Chef Kazu Fukumoto
Does True Izakaya and Sushi
Japanese Pub Style
Words by Ben Haguewood Photos by Ashley Haguewood
England has its pub. Germany has its bierpalast. Japan is home to the izakaya – casual after-work bars with sushi, Yakitori, tempura, comforting classics, and ample pours of shōchū, sake (the root word of izikaya), and cold lager. It is no surprise that Japan’s notoriously immoderate work schedules have a corollary drinking establishment. And Izakaya Fukumoto has plentiful options on traditional Japanese drinks for any taste. Food, however, is the focus.
Kazu Fukumoto has been in Austin over sixteen years, but the most Texan things on the menu are the fresh produce, quail eggs, and various cuts of chicken – destined for the traditional Japanese grill – sourced mere miles from Izikaya Fukumoto’s Sixth Street location. The fish comes from an expert purveyor that scours markets in Japan, basically on demand, to send the latest catch to Izakaya Fukumoto (via direct flight to Houston). Fresh is an understatement.
Relying on the quality and freshness of the ingredients, the menu is wonderfully direct.The conviction is implied that food should taste like itself rather than masquerade in a costume of mayonnaise and sweet sauces. The fluid sushi menu features familiar pieces one expects at the best sushi restaurants – beautifully striated fatty salmon and tuna belly and creamy slabs of uni (sea urchin roe) – but also many that will arouse even the most seasoned sushi fanatic: uni-kurage (sea urchin marinated jellyfish), ochappa dai (green tea fed snapper – yes, fed!), hotate (Hokkado scallop), and many more. Can’t decide? Eat Omakase style (chef’s tasting selection), and the chef will make the ideal selections based on a diner’s preference, budget, and courage. This is the kind of place you want to do this, because proud chefs tend to be generous chefs.
This is not to say that there aren’t creative flourishes. There are in the form of updated presentations of Japanese classics using the best ingredients: dashi braised daikon smothered in a long-simmered curry that would delight a Japanese grandmother, local vegetables artfully arranged atop a shallow reservoir of delicate sesame dressing, cornflake-crusted shrimp with Japanese tartar sauce, and other creations that change daily to include imaginative preparations of a diverse crew of chefs that drive the open kitchen.
The star of the menu though is the Yakitori, of which there are many imitators, but which Chef Fukumoto has meticulously reconstituted. Chicken thigh, neck, heart, and butts (the fatty tip of the tail), salmon, octopus, beef tongue, and pork belly seared just centimeters away from glowing binchō-tan (hot-burning Japanese Oak coals) that give the meats their clean, crisp char.
The doors open at 4:30 for drinks and the kitchen at 5:00 – just in time – and once they close behind you, you’re welcomed into an amplitude of warmth and ease, the dining room filled with greetings, just-loud-enough music, grill smoke, and liberal pours, more than enough to celebrate the closing bell – or wash it away.
Native Knowledge: Three hours validated garage parking is available in the Corazon Building located on San Marcos Street between 5th & 6th Streets.
514 Medina St.