Every detail in the pristine space that is now Momiji (the magnum opus of Steven Han's Japanese restaurants) -- from the tables, hand-carved by master woodworker Craig Yamamoto, to the ethereal, cloud-like lighting fixtures woven from traditional Japanese paper fibers by artist Yuri Kinoshita -- has been masterfully planned by Han's dream team of artisans.
Even the trees in the beautiful, zen-like courtyard were planted at an angle just-so, so that they would climb toward the light at calculated angles.
"I had a vision when we purchased this space," says Han, the baby-faced young restaurateur behind Belltown's Umi Sake House and Kushibar. "I didn't expect it to be this beautiful." On Monday, he at last held a much-anticipated preview of what sort of eats we could actually expect to consume in his work of art.
The tasting began with what one might expect from a venue that transports the diner out of Capitol Hill's Pike/Pine corridor straight into a high-end slice of heaven in Kyoto: an offering of Japanese fare traditional enough to satisfy the cravings of enterprising Western palettes, from a marshmallow-soft sesame tofu with miso paste to seasonal vegetables gently simmered in a mild Dashi broth and typical selection of udon and soba noodles.
And then, just when you think you've got it easily pegged, the curve balls start flying: the Madison Avenue roll, with takuwan (pickled daikon), kanpyo (dried gourd strips), cucumber and asparagus topped with snow crab legs and tamarind cayenne sauce; or the Three Amigos Roll: softshell crab, cilantro and eggplant topped with filet mignon and spicy green jalapeno sauce—abominations to sushi purists and a reason for yawning adventurers to want to leave the house.
In addition to 40—yes, 40—specialty roll choices ($9-$20), the eight-page menu includes a raw bar featuring the likes of sashimi ($10 for two pieces each of salmon, tuna and yellowtail) and salmon tartare with wasabi soy mustard sauce ($15), and other dishes classified simply by their method of cooking: fried, pan fried, grilled, baked and steamed. If it's too daunting, patrons can also eschew the decision-making completely and instead request a $30-$100 omakase meal, leaving themselves to the whims of the kitchen.
Naturally, more than five pages of the cocktail menu are taken up by Momiji's extensive sake selection. Aside from a small wine and draft beer selection, the rest are specialty cocktails, most of which use shochu as their base, a rice liquor that is only lightly distilled to retain its earthy flavor and often enhanced with additional flavors like barley, sugar and sweet potato. Based on its popularity in Japan as a lighter, lower-calorie poison and tastings at the restaurant thus far, Momiji general manager Cody Burns predicts "we're going to significantly alter sochu sales in the state." Light and mild, libations like the pale and frothy Yama Villa ($10), a mixture of Chiran Bukeyashiki (sweet potato shochu), orgeat, lime and egg white, are the perfect, unobtrusive compliment to the gentle flavors of the food.
Momiji opens for dinner on Wednesday.
Momiji, 1522 12th Ave., 206.457.4068, momijiseattle.com
This post has been edited since its original publication.