In Japanese, the word Kaisho means “a club” or “meeting place” and the new restaurant on East Pike is hoping to become just that for people who love Asian fusion on Capitol Hill.
Kaisho moves to Capitol Hill from Bellevue, where it never quite got the traction it needed. Reviews on Yelp were mediocre and the owners decided a new venue, an updated menu, and a new crowd were the restaurant’s best bet.
“You know, things in Bellevue didn’t quite work out as they planned,” said General Manager Joe Jeannot. “The owners wanted to move somewhere where they thought the concept would have better legs. And here we are today.”
Born and raised on Capitol Hill, (and a former Capitol Hill Times delivery boy!), Jeannot says Capitol Hill was the obvious choice for where to move Kaisho once it became clear Bellevue wasn’t going to be the permanent location.
“This is a great location. It’s in the center of Capitol Hill, in the heart of everything,” he said. “If you’re going to do a concept like street Asian, or really any kind of street food, Capitol Hill is a great place and has a great demographic to kick off a new thing. It’s a place where a new concept can really be successful.”
Kaisho opened on August 2nd and the restaurant is backed by the same corporate entity behind the Boom Noodle and Blue C restaurants. It is the creation of Jeffrey Lunak, a former protégé of Iron Chef Morimoto. The Chef at Kaisho is Kalen Schramke, who worked at Terra Plata before joining the team. He’s using his farm-to-table experience there to help update the Kaisho menu for the Capitol Hill crowd.
“We took the southern part of Asia and different components from different countries and made simple street food,” said Jeannot. “Chef Kalen is very talented. He has the ability to make things fresh and not so heavy with a lot of farm-to-table concepts. There are a lot of local products on the menu, like the cucumbers in our cucumber salad.”
One of the items that didn’t leave the Bellevue menu is the Thai-style fried chicken, an item Jeannot says is one of his favorites.
“It’s a play off the famous chicken and waffle dish, but just with a Thai twist,” he told me. “We really use a great brine. It’s got a little bit of a spirit in it, but I don’t want to give up what the spirit is. We serve the chicken with a kimchi waffle. Yep, we put kimchi in the waffle mix! And I always order it whole. Let’s not mess around. Chicken makes for great leftovers.”
I got a chance to try several dishes when I stopped by Kaisho about a week after their opening. At $6, the BBQ Pork Steam Bun with Cole Slaw was my favorite item on the menu. It’s a big portion, something you could definitely cut in half and share with a friend. The bun is big and soft and the BBQ pork is sweet and spicy, a perfect match for the not-too-goopy coleslaw.
My least favorite dish was the beef short rib noodles, which at $14, was too bland and expensive for my taste.
The menu also has some interesting/strange dishes on it, like potato cheddar dumplings with crème fraiche and house-made bacon, house smoked brisket gyoza, and spinach and feta sushi rice arancini with chili tofu sauce.
I wasn’t adventurous enough to eat the potato-cheddar concoction or the arancini, but I did eat the gyoza. They’re incredibly simple: Just a gyoza wrapper and brisket. That’s it. The brisket is delicious and I honestly just pulled it out of the wrapper. The real star of the dish was the dragon sauce you dip it in. I ended up pouring the sauce on the beef short rib noodles.
The cocktail menu has also been updated from the Bellevue location and a must-try is the Miyoshi Mule made with vodka, lemongrass, mint, lime, and ginger beer. It was strong and the perfect balance of sweet and sour.
The atmosphere at Kaisho is much like most new restaurants on Capitol Hill lately: big, bright, and modern. There’s a large, colorful graffiti mural on two walls and big, dark booths. This is a good location to bring a big group of people since there’s a ton of space and large tables.
“Things have been going well so far,” Jeannot told me when I asked about the first few days of business. “I know people are a little confused; they want to know if we’re Boom Noodle. But, they still seem to like the concept and the feel of the space once they figure out what’s going on. It’s comfortable. The staff is open and friendly and people really have enjoyed that. And the food has been better than I think people have expected. There are still some kinks, but that’s just the business.”
And Jeannot would know. He’s been working in restaurants in Seattle for 30 years, in roles ranging from street vendor to sommelier to manager.
“I’m addicted to restaurants,” he said. “I can’t help it. I love the challenge and the environment.”
He says he hopes people let go of any preconceived notions about Kaisho and just give them a chance.
“I think sometimes people get stuck on ‘Who are they? What are they?’ I always come back to: Is the food good? Is the service pleasant? Will I have a good time? Because our food is very approachable,” he said. “Our dim sums are very well-priced. It’s really good food. And it just keeps getting better and better. So come in. Let your hair down. Don’t overthink it. It’s just food. And I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
1121 E Pike St