Local chef Hiro Tawara returns to his Japanese culinary beginnings, incorporating a modern Northwest twist
Seattle is getting its only restaurant dedicated to Japanese Kaiseki dining this March. Wa’z (pronounced “wha-z”), led by chef-owner Hiro Tawara, is slated to open at 411 Cedar Street, Seattle.
Tawara, best known for his work at Shiro’s Sushi and Sushi Kappo Tamura, launched his culinary career in Japan, straight out of university in Kyoto. He began apprenticing for a famous Kaiseki restaurant in 1995 and ascended to chef and manager in Kyoto Kaiseki restaurants for 10 years before moving to the United States in 2005.
“As I worked in Seattle, it seemed that local diners’ impressions of Japanese cuisine might be limited mostly to sushi,” Tawara said. “I began to think about offering the style of cuisine like the one to which I was dedicated in Japan, Kaiseki, and the opportunity to create something unique for Seattle.”
Kaiseki is the traditional multi-course style Japanese haute cuisine featuring seasonal ingredients prepared in a variety of cooking methods. Each individual dish is typically small, carefully balanced, beautifully plated, and served in a particular sequence. Its roots date back four centuries, then as a light meal preceding tea ceremonies; in modern-day restaurant culture the courses increased and evolved. Enduring is the experience of meticulous hospitality, where every detail, from the bowls, plates, floral decor, to the plated food presentation expresses the season and honors the culture.
Tawara was greatly impressed by his former employers’ (Shiro Kashiba and Taichi Kitamura) dedication to Japanese culinary tradition combined with the use of local, organic and sustainable ingredients, all staples of Kaiseki cuisine. In 2015, Tawara began offering Kaiseki dining on a monthly basis and the pop-ups quickly sold out time and again. The success of the pop-ups, along with his private Kaiseki catering business, laid the groundwork for wa’z. The name wa’z is a takeoff on “wa,” with three applicable meanings: the Japanese word that encompasses the harmonious culture of Japan, translation to “WA” for Washington State and its harmony, and simply the word for “Japanese.” The “z” symbolizes the A-to-Z endpoint, underscoring wa’z as the ultimate dining experience and standout destination.
The new wa’z restaurant distinguishes its menu with a modern, Northwest Kaiseki offering. Expect artful, seasonal fare in tasting menu formats as well as beer, wine and a compelling sake collection from Japan. There will be two monthly-changing menu options: The Premium Kaiseki menu offering 8-10 courses ($100-$110) with an optional sake pairing, only served at the Kaiseki counter; and a Gozen menu featuring three different menu options (each $50) served in the dining room.
Japanese architecture influences the sleek, minimalist space featuring a black and white canvas with modern touches of stained oak and walnut. The restaurant seats 36 total guests, including a coveted, chef-side Kaiseki counter for 12 and eight seats for private dining.