Momiji on Capitol Hill offers an exhilarating dining experience
Some 60 sushi rolls, cooked dishes, a fresh sheet and kaiseki menu greet diners at Momiji on Capitol Hill.
Special to The Seattle Times
|Spicy ginger chicken||$9|
|Braised Kurobuta pork||$10|
|Lucky Leprechaun roll||$12|
|Three Amigos roll||$24|
1522 12th Ave., Seattle
Hours: Dinner 4 p.m.-1 a.m. daily; happy hour 4-6 p.m. and 11 p.m.-1 a.m. Sunday-Thursday
Prices: $$ (Sushi rolls $9-$25; plates $6-$15)
Drinks: Lengthy list of sake by the glass, flight or bottle; unique shochu and other cocktails; beer; wine.
Parking: On street or in nearby lots
Who should go: A giddy trip for sushi-roll fanciers; energetic and fun for groups; go elsewhere for serenity.
Credit cards: All major
Access: No obstacles
If any single bite could sum up a restaurant, the oyster shooter does it for Momiji. That thunderbolt of flavor goes down in an icy oceanic rush of bivalve, sweetened vinegar, tobiko and pico de gallo. Audacious, to say the least, and like Momiji, it commands your attention.
Dining at this Capitol Hill newcomer is a giddy trip, even more so than at Steven Han's other restaurants, Umi Sake House and Kushibar. If servers are sometimes distracted, if the kitchen slows to a caterpillar crawl, well, you try mastering in just a few months a bill of fare that includes some 60 different sushi rolls, dozens of cooked dishes, a fresh sheet and a kaiseki menu.
A gratis plate of edamame provides much-needed sustenance as diners sort through the paperwork describing these various options, peering at sometimes very fine print in very low light. Those seeking liquid fortification must tackle another 16 pages of wine, beer, sake, shochu and other spirited cocktails. It's ultimately worth the effort.
If sake mystifies you, try a flight (three for $19; five for $29). Or consider one of Momiji's food-friendly cocktails, like "The Getaway," a brisk blend of Hendrick's gin, Pimm's, lychee and soda on the rocks.
You will want a sushi roll or two; large groups might order several of these elaborate constructions, each cut into nine parts. Don't shy away from oddball combos. Try the "Lucky Leprechaun" roll, a stimulating parcel packed with cilantro and pickled vegetables, draped in mango and avocado, and drizzled with spicy mango-shiso sauce.
The "Three Amigos" roll offered the crunch of fried soft-shelled crab and pickled eggplant inside and an exterior papered in slices of rare New York steak. Those buddies not only got along great, but the pair of sauces, one jazzed with jalapeño, another that resembled Korean BBQ sauce, played off each other like dueling banjoes.
Picking and choosing among cooked dishes offered other rewards: grilled shishito peppers sprinkled with lemon and lots of sea salt; poached beets with shiso and lemon-dressed arugula; wok-fried chicken and spinach in zesty ginger sauce; and an uncommonly elegant chicken yakisoba made with spaghettilike egg noodles under a mosaic of meat, herbs, vegetables and marinated mushroom.
Salmon collar flaunted plenty of buttery flesh around the bones and had a good-sized piece of fillet attached. A steal at just $12, it also came with a generous salad: ponzu-dressed greens, cherry tomatoes and cucumber liberally laced with togarashi. The same vivacious salad accompanied grilled king crab, the only dish I ordered that disappointed. The crab was dry and bitter with char; no amount of ponzu sauce could revive it.
One night's fresh sheet offered Mirugai Batayaki: bits of geoduck sautéed with slender asparagus in a sauce that was buttery and briny at once. I nudged the side of fresh, young spinach leaves into that golden pond and used them to mop up the last rich drop.
Kaiseki menus are usually coursed, like tasting menus, but Momiji offers kaiseki items a la carte. I tried a few. Morsels of Kurobuta pork shoulder braised with ginger and brown sugar and dabbed with Chinese mustard were pull-apart tender and simply delicious. A thick batter weighed down maitake mushroom tempura, but the meaty mushrooms dipped in green tea salt were still a satisfying snack. So were ebi shinjo, bite-size sandwiches of shrimp and tofu purée pressed between crisp coins of lotus root, the edges rolled in sesame seeds.
Momiji can be an exhilarating dining experience, but the kitchen, under executive chef Chris Vilayphanh, is only part of the reason. Architect Hiroshi Matsubara's visually engaging space glows with Yuri Kinoshita's light installations. From the snug barroom up front, a wood-paneled corridor leads to a pair of glass-walled dining rooms that surround a tranquil Japanese garden landscaped by Junji Miki. Swan-necked bottles of soy sauce adorn inlaid wood tabletops that, like the sushi bar, were created by Craig Yamamoto. Many visions contributed to shape-shifting the former Dawson Plumbing Building into a magical Japanese nightscape: Not least is that of restaurateur Steven Han.
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