Husband and wife Brent and Naoko Boyle were the first to be seated recently at Two Ten Jack, a Japanese pub-style "izakaya" eatery in the basement of Warehouse Row.
Naoko moved here about 13 years ago from Japan to attend college and the two were looking forward to sampling some Japanese-style home-cooking.
"We both thought it was good, though pricey," Brent says.
"The fried rice appetizer [$11] was very good and I liked the egg and sausage in it. She had the fried tofu [$6] and liked it."
If you go
* What: Two Ten Jack
* Where: 1110 Market St., Suite FC4, Warehouse Row
* Hours: Food served from 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
* Phone: 551-8799
* Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Located in Warehouse Row, Two Ten Jack, named after a Japanese card game, is designed as a place where diners are encouraged to have a cocktail and sample several small dishes over the course of the visit. It's not a full dinner-and-drinks place but a spot to hang out and unwind with friends. Think of it sort of like Japanese tapas.
It's the latest in the ever-evolving downtown restaurant scene. With the recent additions Southside Social and Two Ten Jack, you can now choose between bowling a game or two between sips and bites or having a bowl of ramen noodles.
The first Two Ten Jack opened last year in Nashville. Owned by Seed Hospitality, it's the brainchild of Patrick Burke, who opened the Nashville restaurant after traveling to Japan on several occasions and becoming intrigued by the izakaya concept, which combines lots of eating with lots of drinking.
"There is a lot of drinking in Japan, but also a lot of eating," Burke says. "It's not about getting hammered. People are sitting together and sharing with each other. It is more of a contemplative experience.
"At a typical restaurant, guests order and receive a drink, an appetizer and their main course -- in that order. At an izakaya, the process isn't as formal or sequential," Burke says.
"Traditionally, guests start with drinks, and then order several rounds of small plates that accompany a progressive drinking and eating journey," he explains. "At Two Ten Jack, that journey typically ends with a bowl of kodawari -- artisanal-- ramen. This style of dining isn't one that forces you out of your booth after 45 minutes, so you're able to fully enjoy the company you're with and the opportunity to try new things."
Throughout the evening, patrons are encouraged to enjoy plates of sushi, fried items and yakitori, or grilled meats and vegetables. On one visit you might have the Japanese fried chicken, or the fried octopus balls; on the next visit you might have sushi rolls, edamame and sashimi. The evening is finished off with a bowl of kodawari, or handmade ramen ($13). These don't come in styrofoam bowls with a packet of flavor powder, the staple of college students everywhere.
"In Japan, ramen is a quick and cheap meal," Brent explains.
Chef de Cuisine George MacEwan says most of the dishes are hand-prepared and, when that is not possible, he looks for locally sourced items or carefully chooses products from around the world.
"Instead of doing a lot of things pretty well, we're focused on doing a few things extremely well," he says.
Brent and Naoko Boyle skipped on the adult beverages but did sample several of the small dishes before ending the evening with ramen.
"We both liked the ramen. I had the [Yasai] Shoyu ramen and she had the [Tori Paitan] Shio. One is spicier and one is saltier. I like things a little spicier."
Boyle says he understands the concept of spreading the meal out over an evening but, for their first visit, that wasn't in the cards for them.
"The table next to us was doing the whole thing, asking the waiter a lot of questions about the dishes and the drinks."
That's the idea behind Two Ten Jack, Burke says.
"The menu is not incredibly large, but there is a lot of diversity. You can have a different experience every time. You don't get locked into your entree."
Burke says when he was looking for a space to relocate here, he was immediately struck by the basement aspect of the 4,500-square-foot area in Warehouse Row.
"It's a real unique fit for us," he says. "I love the underground, speakeasy vibe."
The restaurant's open concept and spacious booths are designed to accommodate large groups and intermingling.
"We think we've got a great bar experience. It's a bar serving comfort food. It just so happens our food is Japanese."
While Two Ten Jack is not currently opened for lunch, Burke is working on a lunch-time concept.
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.