Fujiko Izakaya’s ramen isn’t the instant dish of your childhood, but it is the staple Frances Harvey grew up on.
Harvey is a driving force behind the Fujiko Izakaya, Columbia’s only Japanese pop-up restaurant, alongside Tim Eisenhauer and Joshua Smith, who she works with at Barred Owl Butcher & Table. The trio wanted to introduce Columbia to classic Japanese cuisine. Fujiko Izakaya made its first appearance in March 2018 and most recently appeared in January at Barred Owl.
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Fujiko is Harvey’s middle name. Izakaya refers to a type of Japanese restaurant that focuses on one dish and offers multiple other small bites, similar to a tapas or small plates menu. The food is accompanied by alcoholic drinks, giving Harvey the opportunity to play with new flavors in creative cocktails.
When the Fujiko Izakaya crew set out to provide Columbia with something different, they agreed that noodles needed to be a focus.
“Japanese cuisine is really only sushi here, and in Japan sushi is a celebratory meal,” Harvey says. “We want to show more of what someone may eat at home in a Japanese setting or household.”
Harvey’s love for Japanese food was born at home. Every night her mom, who is from Japan, cooked a hot meal, and taught her early on that everyone deserves a hot meal at the end of a long day.
“It made me feel really special,” Harvey says. “I was surprised to learn that’s not the norm. We never had Friday pizza night or that kind of thing.”
With Fujiko Izakaya, Harvey has set out to recreate those home-cooked flavors that remind her of childhood.
A typical evening at Fujiko Izakaya includes three to five themed courses, always with a vegetarian option. The January pop up centered on ramen.
From fast food to fine dining, Joshua Smith has experienced it all.
The meal begins with a selection of pickled vegetables, which are very popular in Japan.
January’s main course, ramen, starts with broth and tare, a concentrated flavor bomb, like miso, placed at the bottom of the dish. Filling the bowl are seaweed, handmade noodles, chashu (rolled whole muscle), roasted pork belly, and a marinated soft boiled egg with a jammy center. Chile or garlic oil finish off the traditional dish.
“Every bowl is a little different, but the main things are the noodles, the broth, tare and I really love the egg,” Harvey says.
Past pop ups have featured gyoza, Japanese potstickers, and donburi, a rice-based dish with a heavy topping, like marinated chicken with eggs. Skewered meats, a childhood favorite of Harvey’s, have also been on the menu. A handmade dessert, like mochi or green tea panna cotta, rounds out the dining experience.
To stay true to the tastes she grew up with, Harvey frequently calls her mom, asking her opinion on pairings and flavors as well as how they will appeal to an American palate.
Hours of preparations take place in the days leading up to the pop up: Eisenhauer takes the tedious task of rolling, cutting and portioning handmade noodles, broth creation begins and flavors continue to be honed in until service time. A service staff, both front of house and back, make the restaurant run once the doors open.
The result: A bar or small-restaurant feel centered around a long community tables serving on average 100 guests a night between 5 and 8pm.
By nature short-lived, pop ups play a critical role in the Columbia food scene. They offer handmade dishes in traditions or methods not currently available without the overhead of opening a brick-and-mortar. These one-night-only restaurants build a community around good food and allow local chefs to experiment and put more creative offerings on the limited menu.
“I think that Columbia has a lot to offer, and I think that we even though we do have a lot to offer, there's a lot of missing pieces that I'm excited to see people fill,” Harvey says. “I'm excited about the fact that there are other people trying to do that kind of thing in our community. I hope that I'm just kind of filling that one little missing spot as best as I can.”
As for future pop ups, the Fujiko Izakaya has lots of ideas yet to be revealed. To catch when Fujiko Izakaya will be popping up next, keep an eye on its Instagram page, @FujikoIzakaya.
Fujiko Izakaya, instagram.com/fujikoizakaya