Tarakaan, which officially opened last week, exudes more than a little bit of Asian club vibe. Owner Piran Esfahani took his inspiration from famous Asian restaurants and lounge concepts like Buddha-Bar in Paris, Buddakan in Manhattan and TAO in Las Vegas. In the entryway, one Buddha languishes atop a high dividing wall while another basking amid red lights serenely minds the dance floor. The expressive, lipsticked geishas painted on the brick wall behind the bar are reminiscent of Katsuya by Stark, the sleek sushi restaurant that survived about a year in West Ave.
However, don’t take Tarakaan’s clubby atmosphere to mean that it’s not serious about the menu. The executive chef is Micah Rideout, whose restaurant history includes Uchi, Main Kitchen and the Inn at Dos Brisas, as well as several restaurants in Australia, where he attended culinary school. Rideout's background seems to make him the perfect chef for establishing marriages between Asian ingredients and American classics. He was born in Bangkok, the son of American missionaries, and raised in northern Thailand in and around Chiang Mai.
Between 10 and 11 p.m., Tarakaan transitions from sultry dining haven to sexy club scene. Before then, diners can sit and enjoy Pan Asian creations that pull from several cultures, including Japanese and Thai.
The curried cauliflower with spiced cashews, pickled raisins and brown butter powder touched with cumin is reminiscent of something that could have been on Uchi’s menu — if Uchi were an Indian-inspired restaurant instead of Japanese. “The brown butter powder gives the dish a little earthiness — an East-meets-West kind of play,” explained Rideout. “It’s got butteriness to it and is a little sweet and powerful.”
There are also creative Asian-influenced takes on classics, like steak frites. “Instead of crispy fries, I’m using crispy noodles,” he explained, “like a Thai mee krob salad. There’s sweet sesame-soy [sauce], pickled ginger and little dots of black garlic.” Meat lovers will adore this dish, since it’s a generous helping of beef.
Rideout’s pandan panna cotta is a vibrant, silky green custard with adornments of fresh blueberries, cucumber, edible orchids, black sesame seeds and toasted coconut. Many chefs use edible orchids as adornment, but Rideout actually takes the flavor of the flower into consideration, saying it contributes a little bitterness.
Mochi fans will be pleased to hear that's another dessert option at Tarakaan and the current flavors available are green tea, strawberry and mango.
Of course, for a club there have to be cocktails, and the ones developed for Tarakaan have the same Pan-Asian theme as the food. Tiger’s Milk marries Effen Cucumber Vodka with pandan syrup, coconut milk and chilled green tea, while the Geisha combines G Joy Ginjo Gensho Sake, lemongrass syrup, yuzu, green tea liqueur and blueberries. Speaking of sake, that's a point of pride for beverage director Nick Berezoski. Tarakaan is one of the few places in Houston that offer a junmai daiginjo sake by the glass (in this case, Ten To Chi Heaven and Earth brand). All sakes are chilled and ready to serve. There's no waiting while someone quickly cools down a bottle that was on a shelf.
Tarakaan is located at 2301 Main next door to Clé nightclub and is only two blocks away from the McGowan stop on the MetroRail North line. It’s likely to be a convenient stop for adventurous partygoers who want ambitious dishes and cocktails in a sexy, trendy spot.