Yearning for a new place to try, I started asking around and immediately decided to try Izakaya Seki. A small Japanese izakaya located in the U Street corridor sits inside an unassuming brick townhouse away from the hustle and bustle of 14th Street.
As we walked in, we immediately noticed just how small this place was. The first floor has traditional sushi bar seating where every seat is at the bar so you can watch the chefs do their thing. It is very simple with a wooden bar and white walls -- not a lot of frills. There is also a second floor for a total of 40 seats. We were told there was a 30-45 minute wait on a Wednesday night and after groaning and sighing, we decided we might as well wait. There isn't much of a waiting area so we had to share this tiny little table with others who were waiting. We started with a carafe of genshu -- Naruto's Sea Bream. This unpasteurized sake was dry, rich, and velvety with a tropical finish. We really enjoyed it.
The chef Hiroshi Seki is a 66-year old chef who spent more than 50 years in kitchens. His daughter runs the restaurant and serves as the general manager and together it seems they keep this place pretty busy. We were finally seated after about 40 minutes. Unfortunately, I was seated at the end of the bar where the food was set for the servers to pick up so I was looking at fish heads most of the night. Yuck.
I inquired about the vegan options of which there were a few, then ordered three small plates. The first was the Ume (pickled plum) Rice Ball, which was a seaweed-wrapped rice ball with soybean paper and sweet, pickled plum inside. You eat it like a sandwich. It was a lot of rice, but, overall, I really liked it.
Next, I got the assorted mushrooms in olive oil instead of butter. This is a simple plate of shimeji, shiitake, and ering mushrooms. What? A mushroom that I've never had? Say it ain't so! Well, I loved these mushrooms mostly because they felt exotic, they were cooked well, and the scallions brought a lot of flavor to this dish.
Lastly, I had the tempura special. I really liked the variety of root vegetables, hot peppers, and asparagus included in this mix. They gave me matcha salt because the sauce it normally comes with is not vegan.
Other options include daikon radish salad, cucumber salad, and oshinko pickled vegetables. I was having a great time until I realized that my tempura was cooked in the same fryer with those fish heads. Normally I try not to think about that, but when you are able to see them cooking it, this becomes disturbing.
Overall, it was fun, but the options are pretty limited. The service was good and the plates ranged from $3.50 to $10 each so I think they are priced well. Given a choice though, I much prefer Izakaya Daikaya in Chinatown as they have more vegan options, better food and better drinks.
1117 V Street NW
Washington, DC 20009