It’s like a step into another world as we cross the front door barrier. It’s unassuming on the outside. I didn’t know anything about the restaurant as we arrived for my surprise birthday dinner. Come to find out, I wasn’t only crossing worlds, but centuries as well. Maneki is one of the oldest Japanese restaurants in the country. It has been open for a staggering 113 years. Thinking of the history that the restaurant has braved stops me in my tracks as I sit down to reflect. How can a restaurant survive for over a century? This place saw Pearl Harbor, World War I, and World War II and still strives on diligently.
The cuisine is exquisite. This is pure Japan through and through. It’s the most legitimate representation of Japanese cuisine and culture that I’ve seen since I last visited the country in 2010. The answer to its resilience is obvious as our meal slowly begins to arrive. Care, love, and passion have propelled Maneki ever forward and upward.
The drizzly Seattle evening is long forgotten as our perfectly warmed sake arrives with two glasses. True Japanese cuisine has always spoken to me in a delightfully personal way. It reminds me of the importance of focus and dedication. A common misconception seems to exist with Japanese food. Though it may be simple, it is certainly not easy. It’s not merely cutting up fish and throwing it on some rice. Too many “Japanese restaurants” in the United States offer truly subpar and even embarrassing California rolls flooded with overcooked rice and over seasoned teriyaki dishes at astronomical prices. Maneki is far removed from this disparaging knockoff of one of the worlds most refined cuisines. Maneki is the exact opposite. It’s about as close to perfection as I feel comfortable getting.
The Gyoza arrives brilliantly fried to a perfect golden brown. The sushi is delightful. The Uni is perhaps as good as it gets. And the Beef Shabu-Shabu is a true delight. The deep flavors of an intensive cooking process push their way to the forefront of your palate. And the Fried Green Tea Ice Cream? It’s hard not to call it the best part of the meal. The flashy knife twirling, shrimp tossing cooks of commercialized teppanyaki spots are long forgotten here. Elegance is at the forefront. Japanese design is exemplified in Maneki’s exquisite flavors.
There isn’t much else to say. This historical restaurant has kept a simple and important mission for over a hundred years. Maneki is the real deal. The James Beard foundation recognized them as an American Classic in 2010 and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still there long after we’re all gone. Don’t forget to make a reservation.