I’ve always had a mixed reaction to the latest trend that is Izakaya dining - at least when I was in Chicago. There was a new restaurant every month or week that was the ‘new Izakaya’ on the block, and each time I tried a new one I couldn't quite understand where the market was – particularly for them to keep coming. Maybe it’s different in DC and there are only a few and I've only been to one so far. What I’ve never particularly liked was the idea of exclusively only being able to order items that came on skewers, and particularly items that most people I know wouldn't be fond of eating (exotic choices from tongue to liver to skins to everything in between). I understand it might be more authentic Japanese than the typical neighborhood take-out sushi place, but I never caught on. So where does Daikaya fit in?
Daikaya does everything a little different than what I had experienced before, and this is mostly a good thing. What makes Daikaya successful and interesting is that they do a great job of really getting you out of your comfort zone and not be prepared for the expected outcome. This starts with the décor and surroundings, which are done extremely well and really fun. Tables are tight but the whole dark atmosphere, private lounges, dark woods and exotic patterns all work to transport to you another place. And then you sit down and can’t quite figure out why there is a Japanese style/culture magazine on your table where you would normally find a menu. Flip through the pages and maybe you’ll find the menu – but look hard – it’s just stapled to a few of the pages inside. And then there is the menu itself. It’s divided into various sections including starters, fried, grilled, specialties, rice/noodles, etc. The entire experience is tapas like where each dish is very small, meant to be shared, and encouraged to order plenty. I like that part because we ended up with 13 different samples of food. Very few items are things that you would be able to recognize or predict the flavor profile, and that is probably a strength of the menu/experience because each bite is a new adventure no matter what the ingredient list suggests.
I won’t detail each and every dish as that would take too long and ruin some of the fun for first time experiences. Try everything that looks intriguing because it will be hard to understand what you’re in for until it hits your mouth. However, my favorite dishes are –fried garlic, chicken thigh, crab croquettes and the brussel sprouts. We finished our meal with the chocolate ice cream (delish! With chocolate pop rocks!) and accompanied our meal with the dry and crisp Chokara sake (very tasty and great value).
The service was very good and attentive all night – a nice compliment given how many dishes were coming and going throughout. The total cost was exactly what I expected, and exactly appropriate for how full we were leaving our chairs. I can admit I didn’t love each and everything we tried but I’m glad we did. It’s not an experience I need to rush back to but I would definitely suggest it for the more adventurous and exploratory diners out there. Daikaya truly does a nice job of transporting you to a different time and place for the unexpected delivery of flavors.