When the owner of the just-opened Izakaya Seki, Cizuka Seki, told us she and her chef father, Hiroshi, felt shy doing an interview with us about their new sake bar, we couldn’t resist stopping by to check it out for ourselves. Here’s what we found.
1) Minimalist decor: Think light wood, concrete floors, and a utilitarian kitchen behind the bar on the main floor, and an upstairs dining room with unadorned tables and a wooden banquette. The total lack of clutter places the focus squarely on the food and drink.
2) Rice balls!: Japanophiles will be familiar with onigiri, the balls of rice wrapped in nori—like folksier versions of sushi rolls. They often show up in anime and manga books. Seki’s are circular rather than triangular, and come stuffed with pickled veggies or crunchy little balls of salt-cod roe.
3) Onsen eggs: “Hot spring eggs” are slow-poached in a countertop mechanism behind the bar at Izakaya Seki. “I love this machine!” exclaimed Hiroshi Seki before sliding the egg onto a plate and serving it alongside a salad of arugula, mizuna, and tuna shavings. Diners mix the creamy-custardy eggs with the greens and then dig in.
4) Quail eggs: Those rich little suckers show up, one to an order, in an indulgent little uni dish with nori. Uni “is like foie gras,” a server explained to one uninitiated customer, who watched, rapt, as the chef spooned some of the jiggly sea urchin into a small bowl.
5) Plenty of fried things: Tofu with a layer of cream cheese beneath its crispy skin swims in dashi, kushikatsu (crunchy pork nuggets) are impaled on sticks, tempura veggies—you know what, why don’t we just link to the menu and you can read the full list of oily delights for yourself.
6) A long list of sakes: Seki hasn’t yet collected the full inventory of sakes that will be available on its extensive menu, but suffice to say this should become a destination for rice-wine aficionados. There are no cocktails, but there is a list of Japanese microbrews, many of which we’d never seen before. Ah, the joys of learning news things.
7) Interaction: Tight seating at the downstairs bar encourages conversation among strangers, and Hiroshi looks up from his countertop every once in a while to school a guest on the proper way to enjoy a dish of sizzling kalbi or pork trotters with miso mustard. Seki should be a hit among solo diners—though you always run the risk of being seated next to the guy dissecting, in detail, each of his past 100 visits to Toki Underground. That’s city life, we suppose.
8) No reservations, so, a wait: It’s a small restaurant, and there’s no obtaining a table or stool in advance. When we go back, we’ll be going early.
Izakaya Seki. 1117 V St., NW; 202-588-5841; sekidc.com. Open Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday from 5 to 11, and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 2. Closed Tuesday.