When chef Hiro Tawara opens highly anticipated Wa’z today in Belltown (411 Cedar St.), Seattle will once again have a Japanese fine-dining restaurant devoted to the art of kaiseki. This traditional multi-course style features meticulously, elegantly plated dishes served in a specific sequence to honor the seasons and Japanese culture.
Chef Shota Nakajima’s Naka was the last local restaurant to tackle the style, but Nakajima converted his Capitol Hill space to the more casual Adana, and now keeps the kaiseki spirit alive via pop-ups. Hiro Tawara, meanwhile, started his career at Kyoto’s Kyo-Yamato and other kaiseki restaurants in Japan, and has been practicing the style for years via his own pop-ups even while preparing sushi at Shiro’s and Sushi Kappo Tamura.
Because kaiseki originated as a light meal preceding tea ceremonies before the style evolved into its own grand ceremony, the decor at Wa’z includes traditional tea ceremony garments and accessories. Complemented by a sake list featuring a number of options not typically found outside of Japan, the food menu also reflects Japanese culinary tradition but with many local and organic ingredients. A good example is the sakizuke appetizer, a golden beet salad with tofu, sesame paste, lotus root, blueberries, and hazelnuts, part of the opening menu.
The name Wa’z (pronounced “wahz” with a soft vowel sound like the first syllable of “father”) has its own bit of complicated Japan-meets-Northwest backstory, as difficult to guess as the name may be for many diners to say. According to a release, “wa” has three meanings: It refers to a Japanese word encompassing Japan’s harmonious culture, the postal abbreviation for Washington state, and simply a word for “Japanese.” The “z,” meanwhile, is symbolic of an endpoint, meant to suggest Wa’z as a dining destination.
On the inside, Wa’z has a sleek, minimalist Japanese design, allowing the stunning food and gorgeous serving vessels shine against black and white canvas walls, wooden tables, and hints of original brick wall — truly, there’s no hint this used to be the home of a Taco Del Mar. Twelve seats at the counter are available for the premium kaiseki menu (a 9 course meal for $100 with an optional sake pairing), while the 16-seat dining room offers a scaled-down menu with 6 options for $60. Along with a private area with eight seats, the total capacity is 36 diners.
Starting today, Wa’z is open Wednesday to Sunday 5 to 10 p.m.