April 24th, 2017

Restaurant Review: Kemuri Tatsu-Ya

Posted in Fire, Food Trends, Restaurants, Reviews, Smoke

Kemuri Tatsu-Ya Reviews

Kemuri Tatsu-Ya Review

IRASSHAIMASE! Or, “Welcome to our place,” (roughly translated at best) is how every diner is enthusiastically greeted at Chefs Aikawa and Matsumoto’s new restaurant, Kemuri Tatsu-YA. Originated from the Japanese word for smoke, Kemuri is a thoughtful blend of Texas fare and traditional Japanese izakaya plates.

I was particularly excited to dine here, not only because I expected the food to be top notch, but also because it combines two national trends I recently wrote about: Fire/smoke flavors and the explosion of Japanese izakayas.

The restaurant itself lies on East 2nd St. in the Holly neighborhood, in what used to be the home of Live Oak Barbecue. The interior combines the street art loving design and flair of the Ramen Tatsu-Ya locations with a hodgepodge of Texas based pictures and knickknacks.

Enough of that though, you came here for the food, and there’s LOTS to cover. So, let’s get to it.

First Wave

Izakayas Austin

Marinated Jellyfish and Octopus

Marinated Jellyfish

Starting off strong! The raw jellyfish marinated in a tangy sweet and sour sauce had an awesome crunchy texture and great flavor balance. Perfectly simple, this turned out to be one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Marinated Octopus

This raw octopus bowl was salty, spicy, slimy, and chewy all in the rights ways. Wonderfully unique and a textually bizarre.

Second Wave

Fries with Eyes

These fried whole smelt were served with a nice vinegary dipping sauce in which you are instructed to let the fish soak in for about 30 seconds. While this diminishes the crispy texture, it helps balance the robust fishy flavor of the smelt, leaving a tender, tasty snack. Not bad, not bad at all.

Chicken Liver Skewer

I won’t lie, while I like offal, I don’t love liver. What I do love is courage, especially the courage to put not one, but two liver dishes on a menu. While low on my list of favorites, the chicken livers were smoky and well-balanced with the sweetness from a caramelized onion garnish. This demonstrated a great use of binchotan.

Monkfish Liver

This one surprised me. Made into a pate coin, the monkfish liver was mild and smooth. The flavor profile was very subdued, which is saying something for such a pungent ingredient. Definitely worth a try.

Third Wave

Pickle Plate

A creative assortment of Japanese and Southern vegetables adorned this take on a pickle plate. Standouts were the mushrooms and collard greens, as well as the amazingly complex smoked daikon radish.

Green Tomato and Avocado Skewer

Absolutely nailed this one! Perfect texture, great flavors, and all around fun dish. The kewpie mayonnaise and sweet and sour sauce were excellent compliments to the tartness of the green tomato and fattiness of the avocado.

Fourth Wave (Getting Full Yet?)

Chicken Karaage

Pronounced KAH-rah-AH-gay (and yes we did triple check), these Japanese fried chicken thighs were a fastball down the middle. Crunchy, salty, fatty, and delicious. A can’t miss crowd-pleaser.

Crispy Onigiri

I won’t lie, this one disappointed me. I love onigiri, but this version was oily to the point of greasy, and absolutely required the pickled vegetable to be eaten along with it to balance out the unctuous flavor of the smoked fish stuffing.

BBQ Eel

Holy game-changer! Tender, smoky, flavorful, and extremely unique. This one-of-a-kind preparation personifies the overall theme of the restaurant in a single, delightful bite. Personally, I’d recommend pushing off some of that herb salad to make way for more of that tender meat.

Fifth Wave (Starting to feel it…)

Ramen Austin

BBQ Tsukemen

BBQ Tsukemen

A thousand times YES! Even with our rapidly filling bellies we were fighting over the next bite. No surprise here, but the broth was amazingly rich and flavorful with all the body of Ramen Tatsu-Ya’s fame and the flair of smoky mesquite and spice.

(Seriously!?) 6th Wave

What can we say? We’re gluttons…

Chili Cheese Takoyaki

Another slight miss. The takoyaki themselves were crunchy, gooey, and full of savory octopus flavor, but the chili sauce was just far too sweet. Points for a superb presentation though.

Smoked Edamame

Great flavor and seasoning, robust smoky flavor, and generous portion size, but the pods themselves were soft and uninspiring. I missed the familiar crisp of wok fired edamame.

Hot Pocketz

Brisket and Gouda stuffed between two pieces of fried cheese covered tofu… Nothing else to say. Eat this. Always.

7th Wave (Bring it on)

Culinarians

Sorry for the bad picture, we couldn’t wait.

Yuzu Pecan Pie

A great twist of a classic southern pecan pie. The citrusy yuzu played great with the crunchy pecans and Azuki bean whip. I especially enjoyed the mild sweetness here, making it a joy to eat while finishing my shochu flight.

Roasted Banana Pudding

Loved the miso caramel paired with the smoky roasted bananas. Great texture from the kokuto crunch, again not too sweet, and an all around great finish.

Final Thoughts

I know this has been a long one, so thanks for sticking it out. In the end, Kemuri set out a unique, courageous, and overall delicious spread. While I didn’t love every dish I certainly appreciated the risks they were taking. This is an exciting, satisfying dining experience that I would call a can’t miss. These kinds of bold leaps are what makes dining fun.

Rating: 9/10.

Location
2713 E 2nd St.
Austin, TX 78702
http://kemuri-tatsuya.com/

P.S. I didn’t cover the drink menu, but to summarize: We drank much, all of it was good.

 

Cheers!

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March 27th, 2017

Food Trend Series: Free the Fire

Posted in Consumer Trends, Fire, Food Trends, Smoke

Research chefs

The Flavors of Fire Reign Supreme

It would seem that the love of smoke and fire have finally been accepted by the mainstream. Need proof? Check out Little Caesars latest release of the Smokehouse Pizza, topped with brisket, pulled pork, and smoked bacon along with a smokehouse seasoned crust.  Arby’s serves a similar Smokehouse sandwich made with brisket and smoked Gouda cheese. Even Applebee’s has jumped into the mix with the roll out of their wood fired grills in select locations.

Menu development

Image courtesy of Restaurant Facility Business

Tracking menu insights from 3rd quarter 2015 and 2016 the market research firm Mintel placed smoked flavors atop their list of rising flavor trends(1).

Empirical evidence backs up these statements as well. Think of how common smoked salts, fire roasted tomatoes or chilies, and charred citrus have become. Menus show items like smoked butterscotch coffee, fire roasted vegetables, and charred artichokes. Heck, one of the best cocktails I’ve ever drunk was served to me last weekend and included freshly burnt rosemary and mescal.

We can also see these fiery flavors showing up in condiments. Chipotle ketchup, pecan wood smoked maple syrup, smoked onion marmalade, and smoked black pepper pickles to name a few. I have no doubt a simple Google query would bring up a slew of other products I haven’t thought of. 

Fine dining restaurants nationwide have long been pushing the flaming trend forward with the use of wood burning stoves. Local to Austin you can enjoy foods slow roasted over wood fires at the likes of Odd Duck or Dai Due, the latter using beautiful customized elevator grills. Nationally, you can find wood fire kitchens from coast to coast, but for our New York friends a stand out would be Lilia in Brooklyn.

Lilia Hearth, courtesy of Tasting Table

Lilia Hearth, courtesy of Tasting Table

As chefs, we are stoked (get it?) by the fired and smoked food trend, as it hearkens back to the origins of cooking food with only wood and a spark. I feel a beard growing just thinking about it.

We would love to hear what you’re seeing out there in your culinary travels. Be sure to leave a comment and let us know.

 

Cheers!

-Chris

1. Weisberg, Karen. "Flavor Advances: Top Trends for 2017." Culinology. December 2016: 10-17. 6 Mar., 2017.
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