From Jane Alonso. Her passion for food and spirits leads her on frequent excursions into Borderstan’s land of bars and restaurants. Email her at jane[AT]borderstan.com.
The highly-anticipated Daikaya ramen bar introduces the art of traditional Japanese ramen to an American audience familiar mainly with the styrofoam microwave cup variety.
Opening to long lines in February, Daikaya is the latest in a new wave of hip noodle shops hitting the DC foodie scene, joining Toki Underground (H Street NE) and Ren’s Ramen (Wheaton, MD) in showcasing authentic Asian noodle bowls in a fast-paced, open-kitchen atmosphere.
Worth the Long Wait
What makes Daikaya worth the long wait? The noodles are the real deal — long, tender, wavy, yellow strands made by Nishiyama Noodles in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Yes, you heard it right — the noodles are actually imported from Japan, shipped directly to Daikaya.
It seems unbelievable that the ramen would not made in-house given that it is what the restaurant showcases, but Chef Katsuya Fukushima believes that ramen is such a unique commodity it has to be made in Japan to be truly authentic (note that Ren’s Ramen made the same decision – it also gets its noodles from Nishiyama).
The delicious and rich broth is all Fukushima’s making. Daikaya’s stock is “chintan” style — mostly pork-based, with some beef and chicken thrown into the mix. As noted in a fascinating interview with the former Minibar chef in City Paper, Fukushima uses a bit of the stock from the night before in every new batch of stock he makes, just as a bread starter might be used for years. This gives the stock its deep complexity.
Three Choices of Ramen
Three choices of traditional ramen are offered at Daikaya, each featuring a different flavor added to the stock: shio (salt), shoyu (soy), and mugi-miso (barley-miso). All bowls come with ground and sliced pork, vegetables (bean sprouts, onions, and chashu) sautéed in a wok, and several pieces of nori seaweed. There is also a vegan bowl of ramen for non-meat eaters. The soup is served made-to-order and the server will urge you to eat it right away, before the noodles become soggy or the broth too cloudy. This isn’t a venue to linger over your food.
For an appetizer, try the beautiful fried, made-to-order gyoza (fantastic, though I wasn’t a big fan of the vinegary, slightly bitter dipping sauce). Wash it all down with a sake, a Japanese beer, or calpico, a milky drink. And that is it for the simple, straightforward menu. Like in Asia, you go to a ramen bar for ramen and not for sushi or steak or even conversation with your fellow diners. The mantra here is to order quickly, eat quickly, pay quickly and move on with the rest of your day.
Fukushima is serious about ramen — despite his years of training in molecular gastronomy (including an apprenticeship at El Bulli in Spain), Fukushima spent three weeks in Sapporo under the tutelage of a ramen-master before opening Daikaya. The results show. The ramen is satisfying and delicious, and according to friends who have spent time in Japan, about as authentic a ramen experience as you can get in Washington, DC.
And there is more to come. On March 29, Fukushima and his business partner, Daisuke Utagawa (who also owns Sushiko), plan to open an izakaya, a type of Japanese drinking establishment, which also serves food to accompany the drinks, on the second floor above Daikaya.
Will Fukushima use the space to showcase some of his creative abilities honed in the Jose Andres empire? Keep watching this space for a future report.
The Details: Daikaya
- Where Am I Going: Daikaya, 705 6th Street NW.
- When Am I Going: Sunday through Monday, 11:30 am to 10 pm; Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 am to 11 pm; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 am to midnight.
- Paycheck Pain: Ramen bowls run between $11.50-$12.75.
- Say What? Daikaya is not a destination for a quiet romantic dinner; the small space is packed and rollicking.
- What am I eating and drinking: Ramen, gyoza, beer and sake.