We all have that friend. It’s the one who’s eaten at every hard-to-get-into Italian place in town. The same friend who ate at the new barbecue spot that ferments all of their sauces the week it opened. The friend who’s been to the only Tunisian restaurant in the city, and definitely likes to talk about the difference between Kobe and Wagyu beef.
If you’re going out to eat with this person who has been everywhere and tasted everything, you might be tempted to let them pick the restaurant. Instead, insist on going to Wa’z, a Japanese kaiseki restaurant in Belltown, where the outside world will screech to a halt while you jump into a tasting menu that impresses without any bells or whistles.
Nothing about Wa’z is flashy, but everything is meticulous. It’s minimal and homey - kind of like a spa, only without the naked people. There are only two options on the menu. You can do six courses at a regular table for $60, or eight courses at the chef’s counter for $100. Even if your friend has already been here, this time will be different because the menu changes every month with the seasons, but always follow a similar format: assorted appetizers, soup, a braised dish, a grilled dish, a rice dish, and dessert. We think the six-course option is all you need, unless you want to pay $40 for a few more pieces of sashimi. Each course is explained to you upon its arrival by one of the chefs, a server, or a very nice woman who knows her sh*t about miso leaves. The whole experience forces you to slow down, sip some sake, and appreciate the thought that went into each of the courses.
On paper, none of the food seems particularly groundbreaking. A hot kettle full of broth steeped with raw mushrooms, a plate of boiled taro root, and a bowl of rice with shredded carrots all look like recipes from a dated diet cookbook. But Wa’z strips down ingredients to spotlight their simplicity in a way that you could never pull off in your own kitchen. Like a plain-looking single morsel of grilled chicken that’s somehow richer than red meat. Eating here is like pressing a reset button, and it’s pretty outstanding.
And while there won’t be any smoking orbs involved with your dinner here, the attention to detail is still notable. As soon as you’re finished with a course, the next one appears seamlessly. Despite how simple the food is, the presentation is extremely intricate - with modest garnishes like thinly-sliced leeks, chili threads, and hollowed-out crab legs. And Wa’z doesn’t take itself too seriously - you’ll see some occasional playful surprises, like in October when the dessert came with autumnal sprinkles and a few rogue pieces of candy corn. Even your worldly friend will be able to appreciate candy corn in this low-key setting.
Wa’z is a special place where you can fully appreciate ingredients for what they are. Chances are, you’ll be thinking about some of the simplest things you had here - like gingko nuts and buckwheat tea - for days after the fact, and you’ll rekindle your attraction to chicken and mackerel. No matter what month you visit, you and your friend will experience an excellent meal that doesn’t punch you in the face with flavor, but rather, gently pats you on the head with it.
The meal starts with a few small snacks that usually contain something topped with salmon roe, a couple pieces of sushi, and a little hunk of a grilled meat. On our most recent trip, the first course included some deliciously marinated mackerel nigiri, a crab salad with roe, fried yam, and the tiniest piece of incredibly tender chicken that has pretty much ruined all subsequent chicken for us.
As soon as you start feeling upset that you ate all of the appetizers in four bites, a soup will appear. One of ours was a mild broth made with mushrooms, clams, gingko nuts, and some slices of duck. You’re not going to stand on the table and start slow-clapping for this stuff, but it’s a very nice way to cleanse your palate in preparation for the big show.
Fact: braising anything makes it better, and the braised dishes here are a big part of what makes us call up all of our friends to demand they eat here. The slow-cooked course is full of incredible flavor, from rockfish cooked in a salty-in-a-good-way soy sauce marinade to buttery king crab and daikon radish with a white miso sauce. You want this - and it’s a tasting menu, so you have no choice anyway.
After you’re playing love songs in your head about the braised dish, you’ll receive the grilled dish, which is also a kickass display of flavor and texture. We’ve gotten black cod with a sautee of oyster mushrooms and geoduck, and most recently a piece of fried halibut cheek with raw leeks, chili threads (string-like pieces of dried pepper), and a sweet miso paste that reminds us of a really good BBQ sauce.
Rice by itself is usually not exciting, especially when it’s tossed with shredded carrots. But we really enjoy eating this plain rice after two dishes packed with considerable flavor. You’ll also get a side bowl of highly comforting red miso soup, which is like regular miso soup that went to grad school.
Dessert at Wa’z always involves homemade ice cream, which we’re pretty sure should be a rule for every restaurant in Seattle. Flavors range from sea salt to buckwheat tea, and it’s the perfect ending to the meal. The little scoop is usually served with toppings like red beans or fresh fruit. Three pints, please.