Image: Clam and Seaweed Pizza
First Visit: February 2020
There are a couple things people might say to explain Tonari. The first thing they might note is that it is in the old Graffiato space and the team from neighboring Daikaya took it over once they a had a realization of what to do with the unused pizza oven. Which brings us to the second thing about Tonari. It is “Wafu” cooking from Japan. Wafu is Japan’s adaptation of Italian. There are pastas and pizzas, but done in distinctly Japanese style. The third thing is that it is really tasty.
The menu is three simple pages. First page is antipasti, including a creamy ricotta with peas that is a safe bet. There is also a bowl of cold tofu custard and anchovies that is not a safe bet, but if that sounds good to you we suggest you get it.
The second page is pastas. The noodles are specially-made by the same producer in Japan that makes the ramen for its sister restaurants like Bantam King and Haikan. The noodles seemed to be a little chewier and a little sweeter than the Italian version. The “Kinoko” of Pappardelle, mushrooms and shishito peppers was lick-the-bowl good – creamy, earthy, salty and sweet. The Tagliatelle with tiny shirasu (baby sardines) fish served in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes worked well together, though the tiny fish didn’t really stick enough when twirling the pasta.
The third page is pizzas. There are currently four choices all made with Wisconsin brick cheese that melts to be thick and gooey. The dough has a fluffy consistency to it and done to an inch or two of thickness in a square pan, like a combination of focaccia and Parker House rolls. Rice oil browns the sides. They come cut into four sizable pieces. The early favorite seems to be the clam with seaweed (wakame) that has the hints of the sea but is not overpowering. The pepperoni with pickled jalapeños and the Kewpie mayo with corn puree are also getting thumbs up.
After you have loaded up on carbs, dessert may not seem like an attractive option, but they are very good. We tried two of them. The budino is creamy chocolate, and the panna cotta is delicate with the accent of Japanese bayberries.
The beverage list is surprising by the lack of sake, but it does have a pretty good line up of Italian wine by the glass. There are also cocktails (untried by us) and beer.
The service is gracious, guiding you through the various seating and eating options. Downstairs retains the layout of Graffiato but stripped down, including a bar as you enter and a set of tables along one side facing the open kitchen. Upstairs is completely redone with raised floor to dine Japanese style with your shoes off. You sit on cushions on the floor and tuck your legs under the table just above your knees. There are wells carved out under the tables, so you don’t have to practice yoga poses to dine. Slip-ons (Slides) are provided for trips to the restroom.
Tonari manages to be creative yet comforting. Even the dishes that sound challenging often lead to smiles over grimaces. The menu is focused and limited, but it hits a sweet spot. It is worth a walk out of the way for.
Other Guidance: The atmosphere is casual, though the low seating may make you think twice about certain clothing options when you have to get up and down. Vegetarians can do well, but Vegans and GF are generally out of luck. There are no GF substitutes currently. The entrance is on the ground floor with seating both on that floor and upstairs.
Rating: Worth Taking a Walk
Cuisine: Japanese (interpreting Italian)
Neighborhood: Chinatown/City Center
Address: 707 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Washington Post: No coverage yet.
DonRockwell.com – no thread yet
Lori (Been There Eaten That): No write-up yet, but Insta post – “It’s unique & interesting & downright divine.”
BYT: Loved the pasta, iffy on the pizza.