When Suika Izakaya first opened, I am now ashamed to admit, I wrote it off as another upscale Asian joint looking to cash in on Capitol Hill. Given this city's longstanding abundance of awesome Asian food, I'm pretty much automatically suspicious of any nicely dressed newcomer. I suppose it seems fashionable, as a native, to be a bit curmudgeonly about all these newfangled eateries popping up but, as Suika especially has driven home to me time and time again, it's fucking stupid.
Their sumptuous chicken karaage was the first dish that drove home this point for me, but this column is, as strange as it might sound, about poutine.
You would not expect to have a revelatory poutine at a Japanese joint, but their spicy pork poutine is exactly that. Aside from the perfect poutine at Maria Hines' now-defunct Young American Ale House, it is the best version of the dish I have encountered in this city. Poutine, I find, is too often a gimme dish. It's salty, starchy, meaty, and cheesy, and thus almost guaranteed to satisfy the cravings of hungry gastropub patrons. Thanks to this low, low bar, a lot of the poutine I've had here could only generously be described as half-assed. Soggy fries, odd cheese configurations, and weak gravies abound. It still sells.
This poutine, however, gives no fucks about the conventions of poutine, and succeeds mightily because of it. First off, there is no gravy. Instead, there is a liberal blanket of spicy, saucy ground pork, and its drippings serve as a soak for the fries. This pork is bright orange and bursting with intensely tangy flavor. It is superlatively piquant. It is existentially activating. It's good. Interspersed into that porky topography are small, not-overly-melted cheese curds. The ratio of curd to meat is lower than in your average gastropub poutine, but this dish made me realize that the cheese is really the supporting actor here, not the star. If this poutine were Good Will Hunting, the pork would be Matt Damon and the cheese curds would be Ben Affleck, keeping his shitty acting mostly out of the picture except when he shows up to play the perfect workingman foil to Damon's boy genius.
Then there are the fries. Nothing makes me angrier than shitty fries. Indeed, the only more important metric of a restaurant than its fries is the cleanliness of its bathrooms. These fries are not shitty. These fries are of a variety I'm not normally partial to, but one that's just the right thing for this dish. They're not frites, and they're not shoestrings, but rather that generic square cut somewhere in between. The one most commonly found in extremely average roadside burger joints. To pull off the middle American fry well, one must make it crispy, as with all fries, but one must also make sure the inside is soft as a feather pillow. Suika definitely does that. What’s more, the juices from the ground pork coat them without swamping them, so you get to enjoy their crispiness throughout. As a little added flavor bonus, the fries and their mountain of meat topping are dusted with aonori flakes, giving the dish little intermittent hints of pleasantly briny funk.
Washed down with a Sapporo, it's the perfect end to the type of active, sun-soaked days I hope you’re all going to have this weekend. Oh, and I should mention that the poutine is a special, so this weekend might be your only window to try it. If you’ve been burned by bad poutine before, you really should make the effort!