Before a long night out, one should seek out a dinner that will absorb all the alcohol likely to be consumed. On a recent night before a friend’s birthday party, we did just that–choosing Izakaya Seki our pre-bar destination.
Izakaya Seki is known as a “Japanese drinking establishment.” No sushi is served, just snack-sized dishes, along with plenty of sake and beer. I’ve been to a few of places like this before, most notably Sake Bar Hagi and Kenka in New York (which you should visit as well). The fare is fried, things on sticks, things somehow baked in a mayonnaise-y sauce, and the perfect, salty companions cheap pitchers of Sapporo require . They’re loud and crowded, and in the case of Kenka, just plain nuts. This was, to our surprise, not the case at all at Izakaya Seki.
Izakaya Seki has been called largely underrated, especially its fish selection. It’s a little easy to see why when you arrive. In the U Street vicinity but tucked away next to a Mexican restaurant and an apartment building, the front is unassuming and the immediate interior plain. On the downstairs level is counter seating, with tables upstairs. Lacking was the boisterous atmosphere of my past experiences. You could be quick to judge what is so special about the place.
We chose to sit in the upstairs, ordering beers for the table. I tried one of the several Japanese craft beers: the Hitochino Nest beer (the classic ale). It had the hoppiness and alcohol content of an IPA.
There was actually a selection of sashimi. With went with the moriawase (omakase) option. But she brought it over however, the waitress did not explain what any of the actual fish was, leaving us to guess on a few. The best was a very buttery, fatty fish that we do not know what it was. There was also toro, mackerel, octopus, and a very sticky piece of squid that left a very dry coating in our mouths that we did not like.
After the mixed bag of sashimi, we moved on to some more traditional items. The menu did not include as many fried, saucy, or stick items as the other establishments (which did not bode well for our late night out). Of those types, we first went with fried tofu. As I’ve said before, get tofu at Asian restaurants! It rarely disappoints, and this surely did not and was delicious.
Next we went with sweet and sticky barbecue eel.
Followed up by fried octopus.
After our selection of little dishes we got a soba noodle soup. The soup was our favorite dish of the night. Warming, delicious, and flavorful.
By then we weren’t stuffed but not still hungry, and didn’t think there was anything else on the menu calling to us.
Overall, I think Izakaya Seki’s underratedness was actually a bit overrated just in terms of the food. It really just lacked the atmosphere and alcohol-soaking food I was seeking. The service also left much to be desired, as the servers would silently bring out our dishes, and as mentioned before, did not even explain the fish on an omakase sashimi dish. When we finished the soup, we were immediately asked if we wanted the check, leaving us no opening to even order anything else.
What I will say, is if you’re looking for some non-ramen soup the soba was really good. They also had a VAST selection of sake, so if that’s your jam stop by for that.
Izakaya Seki is located at 1117 V St NW. They offer reservations for larger groups, but we had no problem walking in on a Saturday night.