October 5, 2022


Food for all time.

Tonari brings wafu Italian cooking to DC straight from Japan

8 min read


Wafu cuisine is nicely acknowledged in Japan, but not so effectively known outdoors of the state. Tonari wants to modify that.

WASHINGTON — Tonari, the hottest restaurant from the Daikaya Group, is on a mission. But its mission didn’t commence the place you could count on.

The individuals driving Daikaya own various ramen retailers spread out across the District, together with its namesake ramen store (with Izakaya upstairs) Bantam King fried hen and ramen, Hatoba and Haikan.

Tonari is right upcoming doorway to Daikaya, and all over the corner from Bantam King. But for the group’s upcoming act, they did not want to open up a different ramen shop.

To listen to Daikaya co-operator Daisuke Utagawa demonstrate it, when they walked into the room that would turn into Tonari, they understood what they had to do.

The idea for Tonari is wafu Italian cuisine.

“The phrase wafu usually means Japanese-type,” Daisuke described. “Normally it means anything that is not at first Japanese that is done in Japanese model.”

Daisuke says Tonari’s wafu Italian is not a new design of cuisine, but it is a little something that is new to D.C., and new to the United States.

“Wafu Italian is not something we invented,” Daisuke claimed. “It is a thing that exists in Japan, but it is not properly-known outside of Japan.”

Daisuke stresses that wafu Italian is a coming-alongside one another of cultures, fairly than what some might call “fusion.”

“I personally do not like the word fusion,” he said. “Not because of what it signifies, but mainly because of what the connotations are. There’s a distinction between a all-natural cultural phenomenon of two factors assembly and turning into one thing, almost organically, versus something which is place with each other by power.”

Which is the mission guiding Tonari: To educate men and women about the thought of wafu Italian cuisine. To exhibit the history of two cuisines that arrived with each other in a natural way around the study course of many years in Japan.

Wafu pasta dates back again to the ‘50s with a cafe whose title interprets to “hole in the wall.” Daisuke mentioned the explanation that the use of Japanese substances in Italian cooking took off in Japan is that the two cultures share a identical technique to delicacies.

So why convey that type of cooking to D.C. diners?

“Here’s a simple answer for you,” Daisuke states, gesturing to a significant black pizza about at the middle of the kitchen. “That oven.”

It was clear to the Tonari workforce that they desired to use that enormous oven in some regard. That is the place the notion of wafu pizza and pasta was born. But even though wafu pasta experienced roots and historical past driving it, wafu pizza was something totally new, and something that Daisuke and his partner dove into headfirst. 

Acquiring already proven a ramen provider in Sapporo, Japan by means of their other ventures, that provider informed them they also make pasta, and that they tasted unique from any other pasta they could get because of how they are built.

“They have this ramen technological innovation and they applied it to pasta, and it’s a fully distinctive thing,” Daisuke claimed.

Pizza was far more get the job done. Considering that there was no recognized wafu pizza, they had to get started from the ground up.

“If we want to make wafu pizza, we have to define it,” Daisuke explained. 

That sent Daisuke and his Daikaya partner Chef Katsuya Fukushima to Japan to acquire a dough working with inspiration from Japanese milk bread – what Daisuke phone calls Japanified Wonderbread.

“We went as a result of iteration and iteration and iteration and what we came up with was like, ‘Oh my god, this is definitely great,” Daisuke claimed. 

He mentioned the complete method took about 3 months, as a result of loads of back-and-forth and trial-and-error. They worked on almost everything from the parts of the dough to the cooking vessel, to the temperature and timing right before they settled on the dough.

What ends up on your plate at Tonari is a little something that appears to be like your typical deep dish pizza, but preferences wholly different. It’s crispy and crunchy, when currently being chewy and pillowy at the exact time. It’s immensely craveable.

What pushed Daisuke and his companion to build this new pizza? The short response is the oven, but it goes deeper than that.

“There’s quite a few techniques to seem at a restaurant. Just one is, you’re hungry, you might be feeding individuals. But you can do that anyplace,” Daisuke reported. “But when you’re heading to a cafe, you obtained to have an more rationale to go there. At the conclusion of the day it is a neighborhood, ideal? When you’re producing a local community you have to have ethos. The ethos to us is very significant. We’re in this each day. If we just do it since ‘Yeah, it is a small business,’ you form of eliminate enthusiasm.”

That enthusiasm was tested when Tonari to start with opened its doors in 2020. Months later the COVID-19 pandemic strike and the restaurant experienced to pivot, briefly supplying choose-absent solutions, shutting down and ultimately featuring a tasting menu as soon as doors opened yet again.

Now, Tonari is back to total energy, they have nixed the tasting menu and offer you goods a la carte. They were also just additional to the 2022 version of the D.C. Michelin Tutorial. From wherever Daisuke is standing, the accolades are not what this cafe is about. The objective is not to get a Michelin star.

Associated: Additional than a dozen DC dining places added to Michelin Manual


Connected: What is in a star? This is what it can take to get 1 of cooking’s greatest honors

“Our intention is not to be a Michelin-star cafe,” he mentioned. “Our purpose is to get the term out on what folks are taking in in Japan now.”

That push to get the term out is a little something shared by Nico Cezar, Chef de Delicacies at Tonari. Chef Nico is an alum of Michelin star Italian cafe Masseria so he’s putting his track record to excellent use.

“It’s a blessing for me to be able to parallel my instruction under cooking Japanese meals and cooking Italian food, which would make [wafu cooking] a small simpler to approach due to the fact I know that I can use this component, or that procedure,”Cezar explained. “It’s a lot easier for me to strategy it that way than sticking to typical Italian or traditional Japanese. What we want to do is make guaranteed that we are obeying this lifestyle of food in Japan and introducing it to the world… Making them conscious that there is these types of a thing as Japanese-style Italian foodstuff. We’re not trying to mash up factors for the sake of fusing two cultures with each other, you want to make confident that it is paying homage to that tradition-precise food model.”

Although cooking the spaghetti napolitan, a dish which is been on the menu considering that Tonari opened, the chef clarifies the significance of the noodles and the fresh substances applied to carry the simple dish collectively.

“I think it surprises individuals every time they style the dish, they are like, ‘Oh it is a ketchup spaghetti, how very good could it be?’ It is just how it is put collectively,” Cezar mentioned. “Ordering products that is at the height of its period. The very best of what you can responsibly get. One thing that’s sustainable. That is some thing that I want to press ahead to the menus that we have in this article, just creating absolutely sure that we’re sticking to the same concept of symbolizing Italian cooking and Japanese cooking… earning positive that we’re shelling out respects in a respectable way with no seeking to reinvent the wheel. At the conclusion of the day I want Japanese men and women to come in right here and be like ‘Oh, this nevertheless makes feeling. This cafe is executing each and every preparation or approach justice and representing it nicely.’”

The menu, which Cezar would like to improve each month, characteristics some pizza and pasta combos that may well be daunting to some diners, but Cezar hopes that people who occur to Tonari will be adventurous, and willing to check out a little something new. For instance, the Mentaiko cream is a sauce manufactured with cod roe. Proper now, it is featured on each a pasta and a pizza on the menu.

As he masses a Mentaiko and corn pizza into the all-significant pizza oven, he explains that the pie gets loaded with cheese, and that the cheese allows the pizza get ridiculously crispy in the pan.

“It’s nearly like a corner of a lasagna, but everyone gets a corner piece,” he explained.

Cezar states acquiring new menu things and recipes can be hard, but it’s a little something he enjoys.

“The attractiveness about learning Japanese-design and style cooking is you value subtraction as you go,” the chef said. “You only use what you will need, and which is extremely hard for a chef to do.”

He reported it goes back again to the mission of receiving the term out about wafu cuisine.

“How do you teach people today is the hard part,” Cezar claimed. “If you blindfold somebody they’ll believe, ‘this is a pepperoni pizza.’ Yeah, but do you style the intricacies of the components that go into the sauce? That’s the challenge. I assume we’ve finished a very good job. My hope is that, transferring ahead, we’ll have a good deal a lot more individuals curious to come and say, ‘I want to see what you men are executing.'” 


Going to Tonari

707 6th Street Northwest
Monday & Tuesday – shut
Wednesday & Thursday – 5 pm to 9:30 pm
Friday and Saturday – 5 pm – 10 pm
Sunday – 5 pm – 9 pm

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