Daikaya Group had just opened one of their most creative concepts to date in February of 2020. Tonari, a Japanese-Italian restaurant neighboring sister spots Daikaya and Bantam King, operated for a few weeks short before the pandemic forced it to shut down. Chef Katsuya Fukushima initially tried serving his “wafu” (Japanese-style) pizzas and pastas to-go, but uni noodles and pizzas designed with a tempura-like crunch didn’t exactly travel well.
“No one knew our restaurant. We didn’t want the first experience to be from a box,” says co-owner Daisuke Utagawa. He says they’ve been trying to reopen for several months, but staffing—both front and back of house–has been a huge issue. So they landed on a new format: a five-course, ticketed tasting menu for $65 (inclusive of tax, tip, and food) offered on select nights. The first is this coming Saturday, December 18.
“When you have less variance, it’s more manageable” says Utagawa. “At the same time, when we were open before, we had a lot of interesting dishes and there was never time to introduce them. This dovetails nicely with the operational needs and what we want the experience to be.”
Chef de cuisine Nico Cezar, an alum of Masseria and (now-closed) Bibiana, fuses his Italian background with Japanese training, having led the kitchen at Daikaya ramen and izakaya next door. The tasting menu will continue to build on the wafu pasta experience—a unique style that developed in Japan in the 1950s.
Tonari imports noodles from Sapporo—made in the same factory as the group’s revered ramen noodles—and matches them with preparations like an umami-rich XO sauce Spam, shellfish ragu, and crunchy breadcrumbs; or bolognese spiked with njuda and Japanese curry.
Diners might also get a taste of Tonari’s pizzas—pillowy, crunchy-sided pies with brick cheese and toppings like pepperoni and shoyu-pickled jalapeños. Small plates might include bites like burrata with figs, chicory, and a ginger vinaigrette. The team is working on beverage pairings that include cocktails, wine, sake, and Japanese beers.
A limited number of tickets—just order 70—will soon be available via Tock on select preview days through the holidays. Regular dinner service on Fridays and Saturdays will start after January 7. The hope is for a la carte and walk-in service to start in the new year. For now, Utagawa says he’s just grateful to have pizza and pasta fresh out of the kitchen again.
“That in itself is a great thing for me. We have always said that we’ll only serve what we’ll eat.”
Tonari. 707 6th St., NW.