Tonari brings wafu Italian cooking to DC straight from Japan

Wafu cuisine is nicely recognised in Japan, but not so effectively acknowledged exterior of the nation. Tonari needs to adjust that.

WASHINGTON — Tonari, the latest cafe from the Daikaya Group, is on a mission. But its mission did not commence where you might hope.

The people driving Daikaya possess several ramen shops spread out across the District, including its namesake ramen shop (with Izakaya upstairs) Bantam King fried rooster and ramen, Hatoba and Haikan.

Tonari is proper next door to Daikaya, and all around the corner from Bantam King. But for the group’s upcoming act, they didn’t want to open one more ramen shop.

To hear Daikaya co-owner Daisuke Utagawa describe it, when they walked into the place that would turn out to be Tonari, they realized what they experienced to do.

The strategy for Tonari is wafu Italian delicacies.

“The phrase wafu means Japanese-fashion,” Daisuke explained. “Normally it means a thing that is not initially Japanese that is finished in Japanese style.”

Daisuke suggests Tonari’s wafu Italian is not a new type of delicacies, but it is some thing that is new to D.C., and new to the United States.

“Wafu Italian is not something we invented,” Daisuke stated. “It is a thing that exists in Japan, but it is not effectively-recognised outside the house of Japan.”

Daisuke stresses that wafu Italian is a coming-together of cultures, alternatively than what some could contact “fusion.”

“I individually really don’t like the word fusion,” he stated. “Not due to the fact of what it signifies, but because of what the connotations are. There’s a variance in between a organic cultural phenomenon of two factors assembly and starting to be something, just about organically, compared to some thing that’s set alongside one another by force.”

That is the mission guiding Tonari: To teach folks about the notion of wafu Italian delicacies. To exhibit the heritage of two cuisines that arrived together normally more than the study course of a long time in Japan.

Wafu pasta dates back again to the ‘50s with a cafe whose title translates to “hole in the wall.” Daisuke mentioned the motive that the use of Japanese substances in Italian cooking took off in Japan is that the two cultures share a very similar tactic to cuisine.

So why bring that style of cooking to D.C. diners?

“Here’s a very simple remedy for you,” Daisuke states, gesturing to a enormous black pizza above at the heart of the kitchen. “That oven.”

It was crystal clear to the Tonari team that they wished to use that substantial oven in some respect. That is in which the thought of wafu pizza and pasta was born. But though wafu pasta had roots and heritage powering it, wafu pizza was one thing completely new, and anything that Daisuke and his lover dove into headfirst. 

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Getting currently established a ramen provider in Sapporo, Japan by way of their other ventures, that provider advised them they also make pasta, and that they tasted diverse from any other pasta they could get since of how they are made.

“They have this ramen technological innovation and they used it to pasta, and it is a totally various thing,” Daisuke mentioned.

Pizza was more function. Because there was no established wafu pizza, they had to start off from the floor up.

“If we want to make wafu pizza, we have to determine it,” Daisuke claimed. 

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

“We went via iteration and iteration and iteration and what we arrived up with was like, ‘Oh my god, this is truly cool,” Daisuke explained. 

He claimed the full approach took about three months, via a lot of back again-and-forth and demo-and-mistake. They worked on every little thing from the parts of the dough to the cooking vessel, to the temperature and timing ahead of they settled on the dough.

What ends up on your plate at Tonari is some thing that appears like your typical deep dish pizza, but preferences absolutely diverse. It is crispy and crunchy, when getting chewy and pillowy at the exact time. It is immensely craveable.

What pushed Daisuke and his companion to establish this new pizza? The brief respond to is the oven, but it goes further than that.

“There’s many ways to glance at a cafe. A person is, you’re hungry, you might be feeding folks. But you can do that anyplace,” Daisuke stated. “But when you are heading to a cafe, you got to have an extra rationale to go there. At the stop of the day it’s a local community, correct? When you’re generating a community you have to have ethos. The ethos to us is quite crucial. We’re in this each individual day. If we just do it due to the fact ‘Yeah, it’s a organization,’ you type of get rid of enthusiasm.”

That enthusiasm was analyzed when Tonari to start with opened its doors in 2020. Months later the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the cafe experienced to pivot, briefly supplying get-absent solutions, shutting down and inevitably featuring a tasting menu the moment doors opened all over again.

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Now, Tonari is back to entire energy, they have nixed the tasting menu and provide objects a la carte. They ended up also just extra to the 2022 edition of the D.C. Michelin Manual. From the place Daisuke is standing, the accolades are not what this restaurant is about. The objective is not to get a Michelin star.

Linked: More than a dozen DC dining places included to Michelin Tutorial

Relevant: What is actually in a star? Here is what it usually takes to get just one of cooking’s largest honors

“Our objective is not to be a Michelin-star restaurant,” he stated. “Our goal is to get the word out on what people are feeding on in Japan now.”

That drive to get the term out is a thing shared by Nico Cezar, Chef de Cuisine at Tonari. Chef Nico is an alum of Michelin star Italian cafe Masseria so he’s placing his background to good use.

“It’s a blessing for me to be capable to parallel my instruction beneath cooking Japanese foods and cooking Italian food items, which makes [wafu cooking] a small simpler to approach mainly because I know that I can use this component, or that procedure,”Cezar explained. “It’s less complicated for me to tactic it that way than sticking to classic Italian or common Japanese. What we want to do is make confident that we are obeying this tradition of meals in Japan and introducing it to the world… Creating them mindful that there is these kinds of a detail as Japanese-model Italian food stuff. We’re not hoping to mash up matters for the sake of fusing two cultures with each other, you want to make certain that it is having to pay homage to that lifestyle-specific food stuff style.”

Whilst cooking the spaghetti napolitan, a dish that is been on the menu because Tonari opened, the chef points out the value of the noodles and the refreshing substances made use of to provide the simple dish collectively.

“I consider it surprises persons whenever they style the dish, they’re like, ‘Oh it is a ketchup spaghetti, how good could it be?’ It’s just how it’s place alongside one another,” Cezar said. “Purchasing product or service that’s at the peak of its season. The finest of what you can responsibly get. A thing that’s sustainable. Which is some thing that I want to drive ahead to the menus that we have below, just generating absolutely sure that we’re sticking to the same concept of representing Italian cooking and Japanese cooking… making confident that we’re paying respects in a respectable way without having trying to reinvent the wheel. At the conclusion of the day I want Japanese people today to come in here and be like ‘Oh, this continue to makes sense. This cafe is performing each planning or system justice and symbolizing it effectively.’”

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The menu, which Cezar would like to change each individual thirty day period, attributes some pizza and pasta combinations that could be overwhelming to some diners, but Cezar hopes that individuals who come to Tonari will be adventurous, and prepared to consider a thing new. For instance, the Mentaiko product is a sauce designed with cod roe. Correct now, it can be featured on equally a pasta and a pizza on the menu.

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

“It’s just about like a corner of a lasagna, but everyone gets a corner piece,” he said.

Cezar says establishing new menu items and recipes can be challenging, but it is one thing he enjoys.

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

He mentioned it goes back to the mission of obtaining the phrase out about wafu cuisine.

“How do you teach folks is the hard element,” Cezar claimed. “If you blindfold any person they’ll imagine, ‘this is a pepperoni pizza.’ Yeah, but do you taste the intricacies of the ingredients that go into the sauce? That’s the problem. I consider we’ve finished a good occupation. My hope is that, transferring ahead, we’ll have a great deal a lot more men and women curious to occur and say, ‘I want to see what you men are doing.’” 


Traveling to Tonari

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

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