Twice-fried karaage (in one stylish container).

While his televised alter ego competes on the latest season of Top Chef, Shota Nakajima is just about ready to reopen Taku, the Capitol Hill bar he debuted a scant five days before the statewide shutdown last March.

When Taku returns May 5, Nakajima will swap his original concept for one tested by both time and our recent pandemic cravings: fried chicken. Namely karaage, a Japanese comfort his mom cooked often when Nakajima was growing up. “Let’s just focus on one thing,” he says, “and make it very correctly.”

Back when Taku opened, Nakajima planned to give Seattle its first kushikatsu bar, filled with snacky skewers of fried meat, seafood, and vegetables. But cycling 30 ingredients through various fryer baskets proved complicated, he says. “You’re just frying them—but they fry differently.” Nakajma remembers working the fryer for those first handful of days and wondering, How am I going to teach this to somebody?

Now those fryers will be dedicated to chicken, marinated in soy sauce and ginger and sake, then battered, and fried twice for extra crunch. Taku’s new menu takes that crispy gold standard in various sauce-laden directions. Chicken comes as nuggets or wings rather than the classic thigh, with wet or dry seasonings. Karaage also stars in a rice bowl, and a curry-toned fried chicken sandwich. The “fuck it bucket” from the Taku days is back, thank god, though this time stuffed with chicken. Nakajima balances it out with an order tentatively titled “she/he/they isn't hungry,” a petite assemblage of chicken for anyone with a partner who declines to order food, then inevitably commandeers half of what you ordered. From what Nakajima has witnessed, "this is a major issue in relationships—especially when you're drunk."

Here you can feed yourself properly for $10-ish, and sides include furikake fries, Japanese mac salad, miso soup, cabbage salad, and rice. You can celebrate last week’s extension of to-go cocktails with a totable drink or a Jell-O shot.

Taku will stick to takeout for now, taking online orders and walkups, serving through its window at 706 East Pike. The small, but frenetically stylish interior will seat customers at some point in the future. Nakajima wants to get his entire staff vaccinated before he makes that call. The space has been shuttered since early May 2020; Nakajima closed his elder, higher-end restaurant Adana for good that same month. Then, of course, he landed on Top Chef. We’re just a few episodes into the season he filmed in Portland this past fall, but he has already discussed his emotions around this process a few times (and won a challenge with some capriciously garnished lobster, NBD).

When Taku reopens, hours will be Wednesday through Sunday, from 3–10pm. Like most of us, he's still processing his own lessons of the past year, though unlike most of us, he's also seeing an edited version of himself on a TV screen each week. Taku 2.0 will operate without the head chef structure he envisioned in the past, he says. At this juncture, "I'd rather have an ice cream company culture than a chef-driven restaurant culture."