The gist: We’ve been waiting with baited breath for the highly anticipated Izakaya to hit the booming Midtown scene and now, the wait is finally over. The modern-day, global take on a traditional Japanese pub reunites the talents of chefs Jean-Philippe Gaston (Kata Robata, Cove) and Manabu Horiuchi (Kata Robata), who have created a diverse menu melding familiar dishes with innovative new offerings.
Main dining area
The space: The bar-centric restaurant, with seating inside for 146, balances the feel of a traditional izakaya den with a modernist aesthetic. The focal point of the front dining area is the bar, which extends the height and length of the space and showcases a collection of sakes and spirits along with a wood-clad raw bar. A second side dining room boasts a large tattoo-inspired mural, which reflects Japan’s past and present. Outdoor seating via the front sidewalk, rear patio and complex-shared courtyard is in the works.
The food: The food, which is still being tweaked, is collaborative affair between co-executive chefs Gaston, best known for his raw presentations, and Horiuchi, known for his classical Japanese cooking. Gaston oversees daily operations as Horiuchi also continues to oversee the kitchen at Upper Kirby's Kata Robata. Together, they've carved out a menu of that fuses Japanese cuisine with global influences, like a tuna poke with a bone marrow vinaigrette, dehydrated seaweed and pickled Japanese mushrooms, and the vuelve la vida, a vibrant Mexican-style seafood cocktail that mixes scallops, shrimp and ocotpus with Sriracha ginger, red onion, yuzu and garlic. It's served with crushed sea salt on top and side slices of fresh avocado.
Vuelve la Vida
There are also four salad options such as a traditional Basque dish comprised of raw greens served in a rice bowl with a warm and spicy cod roe sauce for dipping, and a Thai-style green papaya salad with carrots, chiles and a whole grilled spotted prawns whole.
Items from the grill include six skewers made in traditional izakaya fashion, which require hours of prep time. The can't-miss options include the mochi wrapped bacon covered with sweet soy aioli, housemade venison sausage with Asahi-infused barbecue sauce and pickled mustard seeds, and the Asian elote with Parmesan cheese, yuzu mayo, tōgarashi (a Japanese spice blend) and bonito flakes.
The 11 hot items showcase a melting pot of flavors in an echo of Houston’s culturally diverse residents. Sure to become a signature dish are the crispy shoestring potatoes glazed with sweet, sour and spicy katsu sauce, bonito flakes and roasted seaweed. A tried-and-true southern favorite — chicken fried steak — gets an Asian twist from a tofu gravy spun with béchamel sauce, ground shiitake mushrooms and flour breading, Japanese pickles and braised kimchi collard greens.
Chicken fried steak
The drinks: Fourteen cocktails, created using traditional Japanese preservation and fermentation techniques, complement the tapas-style menu. Look for Japanese whisky highballs on tap, a selection of shochu- and sake-based cocktails with ingredients including salted plums, yuzu and matcha. The wine list, with a leaning towards offerings from boutique, family-owned vineyards, reflects the global viewpoint expressed in the kitchen. Choose from 50 to 70 bottles with an emphasis on white, rose and sparkling wines, plus a dozen by-the-glass options as well as draft vinos. The sake and shochu program, developed in-house by certified sake sommeliers, is simple with broad offerings. For those unfamiliar with sake and shochu, the staff can offer guidance by starting with base notes – dry, fruity, sweet, etc. Sakes are available by the glass, bottle and carafe.
All photos by Marcy de Luna