One of the best places to eat is at a pub. You can chit chat with the bartender, talk about the place, the food, the drinks. Maybe start a conversation with someone next to you, make a new friend or two. It’s even better when they have an open kitchen, then you get to see the cooks work during service, always a treat.
Usually when someone mentions a pub, people think some version of a McShay O’Flannigan’s with pints of beer and fried cheese. In my humble opinion, the best kind of pub is Japanese.
They’re called izakayas.
A long time ago in Japan, liquor stores provided small and simple snacks to serve alongside the vats of sake they sell (Don’t want people to drink on an empty stomach!) From there it evolved into small joints where people gathered after work to drink, eat, and socialize. Like all pubs, now izakayas have evolved into gastropubs where the focus is just as much on the food than the drinks.
Izakaya Seki is a father/daughter joint located one street off the chaotic U Street corridor in DC. It’s nestled in on a block that looks more residential than than any place you would expect to find a Japanese pub. However, a red lantern, the traditional mark of izakaya, hints that something wonderful and delicious is inside.
Seki has two levels. Upstairs is a traditional dining room. The main floor focuses on the tiny open kitchen and a simple wooden counter. This intimate 10-seat bar is where you want to be, watching the chef at work. Chef Seki slices fish, grills skewers and shapes rice balls – creating art right in front of you.
The upstairs dining area hold about 30 seats. But honestly, you should come only in groups of two and wait for the bar. The whole point of an izakaya is the intimate back and forth between the chef and the eaters. A satiated smile, a satisfying sigh, a simple nod lets the chef know you’re enjoying his creations.
Start with some sushi like vinegar-cured mackerel and octopus in wasabi, then move on to some of the more obscure stuff like grilled beef tongue and stewed trotters. The tongue, ridiculously tender; the trotters gooey and delicious. It’s always interesting to see how a chef elevates some of these old school ingredients. Chef Seki manages to turn these “off cuts” into works of art.
Sauteed wild mushrooms packed with umami. Monkfish liver, a torchon of ocean’s bounty, meltingly smooth. Chicken thighs crispy on the outside and perfectly tender underneath. Hamachi collar grilled to perfection. Finish the meal off with a plate of cold soba noodles with dipping sauce.
Food isn’t the only treat here. Seki boasts an extensive collection of sake, shochu, whiskey and scotch so you’ll be able to find the perfect pairing with your food.
Don’t forget that reservations are only for large parties (5 – 9 people) so be prepared to show up early, put your name down and go grab some drinks on U Street while you wait. The wait is worth it.
1117 V Street NW
Washington, DC 20009