"I flew in a special cut of meat from Japan for you tonight," said chef Donald Chang of Nara, grinning mischievously. "It cost more than $1,000 just for this piece of beef."
He paused and let that sink in before adding quickly, "I hope it's good!"
He needn't have worried. Those of us gathered around the inaugural chef's table dinner all proclaimed that the seared Kobe strips layered atop slices of Korean radish and garnished with a lemony butter sauce was one of the most divine beef presentations we'd ever encountered. It was certainly the highlight of the six-course meal of Korean and Japanese dishes, but everything we ate that night was a clear indication of Chang's skill as a chef.
Chang created the chef's table, which debuts tonight, February 5, as a way to diverge from the normal menu and play around a little for guests willing to shell out $100 each for some of his unique offerings. The special Kobe beef won't be on every menu, but Chang has some other tasty visions he's ready to turn into realities.
Chang will be cooking on a custom-made stainless steel surface at one end of the table, which is located in a prime spot for watching sushi making in the center of the dining room or observing the open kitchen on one side of the table. Reservations must be made in advance, and a minimum of ten people are required to reserve the spot, but it shouldn't be difficult to gather ten friends to join you for dinner and a show by Chang.
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And it will be a show. Chang is one of those chefs who are also natural front-of-house men. He enjoys chatting with guests, answering questions and cracking jokes in his Southern drawl while cooking food from his heritage (Korea) and his culinary background (Japan).
Some sample menu items include red miso clam chowder (try going back to regular clam chowder after you have a taste of this), buttery beef tartare on a bed of dried seaweed, and special Otoro blue fin tuna belly flown in from Spain and served atop a simple salad. Then, of course, there's that amazing Kobe beef, which Chang assures us will be back from time to time. With items like A5 grade Kobe beef and Otoro on the menu, Nara's chef's table will be one of the only places in town where diners can get such rare, high-quality proteins. And that's pretty exciting.
The meal will start at $100 per person (the price will go up depending on special ingredients used), and drink pairings, which will include sake, soju and wine, are an extra $50. There's one seating per night only, because Chang does need to get back in the kitchen at some point to assist his sister, Esther Cho, the head kitchen chef at Nara.
As we reported in December 2013, the grill room is now open as well, meaning Nara finally has all the elements it was aiming for when it opened this past fall. Those of you dubious that an upscale Korean restaurant could thrive in West Ave in the space where Katsuya failed, take note: Nara is blazing the trail for luxurious Korean food, and nobody's looking back.