The coals were hot and the sake was smashed during an invitation-only party celebrating the opening of Junkichi, a robata-style izakaya restaurant in Capitol Hill.
The restaurant group behind Santouka Ramen, Plenty USA took over the long-vacant Einstein Bros. Bagels space at 224 Broadway E. late last year.
Junkichi uses the robata method of grilling meats and seafood over hot charcoal, and also offers up other small plates, sashimi and sushi, bento, and ramen created in collaboration with Santouka Ramen, which has locations in University Village and Bellevue.
Plenty USA CEO Jun Yoneda said robata is the best method to bring out the full flavor of the local seafood and meats on Junkichi’s menu during an opening party on Thursday, April 12.
Before guests dove into the food, they were treated to a Taiko drumming performance by The School of Taiko, followed by a Kagamiwari sake ceremony, a tradition in Japan performed during events like weddings and company openings that involves using wooden mallets to break the lid of a sake barrel.
There is table seating, but the best views into the open kitchen are from the bar, which is decorated with a spread of ingredients customers will find in Junkichi’s dishes. From there people can watch chefs fanning the hot charcoals of the robata grill, the dense wood used to create the heat source shipped in from Japan.
“The quality needs to be very controlled,” said Junkichi manager Edward Wintermyer, adding that extends to everything on the menu.
Junkichi serves many of its menu items on Takito dishware, sourced from a small production company that has been operating in Japan for more than a century.
Wintermyer said there are several menu items that bring the cooking to customers, such as the sukiyaki that is served in clay pots with the heat source placed inside. Diners can also cook a Wagyu ribeye to their liking from their table, but after Junkichi cooks it to rare.
Junkichi has partnered with Bavarian Meats to put pork sausages on its menu, and Wintermyer said the company will later collaborate with Junkichi on specialty sausages.
As well trained as the cooks and servers might be, the most popular employee at Junkichi is likely to be Sota, an AI robot that sits at the table. It can recommend specials and staff choices, respond to verbal prompts and use facial recognition to identify patrons and keep tabs on their previous orders.
“So, when you return, it will remember you,” Wintermyer said.
People can download an app for Sota, which is how people can upload their image for facial recognition, as well as write speech for Sota to speak. To download the app, search for Junkichi Remote. Wintermyer said servers also have tablets that will let them communicate through Sota, to ask things such as whether a customer with a low glass would like another drink.
Junkichi officially opens on Sunday, April 15. Its hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-11 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Check out the menu at junkichiusa.com.