Mr. Make Haste walked into the dining room and made eye contact with the server, "Sushi sashimi lunch, with a diet Pepsi." Remembering his manners, "Please," he added, but the server was already off to the kitchen. He sat down at a table along the wall, whipped out his smart phone, and moved on to the next urgent matter.
Mr. Make Haste, along with the majority of patrons at Dai Kichi during lunch on any given weekday, is a regular. How do I know? They're easy to spot. The regular breezes in, greets a server or two by name, offers a hug, and takes their seat in swift order. Then, they scan the room for other regulars, and soon turn their attention to a newspaper, a book, or, like Mr. Make Haste, a cell phone. The menu is not necessary to consult, presumably because they've read it tens of times.
The likes of Mr. Make Haste and other average-paced locals, have packed the Japanese restaurant for the past twenty-five years, making Dai Kichi one of Montclair's most senior restaurants.
Why, one might ask, in a critical food town like Montclair, flooded with Asian eateries, has the aesthetically dated (yes, I said it) Dai Kichi held its ground on Valley Road so long?
Well, it's got nothing to do with the toilet <insert wink to those in the know>. Despite its unassuming exterior, Dai Kichi has stellar location. In the heart of upper Montclair, on Valley Road, Dai Kichi is moderately visible, easily accessible by bus or train, and usually there's plenty of nearby parking.
Then, there's the food. Doubtless, you've seen the menu before, Dai Kichi is a fairly predictable Japanese restaurant/sushi bar. But, where other look-a-likes come up short, Dai Kichi consistently delivers.
I often go to Dai Kichi for the lunch, and default to the sashimi special ($10.50). Served with the expected, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary miso soup and salad, the fish remains the star. Typically mackerel, tuna, salmon, and white fish (herring), are clean, unadulterated, and fatty in all the right places.
A bit of advice: venture out of the Bento box. On a recent visit, I ordered Oshinko ($4.75), a plate of colorful, assorted pickles made from cucumber, eggplant, and daikon. Tangy and cleansing, the pickles were great to nibble on with my Asahi Japanese beer. (Note: Dai Kichi tots a valuable Montclair liquor license but does charge a reasonable $10 corkage fee.)
Another favorite appetizer is the calamari in ginger sauce ($7). A welcome change to heavy frying, the sauce gives a depth to the tender squid, and is plenty for two to share.
The staff at Dai Kichi is a well-oiled, model of efficiency that keeps everything moving, and in sync with nary a word. However, there are times, even when the dining room isn't full, that I feel rushed. But, I chalk it up to their dedication to efficiency.
It took me ten years in Montclair before I dined at Dai Kichi. But when I did, I returned two more times that same week, and now, I'm a regular, too.