Six years in the making, much of Royal Sushi & Izakaya opened Friday, Sept. 23 at 780 S. Second St. in the Queen Village building at the corner of Fulton Street that formerly housed La Grolla and Il Villaggio. There's a red lantern out front - no sign.
What I mean by "much of" Royal is open: The 10-seat sushi room in the rear is still about two weeks away, while the front barroom is serving Japanese izakaya food, sake, and shochu nightly from 5 p.m. in a richly appointed, candlelit setting. (Candlelit? Bring a miner's helmet.)
This is an izakaya - a bar - owned by Stephen Simons and Dave Frank (of Khyber Pass/Royal Tavern/Cantina Los Caballitos/Cantina Dos Segundo/Triangle Tavern) and a Japanese-born father (Matt Ito) and his son (Jesse Ito), both of whom have a sterling reputation for authenticity and quality.
Earlier this year, the Itos sold their restaurant, Fuji, a BYOB in Haddonfield and previously in Cinnaminson.
As Royal Izakaya is rolling out slowly, management over the weekend shared a menu lacking prices because supposedly they're not set in stone.
During a visit Sunday night, the printed menus included descriptions of the small-plates (priced at $3 to $15), accompanied by helpful photos.
Hits: Shogayaki (ginger pork, $9), karubi (beef short rib, $11), chashu buns ($8), shumai ($6.50 for three), spinach gomaae (spinach in sesame sauce, $6), and a hearty, nuanced miso soup ($4).
Bar is equipped with an enviable collection of imported sake, shochu, and beers. Here's the unpriced list.
Bored? Look up and to the right to watch old Japanese movies (like original Godzilla in black and white), classic Japanese anime, and anime that chef Jesse Ito grew up with playing on a curtain next to the bar.
Frank and Simons conceived Royal Izakaya six years ago (during the American rise of ramen), and chef Todd Dae Kulper was signed on after his own sushi shop at Seventh and Bainbridge Streets came and went. Construction and permitting delays ensued, and Kulper himself went.
Frank, during the long meanwhile, was a longtime customer of Fuji. During conversations, they worked up a plan for the Itos to join them in Queen Village. They sold Fuji over New Year's.