Beautiful plates like this planted Adana firmly on Seattle Met's 100 best restaurants in the city. Chef Shota Nakajima hopes his menus will return in popup form at his new spot, Taku.

While chefs across Seattle wait and watch and try to formulate plans for the summer, Shota Nakajima decided to pull the rip cord. He announced that Adana, his unbuttoned kaiseki restaurant on Capitol Hill, will close for good. It’s been dark since Governor Inslee shuttered dining rooms by emergency proclamation back in March.

“I signed my lease at age 25,” Nakajima wrote on social media. “I’ve had thousands of people come through my place called home for the last 5 years who have created what kind of restaurant it is from each employee to each guest.” Then, he took to Instagram stories to offer up Adana’s multitude of beautiful plates for sale and to offload the contents of its pantry.

“I’m relieved, to be honest,” the chef said, on a break from cleaning out his dining room. “I think restaurants are going to be hard for a little while.”

Nakajima vaulted into Seattle’s dining scene when he was barely old enough to rent a car, but has repeatedly displayed the business self-awareness and unremitting culinary skills of a chef several decades his senior. He first opened this restaurant as Naka in June of 2015; The restaurant’s ornate 10-course menus were an outlier in a moment of big sandwiches and neighborhood restaurants. A year and a half later, he refashioned the restaurant into the more casual Adana, serving homier distillations of that original kaiseki concept—plus some legit katsu sandos at the well-appointed bar.

He also had the dubious distinction of opening a new spot right as Covid-19 concerns started to sweep the city. Taku, a kushikatsu bar that hasn’t yet had the chance to be rowdy, opened March 11. A neon sign inside touts its signature “fuck-it bucket” full of fried skewers, but since our stay home order, a takeout menu offers kushikatsu skewers in less gargantuan quantities—plus bowls and burger riffs. Taku is tiny and casual and serves the sort of reassuring food built for upended times. No restaurant (and certainly no bar) is a sure bet right now, but it does make sense to focus on the place with a built-in takeout window.

Adana was never a moneymaker, says Nakajima. Looking at the financials, he envisioned a year of losing money, followed by more years paying off debt. “It’s bittersweet,” he says of his choice. “But having more mental space gives me the opportunities to do more things.” And the months to come will most certainly call for mental bandwidth. Like so many other chefs, he will stick to takeout even when King County slides into phase two of Inslee’s recovery plan, and dining rooms can return in a limited capacity. Rather than stress about mounting debts and struggling to keep Adana afloat, says Nakajima, “I can think about how to make it through in this new society, these next few years."

Back in Before Times, aka February, Nakajima told me he’d return to the kitchen at Adana once Taku found his footing. He proudly proclaimed himself an “art on a plate” sort of chef. When we discussed Adana’s closure, I asked him—can he still find creative satisfaction in perfectly fried skewers of shishito peppers and chicken thighs? Can culinary ambition even be a consideration right now?

“This is my creative outlet,” he reassures. “I’m not going to stop doing it.” He currently channels his fine dining energies into making elaborate dinner for his parents, but he’s considering popups at Taku.

Right now, the notion of sharing seating with strangers feels like science fiction (and Taku is closed for a few weeks so Nakajima and his crew can reorganize themselves a bit) but let’s hope we’re not too far off from a day when that fuck-it bucket sign can glow once again. Maybe even over an ornate kaiseki meal.

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