Daikaya Group, the folks who brought you Daikaya, Haikan, and Bantam King, now bring you Tonari (at 707 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20001; ; 202-289-8900) – meaning ‘next door’ or ‘neighbor’. Opening directly next to their flagship restaurant Daikaya in Chinatown at 5 p.m. today for dinner service, Tonari is the first restaurant in D.C. to showcase Japanese-style or ‘Wafu’ pasta and pizza located direct.
“At first we were a bit hesitant in taking over the space next door but we were also concerned about who might become our neighbor,” said Yama Jewayni, partner at Daikaya Group. “In a sense, we really wanted to repurpose and recycle the restaurant and that’s how we arrived at Wafu Italian pasta and pizza.”
Wafu pasta, meaning Japanese-style pasta (dishes) is a widely loved and well-established cuisine in Japan today. The origin of Wafu pasta dates back to 1953 at a tiny restaurant in Tokyo called Kabenoana (Hole in the Wall). At the time there were only three restaurants serving pasta in Tokyo, one of which was at the Imperial Hotel. Kabenoana was serving a plate of pasta at 100 yen, and Imperial Hotel’s was 960 yen. From the start Kabenoana aimed to serve wider audiences. As such, the chef of Kabenoana was open to ideas from his regular clients and started using Japanese ingredients to create new pasta dishes. Now classic Wafu pasta ingredients such as tarako (cod roe) uni (sea urchin), shitake, nori, and dashi emerged as a result of many dialogues and trials between the chef and the customers. In Japan today, there are many Wafu pasta restaurants and the menu items are still evolving incorporating Japanese sensibilities in creating new pasta dishes.
“It is very exciting and fulfilling to be able to introduce something from Japan for the first time to our DC customers”, said Daisuke Utagawa, partner at Daikaya Group. “Like ramen, Wafu pasta was something my family was missing in the US.”
Pizza is also an extremely popular dish in Japan, and there are a wide range of pizza styles and options to choose from. Some pizzerias in Japan have even been known to rival traditional pizzas from Napoli. And some even began to create their own versions with pizza Kaiseki-like service. At Tonari, the team began their journey by working to create a pizza that had a distinctive Japanese flair. The team specifically sought inspiration from Japanese bread, which features a distinct sweet smelling, soft, fluffy, and chewy texture.
To ensure top-notch quality in all of Tonari’s signature pasta and pizza options, Daikaya Group partners called on Yokoyama Seifun, a flour mill in Sapporo that supplies flour to Nishiyama Seimen Co., Ltd. which makes their exclusive custom ramen noodles, to also assist them in developing their Japanese-style pizza dough mix. Yokoyama separates wheat grain into 70 different components, and they are also extremely passionate about bread making, so Jewayni, Utagawa, and Fukushima realized that partnering with Yokoyama would be the perfect collaboration in developing their Japanese pizza dough.
During one of the Daikaya Group’s research visits to Yokoyama’s test kitchen, one of the pizzas they tested was a pan pizza using 100% Hokkaido flour and rice oil. The flour helped the dough to rise to that fluffy Japanese bread texture they were looking for, and the combination of the pan and the rice oil shortening created a toasty, almost tempura-like crust. When they tasted it, everyone at the test kitchen thought that it was extremely Japanese and distinctive, and they unanimously agreed it would be their official signature pizza dough and that making their pizzas in a pan was the way to go.
Tonari’s menu features an assortment of antipasti, pasta selections, and pizzas. In addition Pastry Chef Mary Mendoza has a dessert menu focused on classic Italian desserts, and Beverage Program Director Nalee Grace Kim has an offering of both classic cocktails and “modern-ish” options
Tonari’s two-level space features 3,600 square feet – 1,800 on the ground floor, and another 1,800 on the 2nd floor, with seating for around 110 total, including seats for 50 in the main dining room and bar area on the ground floor, and horigotatsu seating for about 60 on the 2nd floor. Daikaya used the award-wining design firm Streetsence for its décor.
“Inspired by the contrast of eating pizza alongside the Philospher’s Path and pasta in Kyoto’s train station, we wanted the design to lean as traditionally Japanese as the food leans Italian”, said Brian Miller, Senior Design Director at edit lab at Streetsense. “We stripped out the old acoustic ceiling to uncover the building’s wooden roof structure, and added handmade Japanese wallpaper sheets, horigotatsu seating on the 2nd floor, and a moss garden to slow things down to Kyoto’s pace. The music is the most typical Japanese restaurant soundtrack we could construct – a collection of American jazz.”