The Japanese have plenty of words for different styles of dining, from omakase (chef’s selection) to izakaya (a Japanese pub with great food). But kappo might not be on the tip of many tongues. Legendarily rooted in Osaka starting in the 19th century, kappo dining puts the chef on display in the dining room, where diners can watch their meals form before their very eyes. Even better, there are no imaginary lines here between cook and customer: the other distinctive part of kappo are the many close interactions between the diners and chef, making it a learning experience for both parties.
You could say it’s the Japanese way, but here, more than anything it’s the Tamura way: creating a menu based on whatever fresh, local food chefs can obtain that day. With produce plucked from the rooftop garden or shrimp caught in Skagit Bay, chefs create a brand-spankin’-new menu every day. That means you may not have much control over what’s offered, but with the chefs’ degree of skill in the kitchen, that essentially doesn’t matter.
When Seattle Magazine named Sushi Kappo Tamura the Best New Restaurant in 2011, it lauded it’s sushi as the best in Seattle. That might seem like a big enough accomplishment in itself, but it’s not the only trophy in this restaurant’s case. Seattle Magazine readers’ choice voters agreed with the critics, deeming it Best Sushi in 2014. Travel + Leisure called it one of the Best Sushi Restaurants in the States. Maybe it’s the freshness of every ingredient or Kyoto-born chef Taichi Kitamura’s constant strive for perfection, but Sushi Kappo Tamura keeps racking up accolades that leave the rest of the pack lagging behind.
On the sign that denotes the entrance to Rain Modern Japanese Cuisine, twisting neon lights outline a blue fish with a cartoonish grin and an orange umbrella. This colorful introduction extends inside to the dining room, where Rainbow rolls, golden tamago nigiri, and ruby-red salmon roe add pigment to each stark white plate. Sushi dominates the menu, which boasts nigiri by the piece as well as maki wrapped in soy-paper or bundled with tempura and glazed with sauces such as avocado salsa and housemade teriyaki. Chef Takashi Ogasawara and his staff's other handcrafted creations include the namesake Rain roll—shrimp tempura capped with creamy scallops—and the Sasquatch, a meaty morsel of shrimp, tobiko, and tuna nestled in seared salmon. In addition to sushi, diners can sample beef-short-rib appetizers or play cat's cradle with hungry spirit animals via udon and yakisoba noodle dishes.
Diners at Shilla Restaurant have a choice: become the masters of their own culinary fate or let the chefs do all the work. At tables inset with Korean barbecue, they can flip slices of bulgogi beef, calamari, pork belly until they're perfectly seared. At the sushi bar, chefs roll more than 30 varieties of maki, while in the kitchen others are busy turning out an expansive menu of steamy Korean cuisine such as bibimbap.
Guests cook or slurp up kimchi in a sleek, monochromatic dining room. Beneath paper lampshades, they can counteract bites of spicy Korean entrees by drinking sips of sake.
At Moshi Moshi Sushi, a large sakura tree hangs over the dining room, its branches of white LED lights shining like cherry blossoms amid the soft glow of paper lanterns. As patrons bathe in this light reminiscent of a Japanese garden, sushi chefs transform fresh fish—flown in regularly from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market—into maki rolls and sashimi. Meanwhile, bartenders mix several specialty cocktails—such as the Death Poem, a blend of Guatemalan rum, rye whiskey, grapefruit, and cinnamon—to pay homage to Japan’s natural mountain streams of hot sake.
The chefs at Sumo Sushi create specialty sushi rolls and teriyaki meals for lunch and dinner. They serve guests fresh nigiri and sashimi such as salmon, eel, and squid. Beer, sake, and wine can help wash down any number of sushi rolls, such as the Hawaii, with bluefin tuna over a California roll, or shrimp tempura with crabmeat and avocado.
Where to Sit: Request a seat near the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Momiji's traditional Japanese garden, a tranquil space in the bustling Capitol Hill neighborhood. Fun fact: Momiji translates to "Japanese maple," and there are two in the garden.
When to Go: Head in early for the daily happy-hour specials, or visit late for a nighttime nosh—the restaurant offers a late-night menu until the kitchen closes at 12:30 a.m..
While You’re Waiting: Play "Name the Fake Sushi Roll" with your dining companions, in which you list two of the restaurant's real rolls and one you've made up. With more than 40 wildly named selections, it should be difficult for your friends to spot the fake one. Hint: Mango Tango, Streetfighter, and Lucky Leprechaun are all real.
Omakase: chef-selected multicourse dinner, typically focusing on sushi. The word can be approximately translated as "I trust you"—a sign of confidence in the chef's craft.
Ponzu: a thin, citrusy sauce usually containing mirin, rice vinegar, and bonito flakes; it may also be mixed with soy sauce.
Sake: Japanese wine made with fermented rice. While it was once common to serve all sakes warm, premium sake are now served at room temperature or slightly chilled.
While You’re in the Neighborhood
For the Film Buff: Visit the Northwest Film Forum (1515 12th Avenue) to catch a classic, indie, or documentary flick.
For the Aspiring Author: Hugo House (1634 11th Avenue) offers a selection of classes and events for writers, including wine and poetry nights, author readings, and writers' groups.