Shota Nakajima opens a Teriyaki restaurant in Cle Elum

Shota Nakajima is opening his version of a teriyaki restaurant — inspired by the flavors he grew up eating in Seattle and Japan — in late March. The restaurant, with 38 seats indoors and a rooftop bar that seats 90, is in Cle Elum, nearly 100 miles east of Seattle by car.

Banzai Teriyaki will serve dishes using Nakajima’s signature teriyaki sauce, which launched in December and can be found at stores like Uwajimaya. The bottled sauce is a twist on the teriyaki sauce he loved as a kid in Seattle, with umami shakes from ingredients like nutritional yeast and roasted notes from the sesame paste.

For Nakajima, teriyaki is sentimental food. He grew up with the children of Toshi Kasahara, the man credited with inventing Seattle teriyaki. On days off from school or after baseball games, Nakajima ate at Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill, noting that he missed the flavors of the restaurant while studying cooking in Japan. Seattle’s version of the grilled chicken dish with sweet soy sauce only has the Japanese name; the teriyaki diners eat in Japan is far less sweet and sassy, ​​and the standard for Seattle teriyaki was shaped by Korean restaurateurs like John Chung after Kasahara pioneered the genre.

“When I went to Japan, one of the first things I did when I got back was go to Toshi’s Teriyaki because I feel like I’m in Seattle,” Nakajima says.

The Banzai Teriyaki logo, designed by artist Shogo Ota.
Banzai Teriyaki

This is Nakajima’s third restaurant project in the Seattle area. He opened Taku, a popular Capitol Hill restaurant focused on karaage, in March 2020, and closed his Japanese restaurant Adana in May of the same year. Adana was originally Naka, which was one of Seattle’s only kaiseki restaurants. Nakajima was a runner-up in the 18th season of Excellent chefwhich ended in July last year.

Nakajima also serves Japanese dishes not normally found in Seattle-area teriyaki restaurants, such as duck spring rolls, shrimp tempura, wings, and fried cauliflower miso hummus. The restaurant will have a full bar, cocktail list and 16 beers on tap.

Banzai Teriyaki is partnered with Eric Bolstad, a mortgage broker who splits his time between Cle Elum and Bellevue. Bolstad originally planned to open the restaurant on his own and enlisted Nakajima for help after watching him beat star chef Bobby Flay on a 2018 episode of the Food Network show. Defeat Bobby Flay.

Although Banzai teriyaki’s food is more Seattle Japanese than Kansai, Nakajima says the setting will be “Osaka in your face.”

Tireman Studio’s Shogo Ota, who designed Taku’s logos, will paint murals on the dining room walls. Nakajima says one will be “streets of Japan” and another will be a collage of anime characters like Pikachu. “It’s brilliant. It’s energetic,” says Nakajima. “I want people to come in and be like, ‘Whoa, I feel like I’m in Japan. What is this place?’

Nakajima is excited to spend more time in Cle Elum, a town he visits regularly to look for mushrooms and camp in nearby forests. He plans to work at the restaurant regularly and manage its culinary operations, although the restaurant has an executive chef to be announced soon.

Banzai Teriyaki will be a departure from the neighborhood teriyaki spots Nakajima grew up with, but he respects the creators of the genre. “One hundred percent nod to Toshi’s Teriyaki,” says Nakajima. “If I hadn’t grown up with his kids, I wouldn’t be so sentimental about teriyaki chicken.”

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