Mutsuko Soma certainly wasn’t looking to open another place. Making enough soba to satisfy diners at her perpetually packed Kamonegi keeps her plenty busy.
But when Lama G’s Cafe closed just two doors down, Soma saw potential. Actually, she says, “I was more into the patio.”
The verdant walled-in yard behind the cafe could make for some charming outdoor seating, sure, but the chef also saw a space where she could build a fermentation command center, a place to house tsukemono pickles, miso, koji, and other time-intensive staples of Japanese cuisine.
Which is a long way of saying that the chef behind one of Seattle’s best, most buoyant new restaurants (and Seattle Met's 2018 Restaurant of the Year) is opening a sake bar called Hannyatou, in the same building as Kamonegi in Fremont.
Hannyatou, says Soma, takes inspiration from "the Edo-period tradition of drinking at a liquor store," usually sake from a square wooden “masu” cup used to measure out take-home portions of sake in the feudal Japanese equivalent of a growler.
The term “izakaya” comes from this practice, says the chef, but instead of slinging beer and tasty fried snacks, she wants to take the concept back to its roots with sake. Occupants of Hannyatou’s 28 seats can sample sake flights and consult a sake-informed staff as they explore a list that’s broader than the (already intriguing) one over at Kamonegi. A retail section will offer a more elegant update on that whole "drinking at a liquor store" scenario.
The food menu of 10-12 plates will draw heavily from the fermentation that happens out back (nope, no soba here). That backyard area will fuel fermentation possibilities for both spots, says Soma: "Out here, I can do more" than what's possible in Kamonegi's close quarters.
Back in Japan, Soma earned a kikizakeshi qualification, not unlike the sake version of a sommelier. If there were ever a beverage ripe for further exploration, it’s this one, fresh and seasonal, steeped in ritual, and too often not at its best in the U.S.
Hannyatou is slated to open in March. Keep tabs on its progress on the soon-to-be-minted @HannyatouSEA Instagram, and, down the road, on the Hannyatou website.