We promised our DC friends and readers new date night ideas even after we moved, and so today we are introducing you to Kacy and her fabulous husband Tom, both of whom are dear friends. Kacy pens her own blog, Bad Sentences, but happily agreed to help keep us up to speed with the newest Date Nights in the district. Recently, Kacy and Tom attended the newly opened Haikan in DC on our behalf, and had great things to say. Welcome Kacy and Tom to In a DC Minute, and read about their Date Night below!
My husband, Tom, and I have always bonded over food. We love the ritual of a fancy date night, the comfort of a beloved family recipe and, especially, the adventure of exploring the cuisines of different cultures. One of the myriad reasons we love the D.C. area so much is the easy access to nearly every type of cuisine in the world.
We recently had the opportunity to check out brand new Haikan, a concept from the team behind Daikaya and Bantam King. It was fascinating to immerse ourselves in Chef Katsuya Fukushima’s latest take on Japanese cuisine, with a focus on Sapporo-style ramen and an eclectic selection of Japanese-inspired small plates.
Haikan is as stylish as any restaurant you’ll find in the Shaw neighborhood, but it’s a refreshing departure from what you’re used to seeing. The design team, Edit Lab at Streetsense, put an incredible amount of thought into the space. Inspired by Brutalist architecture and the recent renovation of the Atlantic Plumbing building in which its housed, the designers wanted to depart from the sleek and shiny aesthetic so popular right now and create something different. They played on the look and feel of D.C. buildings from the 1950s to 1970s, something I like to call “ugly-chic”.
From the fluted concrete walls to the old metro-inspired colors, the decor has a funky tongue-in-cheek look that feels both old and new at the same time, and of course very Japanese.
The bar program is ambitious, creative and fun with inventive cocktails, Japanese sake, shochu and beer.
Tom particularly enjoyed the Mukashifu, or Japanese old fashioned, while I gravitated toward the Wasabi Peas, a subtly spicy gin and yuzu creation with wasabi. Other highlights included a vermouth cocktail with a strip of smoked cedar as a garnish and a gulp-able draft “san-gu-ria” with wine, sochu, soju and hibiscus/berry syrup.
The “nibblings” were fun and full of flavor, and completely out of the ordinary. We sampled the explosively flavorful Japanese “deviled eggs”, mapo tofu poutine with french fries and freshly ground Szechuan peppercorns and crab rangoons, creamy with real chunks of crab and a hit of Old Bay seasoning. Each bite was delicious and had a very specific point of view.
The fact that you can get these tasty small bites from the same menu as the ramen makes Haikan a great date night spot if you and your partner aren’t quite on the same page with what you want to eat. That, or you can just go all out and have a little bit of everything.
You’re going to want to try that ramen though. Haikan brings the same quality and authenticity we’ve come to expect from Daikaya in four distinct Sapporo-style bowls. There’s salt-based Shio, soy-based Shoyu and a lighter miso version along with a 100% vegetarian option that should not be overlooked. It was very difficult to decide what to order, but ultimately we stuck with the classics for our first (but definitely not last) visit.
Tom had the Shio and I the Shoyu, both with the addition of butter and corn at our helpful server’s recommendation.
After hearing all about the basics of ramen and how carefully each bowl is prepared – the noodles are custom made and shipped from Japan – we were thrilled to dig in.
We learned that standard ramen protocol is to slurp up the noodles first, to avoid having them overcook. I’ve got a ways to go to perfect my slurp, but I’m willing to take on that delicious challenge.
These may indeed have been the best noodles I’ve ever had in a bowl of ramen, perfect in texture and with a wonderful, unique flavor that comes partially from the type of water used in Japan. Both broths were rich and nuanced without leaving us overly parched from too much salt. Fellow diners raved also about the vegetarian ramen, which I’m already picturing as the perfect Fall meal – especially on the large outdoor patio.
The generous bowls left us stuffed, but we had just enough room to cool down with a shared bowl of Matcha green tea shaved ice.
Haikan already has people lining up to sip funky cocktails and devour piping hot bowls of ramen, and it’s not hard to see why. We’re excited to have one more culturally-enriched meal under our belts and can’t wait to go back for more.
Thanks Kacy for a fabulous date night post, and we will continue to live vicariously through you as you date around DC!