Chef Shota Nakajima's forthcoming spot will be an ode to kushikatsu: fried skewers of breaded meats, seafood, and vegetables. 

By Naomi Tomky
Updated December 16, 2019
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When Seattle chef Shota Nakajima of Adana first returned Japan to learn the family business of kaiseki, he skipped his relatives’ spots in Kyoto and headed to Osaka, known as the “kitchen of Japan."

Osaka’s laborer population and the big, bold street food scene it shaped—especially in the Shinsekai district—called to Nakajima. While there, he fell in love with the alleyways full of food and, specifically, kushikatsu: the fried skewers of breaded meats, seafood, vegetables, and cheese served there. After opening kaiseki restaurant Naka in 2015, Nakajima adapted the concept to be a bit more casual and found success at Adana; in January, the chef will open a second restaurant, Taku, designed to look, feel, and taste like Shinsekai.

Stephanie Forrer

That begins with kushikatsu, the fried skewers, which include a beef shortrib, a nod to the original version of the dish, and more unusual options like shishito peppers, mochi, shrimp, and even brie cheese. The skewers, sold via counter-service, will go for $2 to 4 each, along with side dishes like rice, cabbage salad, and miso soup.

Stephanie Forrer

As for drinks, he’s adamant that there won’t be any craft cocktails (a rarity on trendy Capitol Hill), instead focusing on the highballs that are so popular in Japan. Nakajima’s personal favorite from the menu, though, comes from the menu of multi-skewer cups, called the Fuckit Bucket: “A bunch of fried food in a cup with sauce” that he envisions as a big seller at the street-side takeout window, especially for the late-night crowd.

It was Nakajima’s own late-night eating that drove him to translate Osaka’s culinary culture across the Pacific. He compares kushikatsu in Osaka to pizza here. “It’s where the [restaurant] industry goes after work, it’s what’s open,” he says, recalling 3:00 a.m. crawls from beer stalls to kushikatsu stalls and back again. “I have fond memories of it.”

Stephanie Forrer

The nostalgia isn’t just about how great the food was, though. “The atmosphere is the biggest thing,” says Nakajima. He recalls how on any given block you could pull up at a five-seat window or sit down at a thirty-seat restaurant. To give diners the full feel of the Shinsekai district, he designed the restaurant to look like the alleyways he loved so much: façades with corrugated roofs and electrical cords hanging down from them, false doors painted by local artists, and manhole covers straight from Japan. Nakajima collected thousands of Japanese pop culture stickers, and somehow acquired the massive gorilla head coming out of the wall.

Along with the 30 seats at the counter and communal table, there is a gaming corner and that takeout window, over which hangs a large neon sign that says “Rice on the Hill,” Nakajima’s nod to his fellow industry workers and their frustration that to get rice late at night, they’ve previously had to leave Capitol Hill for the International District. But most of the other menu items stick to his original motivation of bringing Osaka’s favorite drinking food to the U.S.

Stephanie Forrer

“My goal is to convey Japan through food in a way that it hasn’t been conveyed yet,” he says. But Nakajima did have to make one other major concession: in Osaka, the dipping sauces live on the table and diners automatically obey the hard and fast rule of “nido tsuke kinnshi,” or no double-dipping. Here, he plans to have plenty of sauces, including Japanese standards and American options like honey mustard and Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce, but they’ll all be in squeeze bottles or individual portions.

He just knew that Americans couldn’t quite handle that level of authenticity. “Sanitary-wise, people would ruin it right away.”

Taku opens in late January at 706 East Pike Street, Seattle, WA 98122