We had our first meal at Izakaya Seki last week. Given partner's travel schedule taking him to SF and LA a lot, we are very familiar with the Izakaya style of eating and very much welcomed the idea of one for DC. Our experienced was mixed to the point of split personality:
Excellent selection of sake, well curated. Our waitress was a little timid in making recommendations, but we would up with two very good examples. She was seemingly well trained, just not willing to commit to a recommendation.
Tsukune: Chicken Meatballs are a regular feature at Izakaya and Yakitori bars. These were among the best we have ever had. The sauce was less cloying than most , although scant. The meatball itself was fluffy and flavorful. Needed salt and shichimi tōgarashi which were lacking on the counter. We only got two and all the rest of the plates that went out had 3. We want our missing ball!
Takana Rice Ball: a super good dish. While I prefer grilled onigiri, this ungrilled one was fantastic. $3 for a small sized ball, however, is a lot.
Sublime, well almost, but not:
Trio of side dishes: three salads, one seaweed, one dried radish and kinpira or burdock root. All outstanding but bland overall. Needed basic seasoning and more punch. But when so many Japanese restaurants give you pre-made versions, these were a winner for the first half that devolved into boring by the time we finished them.
Tako Wasabi: raw octopus with wasabi was great if bland. A little spicing up would ahve made this a truly memorable dish.
Grilled Horsetail Mackerel: super. Simple. Needed salt and lemon and shichimi tōgarashi
Grilled Tongue with miso mustard: the tongue itself was fabulously yummy. But the sauce was poured on thickly and just didn't work. I am used to this served with salt and lemon and it would have been better. The sauce was too rich for an already rich ingredient.
Ankimo or Monk Fish Liver: the liver itself was just so so, grainy instead of velvety and smooth. The very same miso mustard sauce again overpowered its ingredient. While I love ankimo, and invariably order two plates to avoid fights with the boy, one was more than enough. He let me finish the dish, a first.
Pork Trotter with Miso Mustard Sauce: again, the same miso mustard. Again, way to rich to go with the pork, which was in places nicely crisp but half of it was limp and fatty. Pork was not particularly a great flavorful pork.
Why on earth is a place with a very short menu offering the same sauce on three different dishes? Once, it was described as Yuzu Miso, once Yuzo Miso Vinaigrette and once as Miso Mustard, but all three were exactly the same!
We received a complementary soft boiled egg, slow cooked. It was again bland and a little watery.
We sat at the counter in front of Master Seki. He had piles of raw fish sitting out in front of him, not wrapped or refrigerated. It was all very oxidized, to the point that if offered at a fish market, I would not buy it. Needless to say, we did not order any sashimi. We only ordered the Ankimo when when we saw it taken from the cooler. The tataki was similarly out of refrigeration and pre-seared.
Overall experience: we paid $122 including tip. It was a light meal for us. We came hungry and left needing a snack. Izakaya should not cost $200 or more for a full meal. If this meal had been 2/3 the price, and the food properly seasoned, it would have been a good value.
As it was, it's hard to justify a return visit. Washington DC still lacks in Japanese food that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. In New York City, I can think of 3 or 4 places to go to where we would have got way more food properly seasoned for less money.