ST. ALBANS CITY — At the newly-opened Kaiju Kitchen, chef Taka Sato hasn’t quite figured out his noodle soup dish.
Noodles are about as important to Japanese cuisine as pasta is to Italian foods, and the consistency just doesn’t quite work for the take-out menu.
Liz Sato, Kaiju Kitchen’s co-owner, said he’s being “picky.” But that’s just kind of how Japanese culture works.
Food is taken very seriously, she said.
A few St. Albans residents have probably already seen Taka Sato at work. Kaiju Kitchen, located at 15 Center St., has been under construction for the last few weeks, and Liz Sato said locals have popped their heads in to get an idea of the new take-out restaurant filling the space.
This week, the two are ready to launch.
Quality over quantity
If you ask Taka Sato why he wanted to open a restaurant, he has a simple answer.
“Community,” he said.
Liz Sato clarified.
“It’s having a space for people to come together, for family and friends,” Sato said. “One of the things about other take-out restaurants … They don’t always talk to customers or get to know them. We want it to be more than that.”
Much of the conversation with the couple tended to follow the same format. Taka Sato, who is originally from Fukushima and speaks some English, provided a few answers while Liz explained the larger context of what they had built at 15 Center St. — a slimmed down takeout joint specializing in Japanese food.
The space itself is open and airy, with benches set up for people to sit casually next to the building’s large windows. Liz Sato said they wanted to make the space welcoming for anyone coming through, whether it be an individual who’s grabbing lunch or a squadron of children accompanying one of her two children, Kai and Jude.
Kaiju Kitchen, however, is neither a full-service restaurant nor a typical takeout joint.
Since the kitchen is primarily a one-man show (Liz Sato works as a 6th-grade teacher when she isn’t helping her husband set up a restaurant), they’ve created a business model meant to adapt to their limitations.
For one, the menu features only two items: A chicken with rice bento and curry rice. Those who want to grab either one during lunch or dinner need to order online and pick it up later.
This way, Taka Sato can prepare the food in batches without having to worry about taking in orders or rushing the meal prep through the day to ensure that the final product meets his standards.
Mix of two cultures
When asked about his cooking experience, Taka Sato tended to downplay his skills, but his wife, who eats plenty of his cooking at home, knows otherwise.
She said Japanese food culture differs from how Americans typically eat food. While most Americans will eat fast food or some other variation of quick-and-easy takeout, Japanese people are much more particular about what they eat and how the food is presented.
Even something like a slightly less-scalding ramen meal could be set aside if it doesn’t meet the standards of what denotes a bowl of hot ramen, she said. Consequently, the high expectations means take=out in Japan is usually always delicious.
That doesn’t mean that Kaiju Kitchen is preparing to serve a Japanese palate, Liz Sato said. The recipes have been remixed into dishes that American eaters will probably like while also delivering the unique umami-savoriness typically associated with Japanese foods.
In a way, it’s a mix of the two cultures, just like the family who opened the new restaurant.
“[Kaiju Kitchen] is something that he can pass down to his kids. It’s something for Jude and Kai to take part in, something that our friends can be a part,” Liz Sato said. “It opens doors for the family,”