pork belly and soft-boiled egg and I was not not going to do that.
This bowl was huge and easily splittable between two (or three, or four) people. The broth was seriously savory and oniony, made better only by the chili seasoning they brought to the table. The noodles were a beautiful al dente and the pork belly was soft and melty. We were left sucking the broth out of the bottom of the bowl.
So it turned out that four dishes between two people was extremely reasonable
Price: $50 per person.
Bottom line: You might think, “Vegetables? What are these even doing here? Nah.” But you’d be wrong. Prepare yourself for great service, interesting flavors, and happy tummies. Don’t miss the noodles either. It’s been a while since I had a meal this good.