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When people talk about ramen noodles, texture dominates the conversation. Are they chewy, springy, or dense? “People don’t look at the taste of noodles,” says Daisuke Utagawa, who is opening Haikan Saturday night in North End Shaw with partners Katsuya Fukushima and Yama Jewayni. “When you have sandwiches, you’re not going to do it with bread that doesn’t taste like anything—so that’s the part that people will start paying attention to. Nobody can replicate this taste.”
On a March 2015 research trip to Sapporo, Japan, Utagawa visited Nishiyama Seimen Company where the team spent time in a test kitchen determining the best noodles for their future Sapporo-style ramen shop. There, Utagawa learned that the factory uses water that shares a source with Shikotsu Lake. “It has a very particular taste, so it also adds to the flavor,” he says. The lake is known for being one of the clearest in the world.
The noodles will form the base of four types of ramen served at Haikan, which differ in flavor profile from what’s on the menu at Daikaya and Bantam King (from the same team): Shio, shoyu, miso, and miso vegetable.
“Our shio ramen here is delicate, but it has a slight hint of seafood in it,” Utagawa says. He continues to explain that the shoyu ramen is a throwback to the Showa Period, which saw the first golden age of ramen when soy-based ramen grew in popularity (roughly 1968-1985). It tastes fresher than the shoyu ramen at Daikaya, where it’s much darker in color. Finally, Haikan’s miso-flavored ramen uses a gentler miso compared to Daikaya, where they employ the more aggressive mugi miso.
Haikan’s menu also includes small plates and a shaved ice dessert, which means diners are likely to linger longer than at most quick-fix ramen shops, Utagawa says. The dishes ($8-$10) include everything from mapo tofu poutine and smashed cucumber salad to a “Pea-sar” salad.
Lead bartender Daniel Pouridas has been working on cocktails that match the creativity in the kitchen, including “Wasabi Peas,” with gin and snow peas muddled with yuzu, sugar, and fresh wasabi. Its impersonation of wasabi peas, the snack, is on point. Pouridas will also pour 10 types of sake and five types of shochu.
As with Daikaya and Bantam King, Brian Miller, senior project designer at Edit Lab at Streetsense, designed the restaurant. This time he went for a brutalism meets metabolism effect with concrete, exposed ductwork, and strong colors similar to the residential units above from JBG Companies. The ceiling—a honeycomb of wood triangles in green, red, and mustard—is one of the standout features in the 2,120-square-foot space that seats 55 indoors and 30 outdoors at a communal table under a trellis that resembles a tori gate—only it’s turquoise. On nice days, garage-style doors can open to create a breezy feel inside the restaurant.
Haikan opens this Saturday at 5 p.m. for dinner. Utagawa says they’re launching with dinner only, with the potential for lunch or brunch in the future.
Haikan, 805 V St. NW; (202) 299-1000; haikandc.com