I’m a little embarrassed to admit I've kind of been in mourning since chef Eric Stapelman skipped town in 2013 and took Shibumi with him to Seattle. It’s not just that we lost the only izakaya in the state; we lost what may very well have been the best restaurant in the state, full stop. So when the word spread that Izanami, the new izakaya at Ten Thousand Waves, was actually good, I was excited to get there and give it a try. And although Izanami doesn’t achieve the sublime greatness of Shibumi, it’s still a fine restaurant that fills a void in NM’s dining scene.
The setting is pretty damn spectacular, with Ten Thousand Waves’ Japanese architecture amidst the hilly pine forest a few miles up Hyde Park Road, perhaps at its most beautiful in the winter snow. The restaurant itself is nicely appointed, if a bit too brightly lit and noisy as compared to the rest of the resort. Staff is almost over-the-top well trained to be friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive, committing orders to memory and frequently asking how diners are enjoying each small dish.
The food mostly ranged from pretty good to very good, and if you haven’t had an izakaya-style meal before, Izanami could be a revelation. Like the more familiar Spanish tapas, izakaya is small plates bar food, each dish comprised of a few focused, shareable bites intended to complement some good drink. Izanami sports a few dozen dishes, with the menu broken out into five sections: cold, hot, sweet, grilled, and fried. This is definitely a great spot to go with a small group, as you get to try more of the menu. A few highlights were a simple burdock root and carrot salad, homemade gyoza, and a special of Japanese sweet potato with a miso glaze. Their grilled pork belly was a little meh (especially as compared to Shibumi’s ridiculous kushiyaki pork belly and eggplant), as was the grilled chicken liver, nothing awful, just noticeably less good than the best they have to offer. And everything else was perfectly decent izakaya that I’d gladly order again.
They have a remarkably extensive drink menu with a few interesting soft drinks (homemade yuzu citrus ade, a nice selection of hot tea), nearly a dozen Japanese micro-brews, and a half-decent selection of wines by the glass. But the real draw is the sake menu which, while not quite as extensive as the one at Shohko Café, offers a whole bunch of good choices across a wide array of styles and prices, including several tasting flights.
Prices seem pretty fair considering the upscale, exotic concept. Most dishes are south of $10, with a few fancypants items (e.g. wagyu beef) in the 10s, 20s, or “market price”. Sakes by the glass float just above 10 bucks, with various bottles stretching from the 30s into the 100s, most 720ml bottles still well under $100. And although all the little dishes can add up quickly, you could easily get out of there for under $50/pp depending on what you order.
All in all Izanami is a great addition to the neighborhood, the city, and the state. And although I’ll continue to pine for a half dozen of Shibumi’s A-game dishes I’d now have to go to Seattle or Japan to enjoy, Izanami does a good job scratching the itch while avoiding the cost of a plane ticket.