The "better place" is a new approach to food for him - far removed from the puffy takoyaki snacks he was whipping up at Maru Global. After recovering in June - by then he and his wife had split, he said - he immersed himself in modern Japanese cooking.
Igarashi has returned to the friend's restaurant, known as Le Champignon and Tokio, where he is planning a one-night "pop-up" version of a modern izakaya - a Japanese bar - on Feb. 25. The seven-course menu ($65), limited to 30 seats ( http://www.forryol.com), will start with ginger cucumber lemonade spiked with ginger-infused vodka and end with his own azuki-bean ice cream.
Igarashi is calling the concept "For Ryol," a pun on his name.
He's been training all around town in various kitchen tasks, such as wok work, pork belly twining, and making tonkotsu broth. He's sourcing live scallops, which he will sear with bonito hollandaise and quail egg. A salad will include braised octopus and avocado with mixed greens, tossed with yuzu vinaigrette.
The pop-up has a homecoming aspect, as Le Champignon and Tokio are owned by Madame Saito, who gave Igarashi his first job in Philadelphia, as a manager. Igarashi, who studied briefly at Ursinus College and Community College of Philadelphia, is largely self-taught.
Igarashi is not sure where the pop-up will lead. Saito and Igarashi have no agreement beyond Feb. 25.
Saito herself has had an interesting turn of events at 122-124 Lombard St., which she has owned since the mid-1980s. (Her long-ago Japanese restaurant in Upper Darby called Asakura Plaza was one of the earliest sushi eateries in the region.)
Six years ago, Saito leased Le Champignon to two out-of-towners, who converted it into a Belgian tavern called Zot - Flemish for "mad man." That partnership ended badly, as the tenants took each other to court. Saito's next tenant was caterer Bruce Nichols, who converted it into a European beer bar called HeadHouse. That restaurant closed in late 2010 when Nichols died of cancer.
All the while, Saito has maintained Tokio as a sushi bar. She also teaches sushi-making.
Asked if he was interested in opening an izakaya there, Igarashi shrugged. "I am still in the process of digesting last year," he said.
Contact Michael Klein at email@example.com.