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The small counter at Taku on Capitol Hill with paper lanterns and newspaper print and stickers along the walls.
Taku offers counter service, but will eventually have takeout.
Suzi Pratt

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Star Chef Shota Nakajima’s New Restaurant Taku Brings a Taste of Osaka to Capitol Hill

The playful kushikatsu restaurant opens tomorrow with skewers, highballs, and a giant Godzilla head

In these stressful times, a dish called the Fuckit Bucket may just hit the spot. That’s one of the items on the menu at Capitol Hill’s cozy Taku, star chef Shota Nakajima’s ode to the street food of Osaka, focusing mainly on kushikatsu — and, basically, the “bucket” is a bowl of those deep-fried skewers served over rice. The dish is also indicative of the playful, carefree vibe Nakajima — a 2018 Eater Young Gun — is going for his new restaurant, which opens tomorrow.

It’s one that reflects the general upbeat personality the chef exudes, because if he’s concerned about debuting Taku as the city deals with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, he isn’t showing it. At his acclaimed Japanese restaurant Adana, there were 40 cancellations over the weekend, but Nakajima simply adjusted as needed, offering beer specials and improvising with some okonomiyaki dishes for walk-in diners. As he puts the finishing touches at the more casual Taku with his operations manager Alex Garmendia, there’s an all-hands on deck attitude with the staff, and line cooks could bounce from one place to another. “You just gotta keep pushing through and staying positive,” he says.

Shota Nakajima serves up a Fuckit Bucket, a bowl of deep fried skewers
Shota Nakajima serves up a Fuckit Bucket.
Stephanie Forrer

There’s no doubt that Nakajima is excited to present Taku to the world, at last. The chef has honed his vision for the restaurant over the past year and a half, starting with sketches in a notepad. Born in Japan, and raised predominantly in the U.S, Nakajima moved to Osaka at age 18 to apprentice with chef Yasuhiko Sakamoto — and the decor at Taku reflects that time in his life, specifically the Shinsekai district’s lively food stalls.

There are walls covered in graffiti (with words and names special to Nakajima), Japanese paper lanterns, manhole covers, anime posters, a giant Godzilla head, and a custom unicorn door constructed by Adam Heimstadt of Unicorn Seattle. When the weather gets warmer, the front windows open out onto the street, where there will eventually be some sidewalk seating. A takeout window is in the works as well.

Anime artwork and graffiti on the walls at Taku
Many of the posters, stickers, and Anime art are from Shota Nakajima’s personal collection.
Suzi Pratt
A Godzilla head on the bathroom wall at Adana.
The Godzilla head was a custom-made art piece from Japan.
Suzi Pratt

Diners order the skewers from a small paper sheet, with items ranging from lotus root to chicken thighs to beef short ribs (all priced at $4 or lower). There are a few substantial sides, such as a spicy eggplant dish and kimuchi tofu, while tempura ice cream and katsu banana splits with mochi ice cream round out the dessert offerings. Nakajima says a few specials will pop up on the menu from time to time, maybe even a pizza katsu dish or really anything he gets excited about seasonally. “But there will always be rice,” he says. “I love rice.” On the drinks side, there are five cocktails on draft, Toki highballs (made with a special machine designed for optimizing carbonation), beer, wine, and sake. Boozy slushies may follow this spring and summer.

The space itself should also evolve over time, with even more artwork adorning the already busy walls and a vending machine in the corner that will dispense random trinkets from Nakajima’s personal memorabilia collection or his staff’s. He says that a percentage of sales from the machine will go to various charities.

Nakajima also hopes that the space will become an integral part of the neighborhood’s lively party scene. “The louder, the better,” he says. And he’s looking forward to the day when fears over the novel coronavirus are a distant memory and everybody is out and about on the streets of Capitol Hill in full force, enjoying themselves. Perhaps next summer, Taku will spearhead a local block party with other restaurants and bars. “I want to see drunk people at the curb outside at 3 a.m., eating the Fuckit Bucket, knowing they may regret it later,” Nakajima says.

The counter space at Taku with colorful stools and hanging lights and banners overhead.
Taku has seating for around 35 inside.
Suzi Pratt
Plastic kushikatsu alongside cans of beer and sake at Taku.
Plastic kushikatsu are displayed in a glass case out front so diners can get an idea of portion size.
Suzi Pratt
Glowing paper lanterns light up the bar at Taku.
Chef Nakajima says the place turned out exactly as he envisioned it in his sketch book.
Suzi Pratt/Eater Seattle
A collection of small Japanese figurines on a shelf at Taku.
Some of the toys displayed at Taku are those chef Nakajima has had since he was a kid.
Suzi Pratt
A door designed by Unicorn bar’s Adam Heimstadt displayed in a small hallway at Taku
One wall at Taku is decorated with a door designed by Unicorn bar’s Adam Heimstadt.
Suzi Pratt

Taku

706 East Pike Street, , WA 98122 (206) 829-9418 Visit Website

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