Katsuya Fukushima is used to running two essentially different restaurants within the same building. He did it for years at José Andres’ Cafe Atlantico/minibar duo. For that set of restaurants, minibar was set within Cafe Atlantico, occupying not more than a small bar area, large enough for only 6 patrons. At Daikaya, now open for a little more than a year, the two restaurants share the same custom built building, but different spaces. On the ground floor lies the Ramen shop, a walk-in restaurant specializing in the Japanese soup/noodle/meat combo and a few other items. Upstairs is the Izakaya, a Japanese-oriented grilling restaurant that is a bit more formal and a lot more romantic. Both shine.
The ramen downstairs is exactly what ramen is supposed to be – soul-satisfyingly warming and delicious. Offered in a variety of styles and toppings, I had the Spicy Miso ramen on a recent visit. In addition to the deeply flavored broth and the comforting texture of the superb curly noodles (made in and imported from Sapporo, Japan to a recipe prepared by the Daikaya team in collaboration with Nishiyama Seimen, a Sapporo noodle company) mine came with extras of nitamago (soy and ramen marinated soft-boiled egg), corn and a pat of butter along with the standard house ingredients of chashu (roast pork), ground pork, wakame, nori and sprouts. Daikaya’s ramen is served Sapporo style, which uses a clear base stock called Chintan, that is a mixture of pork, chicken and beef prepared over 16 hours. Each element in the ramen contributed something wonderful to the finished product, both individually and collectively.
An order of nicely fried, essentially greaseless pork gyoza with sesame-chili oil and soy vinegar came with announced fanfare. These were a worthy side to the hearty bowl of ramen, though not in and of themselves worth visiting the shop for. That honor clearly belongs to the ramen, which is wonderful enough to make a visit here a necessary stop for any true ramen junkie looking to explore the finest ramen in this country.
But wait, there’s more! As if the ramen and its supporting characters weren’t enough, Katsuya, his partners Yama Jewayni, Daisuke Utagawa and their team also run the izakaya upstairs. Accessed through a separate entrance, the restaurant found one flight above provides a totally different experience to the more utilitarian ramen shop below. The ramen shop is a great place to go with friends for a quick and satisfying meal, while the upstairs restaurant is a great place to impress a date with excellent food and a romantic atmosphere without breaking the bank.
The well-stocked bar impresses with a fine collection not just of Japanese whiskeys, but an array of premium Mexican mezcales, international gins and a flurry of shochus and sakes. The house cocktails are creative, well made and delicious with a high level of attention to detail and a focus on Japanese ingredients like yuzu, matcha tea, brown rice vinegar and more without limiting itself to that shtick. Daikaya would be a super-satisfactory stop for someone just looking for cocktails with a few outstanding bites to accompany them. Over the course of a couple of days I tried several cocktails with each one being well balanced and delicious.
The food at the Izakaya comes in small plates at very reasonable prices for the quality. The menu is subdivided into a variety of options from “Otsumami//Fun Bites” to “Aomono//Green Things” to “Sakana//Fish Things” to “Kushi//Skewers” to “Oniku//Meat Things” and then “Gohan To Men Rui//Rice and Noodles. I tried at least one item from every category starting with Wasabi Tako, raw marinated octopus with granny smith apple, celery, a partial nod to Katsuya’s old boss – Arbequina olive oil (from California!) and wasabi sprouts. This was a beautifully colored dish that combined bright flavors with a variety of textures – a really nice entry int the menu.
Also from the Otsumami portion of the menu, a bowl of mixed fermented Japanese vegetables or tsukemono that included daikon fermented in sake lees, napa cabbage and takuan-zuke (pickled daikon) brought me back to last fall and a wonderful visit to The Cultured Pickle Shop in Berkeley, California. The various tsukemono, like all of the rest of the food was served on beautiful Japanese bowls and plates. The aesthetic and the ambience are very important at Daikaya and little touches like the plates and bowls add a lot to the overall experience.
Moving down the menu to the Aomono section, I experienced the Grilled Avocado with house-made ponzu, fresh wasabi and nori salt. This was a revelation! I love avocados, but had never had one quite like this. The ostensibly simple combination of creamy, sweet, salty, smokey, crunchy and spicy created such a total pleasure bomb. I will never again look at avocados the same way. There are the occasional dishes that set the bar for all others and this was one of them for me. If this moves off my personal list of Top 10 dishes of the year, I will be a lucky man indeed!
Continuing down to the Sakana menu, Katsuya Fukushima and Chef de Cuisine Michael Turner learned a lot from their time working for Andres in his Spanish accented restaurants. Here, the croquettes were superb – creamy on the inside, crisp out and full of great crab flavor enhanced by Old Bay seasoning, corn and a bit of a Japanese touch with tonkatsu sauce and nori salt.
In the same section I found Miso-braised Saba with mustard “caviar.” Saba is a strongly flavored oily fish that would not be delicious for those who don’t like strong fish flavors. That does not mean that the fish was bad or “fishy” – not by any means. For those who do enjoy those flavors, and I am one of them, this was delicious. It is thick, meaty and best of all the soft bones are completely edible. For the right people, this dish is a must have.
A good izakaya tends to be very good with the grill. If the Pork and Brussels Sprouts “Okonomiyaki Style from the Kushi section of the menu is any indication, this applies to Daikaya as well. Served with Kepie mayo, okonomiyaki sauce, bonito flakes and aonori it is an umami bomb. From the Oniku section, the chicken kara-age (no photo) were nicely fried chicken bits served with chili-Kewpie sauce. If McDonald’s actually served these instead of their chicken nuggets, I would actually be a fan.
Last but not least, from the Gohan To Men Rui section, I had a wonderfully rich and decadent spaghetti with cod roe, nori, chervil in a cream sauce.
Daikaya is just a delightful restaurant or set of restaurants. Both excel. They are different, but clearly related and absolutely worth a visit or multiple visits from any aficionado of good food, especially good food with a Japanese background.