Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: Daikaya - Chinatown/Penn Quarter DC

Awesome metal facade.
Aaaannnd shocking, another ramen shop has opened in DC, and lucky me, this time it’s in my neighborhood.  In fact, I look out my apartment window at their rooftop, and that’s dangerous because this place is good.

The décor is kind of nondescript.  There isn’t much on the walls, as you can see from the picture.  The lights are bright – they are basically just bulbs hanging from red string. Funky, for sure, but I tend to like a little ambient lighting…a dimmer switch might be nice.  As for the seating – there are two regular sized booths and two large communal tables.  The bar (ramen bar, not alcohol bar) seated 11 people the night I was there.  Japanese ramen places are typically quite small from what I’ve read, so this is technically on the large side.

View from the ramen bar.
The service was great. We were told there was a 30-45 minute wait so they took our phone number.  We went next door to Graffiato for a drink and sure enough, we had barely finished one drink when we got our call.  We were seated up at the bar, which was actually great for me.  It allowed me to watch the cooking process and ask questions of both our waiter and the chef, who was standing watch over the kitchen. 

But on to the food.  We started with dumplings for an appetizer.  They only have one option – pork – which is fine for me, but it does alienate lots of people.  At any rate, they were pretty tasty and had a great texture.  Chewy and a little crunchy on the bottom, with well seasoned filling.

Daikaya offers 4 types of ramen – Shio (basic chintan style stock), Shoyu (soy), Mugi-Miso (barley miso) and Vegetarian.  I had the Shio which is the lightest of the meat-based soups.  The broth was clear and flavorful.  It had both ground pork and a slice of very tender roasted pork.  I added an egg, which was cooked perfectly with the yolk still just slightly soft.  The noodles were excellent – perfectly al dente, plentiful and very tasty.  Apparently they are shipped from Japan after being aged there for about a week.  They are frozen when shipped, but then aged for about another week once they arrive.  The recipe is one that Chef Katsuya Fukushima developed with the noodle-maker specifically for Daikaya, and that has paid off, they’re truly delicious.  My only gripe is that I could have used a little heat.  They have chili oil available and I used some of that, but it didn’t seem to do too much – maybe I just didn’t use enough.  That’s obviously a minor gripe though, and simply due to my personal preference.  Other than that, it’s damn good.

Cooked to order noodles.

Here’s the final breakdown:
  • The service was great, but I didn’t love the ambience.  I didn’t see the upstairs though, which was not yet open but will serve drinks and izakaya snacks.
  • No bar, at least as of now.  Beer and cold sake are the only alcohol options.  One of my dining companions was very excited about the soda in a can, however...
  • The seating consists of stools, both at the bar and the tables (though I can’t remember if the two smaller tables are legit booths with benches or also have stools).  The bar seats did offer ample hooks under the bar so coats and purses were out of the way – bonus points!  No idea if hooks exist at the communal tables.
  • They offer a totally vegan broth based option! And there is no shellfish in the restaurant – more bonus points for those allergy ridden folks like myself.
  • The ramen prices are in line with the competitors – Toki is $11-$12 while Sakuramen is $11-$15.  Taan’s range from $12-$15.  Daikaya sits at $11.50-$12.75.  They have several extras to add, from noodles, to nori, to egg.  Prices for extras range from $0.50-$2.50.
Would I go back?  Definitely.  The ramen was great, and I want to try the izakaya offerings upstairs when that is available.  Final judgment:  I’d say Toki #1, Daikaya #2, Sakuramen #3 and Taan #4.  Toki remains at #1 only because I have a slight preference for the richer broth, but they are completely different styles so both are most certainly worth trying – again and again and again.  Go!

And check out this great article about the chef:  http://tinyurl.com/a963xgr