We're on our third year of living in Austin, and during our time here we've singled out a few places that are tried and true favorites. Kome is on the top of that list. Casual sushi is something that we took for granted growing up on the East Coast. Sure, there are some very fancy-pants Japanese restaurants out there, but gourmet isn't the only game in town. There are plenty of tiny sushi bars serving basic rolls and nigiri for everyday prices. Every couple of weeks we would sit down at our favorite sushi bar, say hello to our favorite sushi chef, and order a simple, but filling meal for around twenty five dollars.
Before Kome came along, we'd been missing the luxury of having a go-to Japanese place. It seems like Japanese restaurants in Austin are just the opposite of our old haunts, always expensive, and often kind of bad. Obviously there are some great places here, Uchi, for one, but we're not on an Uchi kind of budget. Most of the lesser caliber sushi joints in town cost a pretty penny too. Kome's combination of reasonable prices and consistent quality make it our number one choice.
Most sushi-goers these days delight in over-the-top maki, bursting with crazy fillings and smothered in multi-colored sauces. It's kind of funny. If you ask me, Japanese food is defined by simple ingredients, clean flavors, meticulous beauty, and the veneration of simplicity. Kooky sushi rolls are completely American. Yes, they are fun. But are they a great representation of what makes Japanese food unique? Certainly not.
As much as I love bold flavors and experimental cuisine, sometimes I find myself craving the wholesome simplicity that my memory has associated with Japanese food. The combination of seasoned rice, plain fish, and a dab of wasabi immediately sends me back to my childhood, taking lunch trips to the sushi bar near my Dad's office.
Plain nigiri is something that I can get at pretty much any sushi bar in Austin. What I can't get anywhere but Kome, is a slice of nostalgia from my days working in Japanese restaurants.
During those years I was invited in to a secret world of food. Our daily lunch breaks mostly consisted of recipes invented to use up the odds and ends leftover from kitchen prep-work. Things like chicken wings, vegetable trimmings, and dashi fixings were our bread and butter. The restaurant cooks all took turns preparing lunch, each creating meals that reflected their own history and personality. Some lunches were lazy, others were works of art. Some were Mexican, Thai, or Honduran. No matter what, they felt homemade.
My favorite lunches were those made by our Japanese chefs. Everyone would stay for lunch when Yoshiji, our head sushi chef, was cooking. He would treat us to home-style Japanese recipes, very different than what our customers found on the menu. Fritters, omelets, noodle dishes, and pickled vegetables were the things that lit up my life back then. It's been many years since I ate one of Yoshi's magical lunches. While I still make a few of his recipes at home, it is that style of cooking that I miss so much.
When Kome came along I was instantly intrigued by the way the restaurant described its cuisine.
"The food we are serving is not exactly traditional Japanese restaurant food, but authentic home-style Japanese cooking – the food we eat every day, and has many influences from other culture and cuisines. It’s special because it has some of our family history, with our family recipes and reflecting our backgrounds from Japan, New Orleans, and Austin and also traveling throughout Asia. It’s probably more accurate to call our food “Asazu cuisine”! (our last name)" - From Kome's web site
I'm not one to face the crowds or brave the lines when a hot new restaurant opens its doors. I tend to hang back for a while, wait for the storm to subside, then quietly make my way in my own time. As a result, almost everyone I know tries everything before I do. That's just fine with me. I enjoy hearing about a new place almost as much as I enjoy trying it out. After Kome opened, my sisters began imploring me to check it out. They were incredibly excited by the yakitori menu, insisting that the dishes sounded just like the stuff I used to eat in the restaurant kitchen. "You have to go!", they squealed.
So go I did. Scott and I visited one evening for dinner, enjoyed some simple sushi, a yakitori dish, complete with gloriously wiggling, waving bonito flakes, and the best garden salad I have ever eaten. It was a special, the Farm House Salad, I think. Though I'm fuzzy on the name, the salad itself is forever engraved in my brain: heirloom carrots and watermelon radish on a bed of greens with the most amazing plum dressing. We were both in love.
Since then, I've gone back again and again, and have developed a serious crush on their lunch menu. The ramen is really good, though I honestly can't compare it to the other ramen hot-spots in Austin, having not been brave enough to venture to them yet. I'm a big fan of thier Don-buri and Chirashi style lunches too. There's something about white rice that makes me happy. I'm not alone, of course. Three-billion people in Asia and I can really get down with a rice bowl.
Shio-saba Teishoku: The reason I'll never be able to give up fish.
My favorite thing so far has to be the Shio-saba Teishoku, their grilled mackerel combination lunch. This little piece of fish is served with its perfectly crispy, slightly salty, and delightfully greasy skin still on. It's spectacular. It takes a little finesse to avoid the mackerel's teeny-tiny bones, but the experience of eating it is totally worth the effort. The tasty little fish is served with a wedge of lemon and garden salad dressed in some kind of sesame flavored house dressing. A bowl of home-style pickles is served on the side, which pushes my personal happiness right over the edge.
You see, a bowl of white rice and a handful of Japanese pickles is one of my ultimate comfort foods. I used to eat that for lunch at the restaurant whenever I was feeling low. The bright flavor, crunchy texture, and simple goodness of the steamed rice always seemed to soothe my soul. Turns out it still does. You don't know how happy it makes me to have found that again.
During dinner, Kome brings out an entirely new menu featuring a ton of really cool dishes worth trying out. The Age (fried) menu will delight fans of all things crispy, crunchy, battered, and breaded, while the Yaki (grilled) menu offers a plethora of egg, meat, and fish-based plates, all of which drum up happy memories for me. The Hiya (cold) menu is another source of fun, stuffed with imaginative treats like Kimchi Pickled Sea Bass or Beef Carpaccio.
To me, eating home-style food is the best way to really get to the soul of an ethnic food. If I wanted someone to experience American food, I wouldn't take them out to eat. I would cook them some of my favorite family meals, like American Chop Suey, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese, or backyard Barbecue. If you want to try a little taste of home-style Japanese, check out Kome. The food is simple, un-fussy, and well prepared, everything that Japanese food ought to be.
Kome Sushi Kitchen is located at 4917 Airport Blvd. in Austin, Texas. You can check out their website and menus here. This was an unpaid, unsponsored, un-solicited post. I'm just a fan who likes to write about food.