Last night I was reading this manga, Oishii Kankei (“Delicious Relationship”), and two things there reminded me of my family: a family of three who love to eat out and explore new restaurants, and the girl who can’t cook (but she has a better sense of taste than me, it’s a story after all ). I also got reminded of a ton of Japanese food, although the main plot revolves around French cuisine and a fictional restaurant in Tokyo called Petit Lapin (“Little Rabbit”). I’ve been in the mood for something comforting, and Little Mom wants to have some Japanese food that isn’t sushi, so we decided on Kata Robata for our Christmas Eve. Actually Oanh recommended this place to me just before my flight to Houston, and I trust her when it comes to the Land of the Rising Sun. My dad’s opinion today? He had to come whether he wanted to or not. That’s Beauty #27 of a family of three: odd number makes decisions come easy.
Thank goodness, he liked it here. Or should I say, he *loved* the kakuni don.
The rice, wet with the runny yolk of a 60-degree soft-boiled, was aptly seasoned by the rich sauce of the sweetly soy-braised slow-cooked pork belly (kakuni). The kakuni was a tad too fatty, but the seasoning strikes home just right. Little Mom fancied the juicy shiitake, and Mai the crunchy pickled radish. A little something for everyone makes the don truly comfort food.
The cold plate. At first they hesitated (Vietnamese don’t like things raw), but the American Kobe beef carpaccio charmed The Parents at first bite. They said it’s the thinness of the slices, whose texture reminded me of salmon sashimi, but I think it’s the olive oil dressing and the yuzu juice.
Brought forth at the same time with the yakitori was the fois gras and unagi. At first I was debating between this and the miso-crusted bone marrow, but Little Mom, an eel fan, cast her vote on the former, which also has bone marrow, in powder form. The accompanying pickled apple and the huckleberry sauce were more high school cheerleaders than Broadway stars. That big fat slab of foie gras needed some searing and slicing to pair with the delicate unagi. But the bone marrow powder was rather perfect: it had the salty richness of katsuobushi, the creamy innocence of feta cheese, and the fluffy, melting texture of snow.
The starter didn’t arrive until almost the end (it would have been the end if we didn’t also order a shoyu ramen). But it was well worth the wait. Little Mom placed this uni chawanmushi top of tonight’s dinner mainly for its yuzu egg custard and ginkgo nuts. The chicken and shrimp bits were not too necessary, but the uni was fresh.
And a bowl of noodle soup to wash everything down. The broth erred on the salty side but the charsiu pork was perfect. No menma (bamboo shoot), and the noodles were more straight than curly. It’s a hearty bowl and just fatty enough to make Dad happy.
For dessert, our host tried to lure us into either a fancy chocolate roll (with coffee cream, red bean puree and lemon gel) or a liquid-nitrogened white chocolate namelaka (with green tea streusel and huckleberry curd), but I insisted on the December 24 special: black sesame panna cotta, topped with mango sorbet, candied sesame, sesame soil, and ginger foam. I’ve never had any bad sesame treats, and this springy, fragrant, sweet but mild one is another triumph. The mango sorbet is bit tart like a puffy porcupine: it’s from a real fresh mango (yes, as opposed to a fake one).
I think we’ve done pretty well covering all bases: rice, noodle, seafood, chicken, pork, beef, from street to posh, from East to West. What does this dinner have to do with Oishii Kankei? Nothing. I just wanted to mention a manga worth reading for food fans.
How many stars for this restaurant? Like Imamura-san said about Petit Lapin: One. The food is good.
Address: Kata Robata
3600 Kirby Dr. Suite H
Houston, TX 77098
The damage: dinner for 3 – $84.44