By Agazit Afeworki, UW News Lab special to CHS
Rushing in, Gokan by Musashi restaurant owner Jun Park makes his rounds shaking hands with his staff, picking up phone calls and getting the music changed over the speakers. Offering some green tea, he apologizes for being late.
He was up until 5 AM the night before. But there was a good reason: He was cutting fish.
The busy owner of Musashi in Seattle and Bellevue decided to take a chance by opening a new restaurant on Capitol Hill.
Gokan debuts with a soft opening Friday night.
Gokan’s traditional and modern Japanese mix — complete with two tatami rooms — reflects Park’s passion to elevate the innovation in sushi bars. Park said he referred to his roots when building Gokan, which means “five senses” in Japanese, because he was tired of the fast-food style in his other restaurants.
“People would just eat and go,” said Park.
Here in a new restaurant on the street level of a new mixed-use building at 10th and Union, Park hopes customers will linger in wooded tatami rooms surrounded by water fountains, a contemporary main eating area, and a dark tiled bar.
CHS last updated you on the long-planned restaurant last summer when it was moving forward under a different name and before a construction squabble delayed the building’s opening. Park, at the time, gave us another perspective to chew on about the rapid rate of development on his part of E Union on the backside of Pike/Pine. “I really appreciate all these buildings going up,” he said. “It gave me and my business a chance.”
Pike/Pine’s edges east of Pike are shaping up as, perhaps, the center of the next Capitol Hill food+drink+more boom. Chophouse Row is set to open next month on 11th Ave between Pike and Union. Later this year, a giant new Bright Horizons day care facility will open on E Seneca. The Central Agency building has opened with Lark making its new home in the food and drink complex. Later this year, Optimism Brewing will open its beer production facility, tasting room, and food truck park on E Union at Broadway. A new “bike shop + training facility + cafe” is also set to move in. And another complex of restaurants headlined by new efforts from Renee Erickson will open later this year just a block east from Park’s new restaurant.
Park is ready to make an impression in the crowded landscape. Gokan has set recipes, he said, but the chefs have artistic freedom to plate the food however they want. A customer may order a “Green Lake Monster” roll, stuffed with tempura jumbo shrimp and topped with Wasabi Tobiko, one day and on another visit it’s presented in a new way.
“The way I know sushi is, you eat with your eyes,” he said.
Gokan uses less recognized exotic fishes, said head chef Kuk Kim. Kim will go to fish markets and picks abalone and monk fish liver he hopes to use to trademark the budding restaurant.
Park said he scouted chefs based on their artistic abilities. Friend and owner of Tigs bar, Sam Park used to work at Musashi and loved their food. As a partner in the new Gokan, Sam joined Jun in a mission to find the best sushi chefs in Seattle to execute his new vision. They scoured Japanese restaurants and found what they believe is an A-team of chefs including Kim.
Though his family was in the business, Jun Park didn’t set out to become a restaurateur. The University of Oregon microbiology graduate said he watched his parents sacrifice a lot to run their own restaurants. When financial difficulties struck his family, he said stepped in to help and ended up raising sales. It was then he realized he had a knack for the business where he says hard work is profitable.
Park says food is a competitive industry and, especially in a neighborhood crowded with new concepts, you have to bring something fresh to the table. While working in kitchen for his parents he quickly discovered how mysterious sushi techniques were. You had to learn on your own, sometimes by leaning over another chef’s shoulder, he said.
Gokan is still in its soft-opening until April 13th. They’re preparing for their official grand opening and hope to have a full course menu soon.
For his restaurants, Park used the name of a famous Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, who had won many duels. After opening three, it’s safe to say Park knows a thing or two about triumph.
“In order to be successful you have to enjoy it,” he said, “you’ve got to like it.”
Gokan by Musashi is located at 954 E Union. You can learn more at thegokan.com.