I've been grappling back and forth on whether or not I should write this post.
Like, lost sleep over it the other night? Is that even normal?
(don't answer that.)
Because you know me, I want to absolutely adore EVERYTHING I eat in Houston, and I like to think that I'm a positive and agreeable person, so generally I do adore everything I eat in Houston. And I really REALLY want to adore new Houston restaurants that everyone else seems to adore, like the recently opened Izakaya in midtown. And while my experience as a whole at Izakaya was not bad, it was a mixed bag. And as a Houston food and restaurant blogger, I suppose I need to take the good with the bad, as well as the inconsistent, so here we go!
One night Jon and I joined our friends Blake, Katie, Ashley, and Mike for dinner at Izakaya. Jon and I got to the restaurant about 30 minutes before our reservation. They asked if we wanted to sit at the bar, and we said if they didn't mind we'd sit at our table and order some drinks and appetizers while we waited inside the restaurant's dimly lit, funky, fun, edgy interior. They said they didn't mind at all.
Twenty minutes went by before anyone (with the exception of the super attentive employee who was on his game filling our water) even blinked at us.
Listen, I worked in food service for years so I'm incredibly forgiving. I get that you have off nights, and things can get crazy. But from what we could see, the restaurant wasn't even busy yet, and not one of the several people who walked by our table asked us if we had been helped. Needless to say, it was off to a rough start. Our server finally came over, and Jon and I ordered drinks and food to start with. Jon received his drink, but about 10 minutes went by before someone else came back to tell me the drink I ordered was not in stock.
By that time our friends had all arrived at the restaurant, and our appetizers came shortly after. We did our best to shake off our shaky start. Service can really make or break a restaurant experience. I had heard so many good things that I wanted to have an awesome time though.
Fortunately, things did go uphill from there. Izakaya describes its food as "Japanese pub fare," and they encourage sharing small plates between your party. We started off with the fried fish nuggets and Izakaya edamame.
I didn't try the fish nuggets, but my friends weren't over the moon about them. However, the edamame really was something special. Slathered in ginger, green onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, rayu, and ponzu sauce, the edamame was sweet, savory, and incredibly spicy. The dish is certainly not one for the faint of heart, and certainly one that I loved! The many flavored levels made this the most unique and enjoyable edamame dish I've ever had and one of the restaurant's all-stars.
After our first round of food, our server came by and explained the menu to us very extensively. My friends ordered an item from the "raw stuff" menu, while I opted for the king trumpet mushrooms. These came on skewers and were cooked in roasted garlic soy butter and togarashi. The mushrooms were chewy and borderline meaty, and the flavor was light, smokey, and aided by the squirt of some lemon. I did enjoy these 'shrooms, though they did not stand out to me like the edamame did.
For the next course of food, my friends ordered the Izakaya fries, and I ordered the roasted beets and arugula salad. I tried to eat some of the fries, but I had difficulty getting around the bonito flakes, so I sat that plate out.
The roasted beets and arugula salad was completely innovative because of one standout ingredient. It was composed of chopped beets, fresh arugula, walnuts, toasted pieces of ciabatta, drizzled honey, and - get this - drunken goat cheese ice cream. The cold, icy, goat cheese ice cream was an absolute delight and mixed in beautifully with the salad. I could have used more beets however, and their lack of a substantial presence left me wanting more. Major creativity points for the goat cheese ice cream, but the overall execution of the dish didn't quite come together for me.
The rest of our main course of food consisted of yakisoba, lamb heart tradito, mushroom mac and cheese, and some other non-veg items not pictured. The only vegetarian option from this group was the mushroom mac and cheese, and I absolutely loved it. The creamy Houston Dairy Maids cheese swirled beautifully with the macaroni, crunchy panko bread crumbs, and wonderfully textured seasonal mushrooms. My friends didn't go crazy over the rest of their food, but they tried my mac and also loved the comforting, indulgent, and wonderful dish. I would go back to this Houston spot again and again just for their mac.
For dessert we ordered the Elvis in Tokyo and the churros. The Elvis in Tokyo was a bit of a deconstructed dessert consisting of banana almond bread, caramel-peanut butter, berry compote, toasted marshmallow ice cream, and candied bacon. Since I didn't try the bacon or the marshmallow ice cream (not knowing whether or not it was vegetarian), my assessment of the dessert is incomplete. I did think the banana bread was a little on the dry side, but again, it might have come together better if I had eaten all of the components.
I preferred the cinnamon sugar churros served with a side of caramely duce de leche sauce, though I did not think they were anything revolutionary. They were warm, lightly toasted on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. Standard, tasty churros.
So all in all, my experience at Houston's Izakaya was not a bad one. I just wish I had walked away loving it. The restaurant really hit it out of the park with some of the food, such as the edamame and the mushroom mac and cheese - two dishes worth visiting for. But then other dishes sort of fell flat, or did not meet the expectations I had based on recent rave reviews throughout Houston. While I was very disappointed with the service in the beginning, once we were finally acknowledged, it did improve. So really it was just a bit inconsistent, though I did leave feeling a bit underwhlemed. The good aspects were SO good that I would be willing to give it another run. I just expect highly acclaimed Houston restaurants to be on their game and consistent. Though of course we do all have our off-nights, and I totally get that.