When it opens on Capitol Hill Sunday, April 15, Junkichi (224 Broadway E) will offer two distinct Japanese dining experiences: izakaya, a term by now well-known in the U.S. to refer to an informal pub style, and robata, less commonly seen here but specializing in foods grilled over carbon-charcoal binchotan.
As such, Junkichi’s menu has a heavy emphasis on grilled meats, such as free-range chicken skewers, hotate scallop, Kobe beef ribeye, and pork sausage. A large range of appetizers includes amberjack carpaccio and Junkichi’s signature dish, black cod with miso, while box sushi, signature sushi rolls, and sashimi are also available. And for drinks, there are cocktails, lots of Japanese sake, and wine, including exclusive bottles from Napa Valley winery Kenzo Estate.
The 50-seat restaurant with warm tones, big windows, and wooden tables takes over the space formerly occupied by Einstein Bagels, just steps away from the Capitol Hill light rail station. Drivers can get parking validated in the Lyric building, with the caveat that the garage closes at 8 p.m. The dining room offers ample seating, but, as is often the case, the best seats in the house are at the countertop. Diners who perch here can ogle not only behind-the-scenes kitchen action but also a 10-foot display of fresh ingredients, which could include local fish and oysters on the half shell or sausages from Bavarian Meats.
Despite the emphasis on the robata, or Japanese grill, it’s a small disappointment that diners don’t get a clear view of the grilling process from every seat in the restaurant. Even those sitting at the countertop, who can expect typical Japanese chef interaction as they pass meal items out on a wooden paddle, won’t get a clear view of the grill, as it’s tucked in a back corner.
Another notable service feature here is the use of Sota, a robot already in operation at the Hokkaido Ramen Santouka chain, also run by Junkichi owner Plenty USA, Inc. While Sota doesn’t have voice recognition, it does have facial recognition and can remember returning diners, who can download a smartphone app to make Sota speak and even recommend dishes from the menu. Playing with Sota might be a fun diversion the first time, but the AI isn’t exactly as advanced as Alexa or Siri, so it’s questionable how successful it will be in the long run.
Junkichi opens at 224 Broadway E on Sunday, April 15, at 4 p.m.; going forward it will be open weekdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 11 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sundays 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.