“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.” – Epicurus
You could say that the boozy brunch is the weekend activity of choice for Washingtonians, and you would be right. There is nothing we love more than waking up late, making ourselves presentable (or not), and sashaying to the hottest new spot. This brunch was a bit of a special occasion. One of my closest friends was recently offered a great new job. Yay!! Anyone who has been through a job hunt in DC knows how frustrating the process can be so a celebration was definitely in order. We decided to try the brunch at Daikaya this past Sunday and it did not conform to expectations in the best possible way.
Some background information – Daikaya is actually comprised of two different spaces. There is the downstairs ramen shop which doesn’t take reservations and really only serves Sapporo style ramen. The izakaya is on the second floor and has a separate entrance to the left of the ramen shop. Reservations are accepted. This review only pertains to the izakaya.
I made last minute reservations because previous experiences at Daikaya and their recent appearance on a best brunches in Washington, DC list led me to believe we were in for a noisy and crowded meal. I could not have been more wrong. We were the first customers in the door at 11:30 and had the place to ourselves for a solid 20 minutes. I expressed surprise to Mary, our server (Mary is awesome. If Mary could be my server every time I go to brunch at Daikaya I could die happy), and she explained that people usually start to show up for brunch en masse much later in the day. So pro tip: If you want to have a lovely, quiet meal with lots of server attention, go when they open.
My friend and I were seated right next to the window where we got some natural light through the fish scaled grill that makes up the iconic front of the building. The izakaya a lot of medium to dark wood and is typically quite dim. Many of the walls are covered with different patterned fabrics, lending a fun and quirky atmosphere and preventing the space from feeling somber. The room is arranged around a centrally located, brightly lit bar. It is clearly the focal point of the room, which makes sense since it is first and foremost a cocktail/whiskey bar in the evening.
The izakaya provides a solid small plates experience. I tend to be wary of small plates as it is all too easy for a restaurant to overcharge for minuscule portions, leaving you still hungry at the end of the meal. Thankfully we did not run into that problem at Daikaya. Seven small dishes among two people was immensely satisfying, and not too hard on the wallet.
We started with the new DIY Mimosa – a bottle of sparkling wine with three seasonal juices. This time the juices were pear cardamom, guava-honey cinnamon, and kalamansi-orange. All were good, but the kalamansi-orange was our favorite. At $28, this was a pretty decent deal, and by the end of the bottle we were both pleasantly giggly.
For our first round of small plates we chose the Beef Tongue Jalapeno “yuzu koshu,” “Chicken and Waffles” (chicken kara-age and red bean taiyaki with wasabi butter and maple syrup), “Lox and Onigiri” (smoked salmon, salmon, sashimi, ikura, pickled onion, cream cheese, and everything onigiri), and onigiri (abura-miso pork and sweet miso filling, Ume salted plum).
Everything we had this round was great, but none more so than the “Chicken and Waffles.” As a northern girl, I was unsure about the combination of wasabi butter and maple syrup. One thing is for sure, I would never have thought to put those flavors together myself. But somehow it works beautifully. The wasabi was not as spicy as I thought it would be and it compliments the crunchy, fatty chicken and maple syrup nicely. We were wondering where the red bean came in until we cut into the waffle (WHICH IS SHAPED LIKE A FISH AND ADORABLE!). Turns out they stuffed the waffle with red bean paste! And let me tell you – SO. FREAKING. GOOD. Just give me a plate of the chicken and waffles and lets call it a day, shall we?
For the second round we wanted to be a little adventurous so we asked Mary to pick two dishes for us. She chose the Pork and Brussels Sprouts Skewer (“okonomiyaki-style” with Kewpie mayo, okonomiyaki sauce, bonito flakes and aonori), and Grilled Avocado with housemade ponzu, fresh wasabi, and nori salt. The Pork and Brussel sprout skewer was quite an exciting dish! The shredded bonito flakes “dance” due to the heat of the veggies and meat so it looks like the whole dish is alive. Once you bite into it the party continues in your mouth. All I can say is there might have been some inappropriate groaning happening.
The grilled avocado was perfectly ripe with adorable little grill marks. Mary explained that during and after WWII avocado became a substitute for fatty tuna in Japan, which was the inspiration for this dish. The more you know…
To finish off our meal we absolutely had to have the French Toast soaked overnight in cream and soy milk and dusted with kinako (roasted soybean flour). The end result is a lovely pillow of bread that cuts like a dream. Crunchy on the outside, soft but not soggy on the inside – it is brunch personified.
Come brunch at Daikaya if you want great Japanese food and a relaxing, unfussy atmosphere. The staff are friendly, knowledgable, and willing to take a few moments to chat. It also won’t break the bank. With food, alcohol, and a generous tip, we only spent $54 each. For the quality of food and service, it doesn’t get much better than that.