My iPhone is the most essential tool I own, particularly when it comes to blogging. I write all my notes in my phone, and if my husband is not dining with me it also serves as my camera. Last week, my telephone crashed, and with it my notes and photos about a recent dining experience at the fairly new Izakaya Seki. This is disappointing, because I cannot share the pictures of my food, and more importantly I am unable to relay some of the details of the meal. My four friends who dined with me aren’t much help in recalling our dishes, and the online menu is only a partial clue as it doesn’t reflect daily specials. I can say, however, that this meal knocked me off my feet…literally.
I consider myself fortunate to have a group of friends who every couple of months are willing to hop on the Metro and traipse downtown to the restaurant of my choice. I am particularly grateful at this time of year, when there’s a chill in the air and it gets dark before we even set out on our journey. I am eager to try Izakaya Seki, which Todd Kliman of The Washingtonian considers “one of the year’s most exciting debuts.” Translated, izakaya means Japanese pub or sake shop. I am not a sake fan, and I’m not particularly attracted to Japanese food. Nevertheless, I am compelled to check this place out. Nestled in a neighborhood near the U Street corridor, it would be easy to overlook Izakaya Seki if you don’t know about its existence.
Our evening starts out on the shaky side. Seating is extremely limited and therefore only parties of eight or more can make reservations. Initially we have eight people, but our party has since dwindled to five. I haven’t called the restaurant to let them know this, mostly due to a lack of time. The woman who greets us at the door is really not amused. She is clearly pondering whether she must seat us. Shaking her head in dismay, she reluctantly leads us to the upstairs dining room. At 6:30 there are plenty of tables available, so I try not to feel too guilty. It doesn’t take long for my focus to turn towards the the food, and away from our annoyed greeter.
Once I can relax, I am comforted by an unassuming room that is appealing in its simplicity.
We begin our meal with a selection of rice balls with fillings such as pickled plum, pickled vegetable, and salted cod roe. We appreciate their uniqueness, although I would have preferred a touch more filling. Nonetheless, it’s a fun start and we’re eager for more.
Salmon tataki is wonderfully fresh and flavorful. In fact, towards the end of the meal when we decide to order one more item, we come back to this dish. We want a few more bites, even though there are so many other tantalizing options on the menu.
Assorted roasted mushrooms are appropriately earthy, and far more interesting than I imagined.
Only two of us are meat-eaters. We share kalbi, which are barbecue beef short ribs. The meat is tender and full of flavor. We enjoy the dish, although we’re envious of our friends who are savoring mero fish grilled with miso. Todd Kliman describes this as “good as heat-treated fish gets, with a sweet succulence and a delicacy of taste that make each bite feel like a discovery.”
Fried rice with garlic chips is a real treat, delivering more complexity than expected. It’s at this point that I feel my enthusiasm about Izakaya Seki building. My friends are equally pleased. I am always relieved and subsequently delighted when my dining companions enjoy my restaurant choice as much as I do.
Tuna sashimi is another winner, but this is where the details get really fuzzy. The last dish that I recall clearly is udon noodles with dipping sauce. We like the presentation, but some think that the cold slippery noodles don’t live up to the other dishes we’ve sampled. The flavor is certainly more subtle than the others, but I like it just fine. I am finishing my meal and at the same time thinking about how quickly I can get back here. I am hoping that it’s very, very soon.
We head out into the cold and towards the Metro that will carry us back to the suburbs. I am about to take a seat when the train lurches forward, hurling me (or at least the left side of my butt) onto the arm rest. It hurts. A lot. For the next couple of days I actually have to lean right when I sit in order to avoid the pain. The good news is that along with the discomfort is the reminder of a meal that gets better the more I think about it. Next time I dine at Izakaya Seki, however, I think I’m going to drive.
Izakaya Seki, 1117 V St NW Washington, DC
Washington Post Tom Sietsema fall dining guide review
Washingtonian Todd Kliman review