Izakaya sets opening

Sneak peek: Eagerly anticipated Midtown restaurant sets opening date and reveals menu

Sneak peek: Buzzy new restaurant sets opening date and reveals menu

Izakaya interior
Tattoo-inspired murals in the main dining room. Paula Murphy/Facebook
Izakaya soba noodles
Soba noodles. Photo by a CultureMap reader
Izakaya Midtown exterior
Izakaya could open to the public as soon as Thursday.  Photo by Eric Sandler
Izakaya shumai
Shumai.  Photo by a CultureMap reader
Izakaya bar
The well-stocked bar.  Photo by a CultureMap reader
Izakaya Scotch egg
Scotch egg and cocktails.  Photo by a CultureMap reader
Izakaya omelette
Omu rice wrapped in ketchup-topped omelette.  Photo by a CultureMap reader
Izakaya interior
Izakaya soba noodles
Izakaya Midtown exterior
Izakaya shumai
Izakaya bar
Izakaya Scotch egg
Izakaya omelette

One of Houston's most eagerly anticipated restaurants has finally set an opening date.

Izakaya, the "drinks-first" concept from Kata Robata owners The Azuma Group, is now accepting reservations for August 1, according to a statement released Monday. The restaurant will hold a series of invite-only friends and families dinners this week, but could open its doors to the public as soon as Thursday — or, depending on how smoothly the preview runs, could go dark over the weekend and begin accepting walk-in diners next week. 

 The menu has six sections: Raw Stuff, Greenery, Starting Line, From the Grill, Nom Nom Nom and Game Over.  

The former Farrago's space has been transformed by Schooley Design into a two-room concept. Up front, the lounge contains the bar, raw bar and a mix of booth and table seating. A tall, central bar showcases Izakaya's sake and spirits selection. Large, tattoo-inspired murals dominate the main dining room, which also features patio seating in an interior courtyard that's shared with neighbors like Fluff Bake Bar and Russo's New York Pizzeria.

Co-executive chefs Jean-Philippe Gaston (known as Philippe) and Manabu Horiuchi (known as Hori) developed the menu, which takes its inspiration from Asian street food and is built around the popular shareable plates trend. Gaston will be at Izakaya, while Hori-san will remain at Kata Robata full-time. The menu has six sections: Raw Stuff, Greenery, Starting Line, From the Grill, Nom Nom Nom and Game Over. 

Raw items skip traditional sushi in favor of tartares, ceviches and crudos, which recalls the sort of work Gaston did as the chef at Cove Cold Bar. One dish consists of a riff on the Mexican seafood cocktail vuelve a la vida that blends scallop, shrimp, octopus, red onion, garlic, avocado, yuzu hot sauce and crushed sea salt; prices for this section of the menu range from $12 to 23.

Grilled items include chicken skin, house-made venison sausage, octopus and street corn with bonito flakes ($5 to 14); authentic Japanese wagyu beef is $15 per ounce (min 4-ounces).

The Nom Nom Nom section includes traditional fare like shumai and a katsu pork sandwich, as well as a chicken fried steak with kimchi-braised collard greens and a Texas quail Scotch egg ($8 to 30). Game Over offers a selection of rice and noodle dishes include two soba dishes, a daily rice bowl and the omu rice, which is wrapped in an egg omelette ($11 to 18).  

Promising concept

One CultureMap reader who scored a coveted seat at Monday night's invite-only friends and family preview called the Peruvian ceviche "incredible" and the Scotch egg "awesome." Asked to sum up the experience, our mystery diner reports that Izakaya is a "very promising concept." As seen above, the reader's pictures provide a sneak peek inside the space.  

One CultureMap reader who scored a coveted seat at Monday night's invite-only friends and family preview called the Peruvian ceviche "incredible" and the Scotch egg "awesome."

Izakaya's cocktail program, which has been developed by San Francisco-based consultants Clare Sprouse and Chad Arnholt, takes its inspiration from drinks they experienced during a three-week trip to Japan. The cocktails will incorporate seasonal produce, take advantage of Japanese fermentation and preservation techniques and are designed to be delivered quickly. The initial menu of 16 selections includes the "Good Morning" (shochu, maknut cream soda), a Midori-inspired cocktail of melon, sake, gin, citrus and milk and, of course, a simple blend of Topo Chico and Hokushu 12-year old Japanese whisky. 

Kata Robata general manager Blake Lewis has brought his expertise as a certified sake sommelier to that aspect of Izakaya's offerings, which will also include Korean shochu. Local sommelier Antonio Gianola has selected the restaurant's wine list with an emphasis on white, rose and sparkling varietals. Expect 50 to 70 bottles, with at least a dozen by-the-glass options. 

Taken together, Izakaya offers an exciting new addition to a section of Midtown that's seen a host of promising new arrivals like cocktail bar Spare Key, tapas restaurant Oporto Fooding House & Wine and sweets shop Fluff Bake Bar. While the area remains Houston's most profitable bar district, newcomers like Izakaya are a sign that even Midtown can grow up a bit. 

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