“I want to incorporate the soul of Japan,” says Utagawa, who was born in Tokyo and introduced mainstream Washington to sushi with the opening of the Glover Park Sushiko more than two decades ago. “It’ll be exactly the kind of place I want to go.”
On the ground level, there’ll be a ramen shop inspired by those in Sapporo, one of the Japanese cities famous for the dish. Utagawa will serve three styles of the broth-based soup: miso, soy-sauce-anchored shoyu, and shio or salt—which has a pale color and more-delicate flavor. The stock for the broth takes at least eight hours to make. Utagawa says the best noodles are aged up to ten days, and he’ll import his from the Hokkaido-based producer Nishiyama Seimen, which supplies famed ramen shops in Sapporo. Diners can expect made-to-order bowls with a variety of fresh toppings like those used in Japan, such as eggs, pork, mushrooms, and Manilla clams.
Another traditional touch: The ramen shop will be meant for slurping noodles not sipping drinks. “Eating ramen isn’t a very social thing,” says Utagawa. “You look at your bowl and eat, otherwise the noodles get soggy.” For socializing, diners can head upstairs to the izakaya, which will serve as both bar and restaurant. Utagawa is banking on Jewayni—owner of the sushi-lounge/nightclub hybrid Current Sushi and the late Dragonfly—to create a vibrant atmosphere. As for the booze, customers can expect a carefully sourced collection of Japanese whiskey, sake, and beer. When it comes to the food, says Utagawa, “the menu is still in development. It will definitely be Japanese-rooted, [but] we will also play a bit with some items.” He mentioned grilled skewers, sashimi, and perhaps a few sushi rolls for the American palate.
Architects Bryan Miller and Lauren Winters of Edit—the talent behind the design of the Gibson, Dickson Wine Bar, and the upcoming Rogue 24—are building the space from the ground up (read more about Edit here). Utagawa took Miller on a two-week trip to Japan to familiarize him with the country’s architecture and drinking culture.
“After a bunch of ramen and hangovers,” says Utagawa, “he got the Japanese spirit.”