Last year, the restaurant expanded into the adjacent storefront. The interior not only got a complete makeover, so did the menu, taking a turn toward izakaya, the Japanese equivalent of a pub, and doubling down on Hokkaido specialties.
“Nice to meet you” is the English translation of Yoroshiku, and it was very nice to finally make its acquaintance.
When Keisuke Kobayashi opened his Wallingford restaurant in 2012, the name over the door said 4649. The numbers were a play on words. Say them in Japanese, and it sounds like “yoroshiku,” but the pun was lost on English speakers, who mistook the sign for its 45th Street address.
In the beginning, the restaurant focused on yakitori, but it was the Sapporo-style miso ramen that caught people’s attention. Kobayashi and his head chef, Koichi Homma, are longtime friends who grew up in Sapporo, the capitol of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost and second-largest island. They see similarities between the seasons, seafood and natural setting of their birthplace and the Pacific Northwest. Last year, Yoroshiku expanded into the adjacent storefront, making room for many more tables as well as a full bar well-stocked with Japanese spirits, sake, shochu and beer. For the walls, Kobayashi commissioned large black-and-white murals illustrating the connection between Sapporo and Seattle.
The interior not only got a complete makeover, so did the menu, taking a turn toward izakaya, the Japanese equivalent of a pub, and doubling down on Hokkaido specialties. At happy hour, the $5 drinks and roughly a dozen snacks — among them shishito peppers, smoky little pork links and fried dark-meat chicken nuggets (zangi) — are a legitimate draw. But even more satisfying are the steaming ramen bowls, sizzling skillets of okonomiyaki and Hokkaido mainstays like “Zin Gis Kahn,” purported to be Japan’s favorite lamb dish. Its origin dates to when sheep were first imported to Hokkaido. It acquired the Mongolian conqueror’s name because mutton and lamb are prominent in Mongol cuisine. The dish falls agreeably between barbecue and sukiyaki, combining thin slices of local, grass-fed lamb leg with cabbage and carrots in a soy-dark sauce sweetened with apple and onion.
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Unlike some restaurants, where the food grabs you by the lapels, the dishes here tap you politely on the shoulder, getting attention in a quieter way. Dainty tsukemono (pickled vegetables) looks like a small salad composed of ruffles and flourishes of nappa cabbage, carrot and cucumber. Housemade garbanzo tofu tastes so light you wonder how it keeps its rectangular shape as it floats like a water lily in dashi and kombu under a bouquet of scallion, daikon and sprouts.
A few dishes successfully blur cultural boundaries. A pair of toasted baguette slices are a foundation for “uni bruschetta.” The two-bite canapes hold creamy sea urchin scattered with fried garlic, cracked pink pepper, black tobiko and a trace of grated Parmesan cheese, a combo that tasted better than it sounds. Shiso oil and peppery greens jazzed up wild sockeye salmon “carpaccio.” For “Japanese mushroom ajillo,” shiitake and shimeji, nearly submerged in garlic butter, approximated earthy escargots. (We added giant octopus to the mushrooms for $3 extra, but the seafood was chopped into such tiny bits its impact was slight.)
Giant octopus was also among the sushi selections. Sushi is pressed, rather than hand-formed in the nigiri style. Called oshizushi, the squared pieces are made by compressing layers of rice and fish in a mold. You’ll want the Hokkaido scallops, opaque slices lightly torched (aburi) and tasting all the sweeter with streaks of char. The scallops come as sashimi, too, along with local seafood. An order of skillfully sliced sockeye salmon and shime saba (pickled mackerel) brought four slices of each fish artfully arranged with lemon and lime, daikon sprouts and a fan-like shiso leaf.
Sitting at the counter one night, I lost count of how many orders of ramen and okonomiyaki the kitchen put out. Almost everyone had one or the other. Ramen styles include shoyu and shio, in addition to the heartier miso. All the broths have a chicken-stock base, made daily, Kobayashi says, “using local chicken frame and feet, and 27 kinds of herbs and vegetables.” I don’t doubt it. You can taste the complexity.
The spicy miso ramen, gently sparked with chili oil, was particularly appealing. Traditional accompaniments include chashu pork (fat-rimmed shoulder slices), a soft-but-not-runny boiled egg and a sheet of toasted nori. Do add kernels of fresh, sweet corn, among the optional frills. Fisherman’s Ramen, also made with miso broth, showcases a mix of local and Japanese seafood: sockeye slices, octopus, Manila clams in their shells and baby Hokkaido scallops no bigger than a nickel. The crinkly ramen noodles, made by a California company to the restaurant’s specifications, are wonderfully springy. The flat, wide noodles used for uni mazemen, a brothless ramen, are equally resilient, but the taste of sea urchin was faint in the garlic and butter sauce.
As a drinking companion, it’s hard to beat okonomiyaki. The savory pancake arrived in a still-sizzling skillet, custardy in the middle and crusty around the edges. The flour-and-egg batter contains kelp stock, cabbage and pickled ginger. Kewpie mayo and a tangy-sweet brown sauce crisscross the top, obscured by scallion ribbons and fluttering dried fish flakes. What else goes into it is up to you. Okonomi means “how you want it.” Choices include scallops, pork, vegetables, kimchi and mozzarella.
I was less enchanted by desserts, except for one: deep-fried wedges of Japanese sweet potato drizzled with honey and topped with a single scoop of cinnamon-dusted vanilla ice cream. Two of us were sharing it at the counter, and before we even had a chance to dig in, there was a tap on the shoulder from behind. It was Homma, ice cream scoop in hand, bringing us a second dollop for the bowl.
Japanese/izakaya, 1911 N. 45th St., Seattle; 206-547-4649, yoroshikuseattle.com
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday; 5 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday; happy hour 5-6:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, 9 p.m.- midnight Friday and Saturday; closed Monday
Prices: $$ (snacks/small plates $3-$10; sushi/sashimi $9-$35; ramen/okonomiyaki $13-$18)
Drinks: full bar; original cocktails, Japanese whiskey, sake, shochu, wine and beer
Service: friendly and efficient
Parking: on street
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles