Picture neon lights and the pressing closeness of night. Picture different words in different mouths. Out late on the streets of Japan, in a big city with cars peeling by and the sidewalks teeming with bodies in all of their individual hurries, moving as a unit.
Picture being starving and broke and maybe a little inebriated and knowing that if you’re going to have any chance of waking up with a whole head, getting to work, all that jazz, then you’ll need to get some substance in you. Grease in you.
Picture deep-fried goodies in a housemade sauce. Imagine thin slices of tuna with a cursory sear. Picture a whole menu full of Japanese Izakaya on the table in front of you while the night grinds on outside and the world shrinks down to a singularity that is the end of your chopsticks, the middle of your mouth.
Can’t picture it?
Then you might want to get into 8ight Izakaya.
8ight is growing in the same parking lot as a few of my other favorites. You won’t catch a magnetic levitation train to it, and there won’t be any robots outside. There will probably be American cars in the parking lot and Northwestern trees against the skyline. But get yourself through the door and you’ll be elsewhere. Folded into its stark white walls, encased in its neon hipness. Steeped in its J-Pop music and marinated in the smell of comfort food, Japanese style.
Izakaya is essentially Japanese bar food. The kind of meal that follows a bit of stumbling around and (hopefully) rounds the edges off of a headache. Food like that often gets a bad rap in the culinary community. Words like “simple” and “basic.” While that may describe your mental functioning when bar food is on the menu, good izakaya is anything but usual.
Imagine takoyaki (fried dough with octopus in the center) in all of its textural wildness, with the crispy and the creamy and the chewy. Wrap your head around okonomiyaki (like a savory pancake) the size of a hubcap, jamming with scallops and cabbage and all types of savory goodies. A layer of bonito flakes like ash after a fire and a drizzling of creamy housemade sauce.
There’s an atavistic part of my brain that wants to jump right over describing the yakitori (traditionally, chicken skewers) that 8ight serves. A part of me that wants to hide them like a squirrel with a nut. Bury them in my memory so that I’ll never have to worry about showing up and finding them picked over by the slavering masses. It is a caveman impulse and it resides in the same part of my brain that will eat a heart off of a stick. That being said, there is another, slightly louder part that tells me that more articles = more money = more skewers, so here goes.
If we’re still playing the “picture it” game, when I say skewers, what do you see? Probably some tame looking meat on either side of some veggies. Probably beef. Probably sickly potatoes or an anemic pepper.
Picture chicken skin sliced into tiny cubes and run through with a skewer at the center so it looks like a monkey puzzle tree, only crispy and delicious. Imagine gizzards all springy and marbled with juice and smoke. Picture a chicken heart. It’s probably the hardest one to hurdle if you’ve never had it before, because it looks like, you know, a heart. But rock your brain out of the ditch and take a bite. Tender, smokey, wild. If you can get one of those crispy nuggets past your lips, you’ll pound 14 of them faster than you can say cognitive dissonance.
There are other entrees too, for the less adventurous. Fried pork cutlet in a tangy gravy. A wide selection of sushi rolls. Things to fill the gaps.
So get into 8ight. Eat with an open mind and an adventurous spirit.
Wash your wild food down with some imported beer and let the J-Pop seep into you. Bask in the warm glow of the neon and as you slip back out the door into the night, back under those American stars and your Northwest treeline and think carefully about the amount of work that it must take to create an experience like that. To transport you so suddenly and totally. To paint a picture that is so seamless.
Can you picture it?
8ight Izakaya is at 33320 Pacific Highway South, Suite 101, in Federal Way. The phone number is 253-944-1450.
Kellen Burden is a local novelist and lunch enthusiast. More of his work can be found at www.goatfederation.com.