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Bang-up Bento Boxes

Don Chang pushes the envelopeat Nara Japanese

"I thought up that crawfish sushi when I was still cooking for Miyako," explains Chang. "But they felt it took too long to put together. Here at my own place, we can take all the time we need." Chang has taken some ribbing for his adventurous Tex-Cajun riffs on the traditional Japanese theme, such as his shrimp tempura soft taco with miso guacamole. "I made that one up after overhearing a snide comment," says Chang. "This person said, 'Next thing you know, he'll have tacos on the menu.' So now I do."

Given the excellence of Nara's seafood, either raw or cooked, it seems strange to hear Chang admit he's a carnivore at heart. But that preference might explain the presence of his Shichimi T-bone steak ($16), blackened with Japanese chili peppers and glazed with sweet eel sauce. It sounded interesting, so I took a gamble on it, supposing it would be fetchingly rolled, or cunningly slivered, or somehow packaged and tied with a bow. But there it was, big and plain as a boot sole, dwarfing all the other entrees at our table. It was sullen and slightly gristly and I was embarrassed to be seen with it. Oh well, you can't win them all; at least the eel sauce is far tastier than Worcestershire.

Another notable Nara innovation is its extensive sake list, which includes both warm and cold selections listed by brewer and type, and even boasts "jizake" or microbrewery-type entries. Cognoscenti who would never dream of ordering generic beer or wine can call for sake by name at Nara, a Hakusan Mild "draft sake" ($6/250 ml) from the Napa Valley or a polished Shirayuki "White Snow of Fuji" Ginjo ($18/300 ml), for example. Count me as a convert: The high-tech chilled sakes have a lot more aroma and flavor than the traditional warmed sakes, and those little 250-milliliter bottles allow plenty of room for experimentation. Next month, I hope to continue my research as Chang plans to add another 15 selections to his cellar.

Location Info

Map

Treebeards

315 Travis
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Restaurant > Cajun

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

At Nara, Chang is boldly going where few have gone before. When he opened the restaurant more than two years ago, no one else had attempted"Japanese fusion gourmet," as he calls it. "It's risky, sure," he says, "but it distinguishes us from the 30-odd other Japanese restaurants in town."

And that it does. Traditionalists may scoff, but the crowds keep coming back for more.

Nara Japanese, 11124 Westheimer, (713)266-2255.

Treebeard's, Market Square location, 315 Travis, (713)752-2601.

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