Ebi furai at Cafe Spoken
Ebi furai at Cafe Spoken Credit: Vina Sananikone/Cafe Spoken

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The menu at Cafe Spoken reads like a list of Japan’s most craved dishes. Restaurateur Erik Bruner-Yang‘s all-day cafe in the lobby of the LINE DC Hotel launched July 1 in the former location of The Cup We All Race 4 coffee shop at the front of the hotel. Spike Gjerde, the restaurateur behind the coffee shop and A Rake’s Progress, closed his restaurants in June. Bruner-Yang also operates Brothers and Sisters and Spoken English inside the hotel, hence the name of the spinoff.

Bruner-Yang drew inspiration for Cafe Spoken from kissaten cafes that originated in Shōwa-era Japan (1926-1989). Though they’re inspired by traditional teahouses, they marked a departure from the norm because they emphasize coffee drinks and feature Western-inspired decor. These casual shops are often family-run and serve a similar set of dishes like fried snacks, curry and rice, and ketchup-based spaghetti Napolitan. Many of these dishes appear on the menu at Cafe Spoken. 

“Our whole presence at the hotel has always been inspired by the intersection of Western culture and Japanese and Taiwanese culture post-World War I and -World War II and exploring that existence,” Bruner-Yang says. He grew up in Taipei and Tokyo. “Now having Cafe Spoken allows us to really tie that story together with Brothers and Sisters and Spoken English.” 

The star of Cafe Spoken’s morning menu offered from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. daily is the Japanese breakfast bowl filled with grilled fish, soft egg, rice, pickles, and herbs. There’s also oatmeal mushroom congee, dumplings, scallion pancakes served with egg, and Chinese doughnuts with sweet soy milk. Try them with familiar coffee drinks—cappuccinos, cold brew, and mochas—or something special, like an Okinawa latte. 

Reggie Elliott, the coffee director for Bruner-Yang’s Foreign National restaurant group, explains that an Okinawa latte is an espresso beverage sweetened with a syrup made from a dark sugar native to Okinawa, Japan. He says it reminds him of molasses. 

At 11 a.m. Cafe Spoken switches over to a menu that’s available until 10 p.m. Start with ebi furai (panko-fried shrimp), two kinds of korokke (Japan’s answer to croquettes), or various flavors of onigiri (rice balls). Then move on to something more substantial like a chicken katsu sandwich, mild Japanese curry, or omu rice (a mound of rice sweetened with ketchup that’s hidden beneath an omelette).

The all-day drink menu includes the same coffee and teas as the morning menu, plus beer, wine, bottled cocktails, and boozy milkshakes. See the full menus below. Cafe Spoken is set up for counter service. Customers can currently dine in or ask for take-out. 

Spoken English, a small restaurant that asks patrons to stand while dining similar to a Japanese tachinomiya, has been closed since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I don’t see Spoken English opening until the end of this year or early next year,” Bruner-Yang says. “So the idea of Cafe Spoken was to bring some of the fun dishes that inspired us at Spoken English and present them in a more traditional flavor profile.”  

Cafe Spoken, 1770 Euclid St. NW; spokenenglishdc.com/cafe-spoken-menu