I arrived at Wara Wara – the new Japanese-drenched tapas joint on Hope St – just after 7pm on a Tuesday to a full house and was greeted by a curious vintage yellow gas pump robot monster. Thankfully, it did not attack. I looked around, peering at a colorful bar off to the left side, complete with a television toward the corner that was playing the Kurosawa film Sanjuro on a loop with subtitles. A dividing wall neatly separates the bar area from the main dining area with the half-open kitchen to the back of the space.
The atmosphere was bustling, energetic. Even the decor is busy and exciting; there’s a lot going on inside the old location of Blaze. A chaotic collage of Japanese culture greets you at every casual glance, from the ukiyo-e-esque mural on one wall to the small Godzilla figurines lining the shelves.
Co-owners Kazu Kondo, X Premwat and Nick Mazonowicz apparently enlisted the help of local designer and RISD alum Kyla Coburn to decorate.
I was able to get a table for two almost immediately, despite having to wait a short while thereafter for my plus-one. I spent at least a few minutes after being seated staring across the expanse of the space, wondering how they got a picture book about geishas so high up on the shelf next to the TV. It’s a lot to take in, which makes for an interesting dining experience.
It took a short while to parse through the mysterious cocktail menu, which includes names like Open Kimono, Tokyo Martini and Saketini written on a chalkboard high above the kitchen. Pretty much everything includes some measure of sake. I opted for the Tokyo Martini, which had vodka, sake and chartreuse, which was really interesting in that the first and last sips seemed to taste vastly different.
The really interesting thing about Wara Wara is that the menu is pretty far from what you might expect. The restaurant logo pushes the “Oysters, Sake, Noodles,” and if you were to ask me to describe Wara Wara, I’d probably call it Japanese tapas, and even that really wouldn’t quite do it justice. The menu includes a raw bar along with tapas (meat, fish, veggie) and also a selection of ramen. Before my dining partner arrived, the waiter came by to see if I wanted anything to start. I panicked and blurted out the calamari. Though I was initially ashamed for ordering something you can get just about anywhere in the greater Providence community, I was pleased when it arrived shortly after my plus-one did — a mix of rings and tentacles with a fantastic red pepper mango sauce.
Next up was a double whammy of meat and veggie tapas: hakka eggplant with garlic basil and spicy hoisin sauce along with lemongrass pork sausage with ginger scallion vinaigrette and pickles. In my time as a journalist, I’ve never had just cause to use the word “succulent” to review a dish; that is, until now. The lemongrass pork sausage at Wara Wara is nothing short of a treasure. And the explosion of flavor brought on by the pork sausage was complemented by the tangy, spicy flavors of the melt-in-your-mouth eggplant.
To round out the rest of the meal, we split an order of the sesame chicken ramen with soy broth and yu choy that they served in separate smaller bowls (extra convenience points!). It also came with shiitake, bamboo, seven spices and a flavored soft-boiled egg. The overall flavor of the ramen was incredibly smoky and potent.
If intensely Japanese decorum amidst oysters, sake and tapas sounds like your style, then head on out to Hope Street and check out Wara Wara!