Daikaya Group chef Katsuya Fukushima grew up eating Hawaiian food as the “military brat” of a third-generation Hawaiian father of Japanese-American descent. Though he was born on a base in Okinawa, Japan, near where his mother is from, Fukushima frequently traveled to the 50th state. But when the chef is craving Hawaiian food in DC, there aren’t a ton of options. So, being a seasoned chef, Fukushima made some.
Hatoba, the Daikaya Group’s ramen restaurant in Navy Yard, has a new identity as a destination for Hawaiian food and cocktails. The name (which means “dock”) is the same, as well as a small selection of more authentically Japanese, Sapporo-style ramen soups. But Fukushima has filled out the offerings with traditional island dishes that he grew up eating.
“To me, Hawaiian food is very much soul food. It’s not hoity-toity, it’s very good, stick-to-your-bones kind of food. Most of the inspiration came from my dad—and you’d never see him in a fine-dining restaurant. Even when I opened Minibar [as head chef], he never came. It wasn’t until I opened Daikaya that he showed up; he loves ramen.”
Though Fukushima and his team are experimenting with all kinds of Hawaiian dishes, he decided to launch the new menu last Friday with classics. Diners will find ahi tuna poke—made simply with macadamias and sweet vidalias to mimic Hawaiian kukui nuts and Maui onions, which aren’t available here—as well as an octopus version that’s flash-marinated to-order. Another starter: North Shore peel-and-eat garlic shrimp with bread for sopping.
Heartier dishes include kalua pig plate lunches—slow-roasted in the oven for 12-hours given the lack of a lava rock cooking pit—with seared cabbage, rice, and mac salad. Being a ramen restaurant, there’s also saimin—Hawaii’s answer to the noodle soup created by Chinese and Japanese plantation workers. The clear pork-and-chicken broth has a smoky flavor that Fukushima likens to Okinawa soba—a delicacy from where his mother is from—and bowls are filled with springy noodles, chasu pork, egg ribbons, and shrimp wontons.
Diners in need of a summer cool-off can opt for Hawaiian-style shave ice, where fluffy piles of snow are covered in condensed milk espuma and candied orange. Daikaya Group bartender Nalee Kim has also created a tropical drink list with options like a draft mai tai or the Pau Hana mixed with vodka, shochu, elderflower liqueur and guava.
Though Fukushima says the new Hawaiian decor is subtle—“no palm trees or Hawaiian shirts”—some diners who saw the restaurant’s social media announcement over the weekend showed up in floral island prints. “It was nice to see the excitement about a Hawaiian restaurant,” says Fukushima.
This isn’t Daikaya Group’s last foray into fusion cuisine. Tonari, their “wafu” restaurant devoted to Japanese-Italian food, has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic. Co-owner Daisuke Utagawa tells Washingtonian that the two-story Penn Quarter restaurant has been “on ice,” but plans to reopen in September.
“We opened two weeks [at the beginning of the pandemic] because it’s pizza, and we had a surprising number of people who came. They even ordered pasta to go, which I thought was interesting. And people loved it. But then we said, ‘You know, some of them, this is their very first time that they’re trying it. We don’t really want people to have their first experience that comes in a box.”
Hatoba. 300 Tingey St. SE; open at 5, Wednesday through Friday; noon on Saturday and Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday.