One of my absolute favorite patios is back in business with the opening of Kaizen at 416 Clinch Ave. Just over a month ago I wrote about the pending opening (go there if you missed an in depth look at Jesse’s background and the concept of the new restaurant) of the Japanese/Asian concept and Jesse Newmister’s plans to open soon. In a startlingly quick turnaround for a downtown business, he opened last week for lunch and has continued lunch hours this week. Dinner hours will be offered beginning next week.
Urban Woman and I stopped in earlier this week for a taste. I’d sent Urban Brother undercover for a first test (not really, he was in town and had a chance to go while I was busy, but it sounds good, no?). He came back pleased and, as he is finishing a culinary degree this summer, I trust his opinion better than my own. So, we stopped in just as they opened and found we had the place to ourselves, though the patio and several inside tables quickly filled with neighbors and others while we ate.
It felt great being on the patio, again. For those of you who might not know, this is a block from Union and just under a block from the southwest corner of Krutch Park. The street has just enough activity to provide ample people-watching while the pace is noticeably slower, the vibe more serene than Market Square. It’s a perfect spot to take it easy away from the throngs sometimes found there.
The menu is evolving – and that will likely continue – as chef Jesse wants continual improvement to be a trait of the restaurant. The lunch menu, as it now stands, is simple, with six vegetable/side items and eight items listed under “Noodles/Rice and more.” Intended to be a small-plate concept encouraging sharing, lunch prices range from $2 for steamed rice to a very modest $7. For light eaters, one small plate might do, though it might be slight for a more hearty eater.
Between the two of us, we got two vegetable dishes (Dry Fry Eggplant and Stir Fried Long Beans) and one noodle dish (Dan Dan Noodles). The three combined ($18) were enough for us to fell quite satisfied. We topped it off with green tea (served in a very nice pot with a traditional Japanese cup) and Vietnamese coffee, which is an iced coffee drink with milk. Urban Woman requested chicken be added to the Stir Fried Beans and we concluded they were unnecessary. We loved every dish and have talked about how to make two of them at home (impossible, we concluded).
Several items on the menu are Gluten Free and several are vegetarian, which provides options for people looking for those or simply looking for some variety. The dinner menu will include several of the same dishes with some additional choices, all around the same price point. Excellent food at a low price is hard to beat. The restaurants which struggled at this location were, in my opinion, undermined by high prices. The most successful run was when Coffee and Chocolate first opened their second location and offered great paninis at a reasonable price. They changed to a more expensive menu and business dropped.
In addition to the drinks mentioned above, beer is available on tap. Saki will be added soon, as will a limited bar and wine. Jesse maintained from the beginning he would be very deliberate as he added hours, menu items and liquor, which is one of the most expensive start-up costs. His understanding of the business seems to be as keen as his culinary sensibility, and it is just as essential, in my opinion.
Currently open from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM for lunch, Monday through Friday, those hours will continue next week until Wednesday when they will be expanded to include dinner. Dinner will be offered Wednesday through Saturday, with dinner hours beginning at 5:00 PM. The restaurant will close each night at 11:00 PM, with the exception of Saturday when it will remain open until 1:00 AM. Nice quiet place to end a Saturday night out, anyone?
In addition to the expanded hours, Jesse intends to offer brunch on Saturdays, but that will wait for a few more weeks while he gets dinner service down. It’s a very methodical and low-key opening to what, I hope, will be a downtown institution for a long time to come. I can’t imagine not giving this a try if you eat out downtown. I’ll see you on the patio.