Here, Eat This

Late Night: Izakaya

A most inviting set of words.
A most inviting set of words. Photo by Kate McLean
There's a reason behind the neon "ramen and dumpling" signage outside of Izakaya, located in the heart of Midtown. For late nighters, both dumplings and ramen are considered their own food groups, that are now more easily attainable on this side of town. Chef Jean-Philippe Gaston not only learned dumpling technique from the best in Houston, but he's shipping in fresh and custom-made ramen noodles from Sun Noodle out of Honolulu. More on that later.

For starters, definitely try the "Tori Kawa:" moist, rich chicken skin bunched on a skewer then acutely grilled with the right amount of crispy char.  Be sure to squeeze that lemon all over and served alongside a refreshing pint of Hitachino White Ale, it's quite the bite indeed. When it comes to chicken skin in general, refer to this late night nursery rhyme:

Anything chicken skin
will probably taste win-win.

click to enlarge The Tori Kawa is real tasty. - PHOTO BY KATE MCLEAN
The Tori Kawa is real tasty.
Photo by Kate McLean
In the dumpling section, chef recommends trying the Sheng Jian Bao (pan-fried pork bun), the Szechuan beef, and the Chik’n Dumplings…Dumplings.  The Szechuan beef stuffed dumplings hit the table piping hot. So hot that with the clumsy poke of a chopstick, warmth and aroma is ushered straight into the face of the guest.  The beef filling mixed with carrots and green onions is so comforting it's like coming home from college for the first time and sitting down to enjoy a genuine, home cooked meal.  Crisp crunch from the sear on one side, steamed homemade dough on the other. The Szechuan chili oil isn't kick-you-in-the-mouth spicy, but rather, it pleasantly warms the palate, just like a hand warmer in a mitten. To extract the perfect amount of heat from the chilis, chef uses a sugar thermometer to hold the oil at the perfect temperature for the perfect amount of time. 

Gaston staged at Sarah Place to learn authentic Chinese dishes eventually placing his emphasis on dumplings. For weeks he learned from a woman named Achin who spoke no English. Gaston was able to convince her and her husband to come work mornings at Izakaya making dumplings, they even turned the raw bar into an enclosed, proper dumpling making station.  Gaston works in tandem with the couple making fillings and dough. Xiao Long Bao pork soup dumplings are one of the items that can be found along with pork, vegetable, and seafood, steamed or pan-fried.

click to enlarge Piping hot Szechuan beef dumplings. - PHOTO BY KATE MCLEAN
Piping hot Szechuan beef dumplings.
Photo by Kate McLean
The ramen section covers its bases with: Miso, Kimchi, Shoyu, Tomato. Vegetarian, FRIED CHICKEN, and what's this—  the "Mazemen Ramen" featuring brandy-cured foie gras.  The "Mazeman Ramen," which, traditionally, are noodles served in a light broth finished with a ladel of hot fat poured over the top, gets a serious upgrade at Izakaya with garlic velouté that's then mounted with brandy cured foie gras.  And be sure to order a side of the addicting Goma ae, the sesame paste which Gaston describes as, "sweet and salty and just perfect."

Lots to sip upon, but perhaps the most unique are the sake "go-cups," a portioned cup of unfiltered sake that's a popular treat in Tokyo though relatively hard to find outside of Japan.  

318 Gray
Izakaya is open until midnight Thursday to Saturday.
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