When traveling, Liz and I seek out those elements that could only be experienced in that particular destination. For that reason, the uniqueness behind Kemuri Tatsu-ya in Austin made it a must try for dinner. Not only is it considered one of the top restaurants in the city, Kemuri Tatsy-ya also fuses 2 seemingly contrasting cuisines: Japanese izakaya and Texas BBQ. Co-owners and chefs Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto wanted a restaurant that combined their Japanese heritage with their Texas upbringings. But would their culinary interpretation be kitschy or tantalizing?
From the outside, Kemuri Tatsy-ya literally looked like a typical Texas roadhouse where vagabonds would swing through for peanuts and a cold beer, but with Japanese infusions. We made reservations online weeks before our trip, which was clutch because walk ups had a 2 hour wait for a table. It just seems commonplace in Austin to wait a couple hours for quality BBQ, and people are more than willing to do so.
The restaurant was spacious and stretched inside and outside. And like most izakayas and BBQ joints, it was boisterous. Music, chatter, and clinking glasses filled the air, making it a great place for a lively dining experience. On the walls were relics typically find in a Texan roadhouse like license plates, deer antlers, and state flags, integrated with decor from Japan. Based on the aesthetics, the fusion of the two cultures felt authentic rather than a parody. Fusion restaurants tend to tip toe the edge of cultural appropriation, but the founders of Kemuri Tatsu-ya tastefully pieced it together.
We were seated out in the back patio on a wooden bench shared with another couple. Ease-dropping on their minimal conversation, it seemed like they had just had a passive argument. The boyfriend was trying to make conversation, while his girlfriend gave him the silent treatment. Poor guy.
The scene was impressive, but what about the menu? We were expecting a lot of cuisine cross pollination, which there was with dishes like ramen with brisket and chili cheese takoyaki. However, there was also traditional izakaya staple of skewers, sashimi, and exotic cuts of meat that non-Asian folks might be timid to try. Again it goes back to maintaining an authentic balance to avoid being a gimmick. The cocktail menu was also fun, with a bunch of cocktails that utilized shochu and Japanese whisky. Ordering with intrigue, we decided on the Texas Ramen, Guaca Poke, tuna carpaccio and the special uni and brisket collabo. Liz also ordered the Match Pain Killer cocktail that combined matcha and tequila and came in a cute cat cup.
The food was delicious and introduced a combinations of flavors we haven’t experienced before. The ramen felt like the usual ramen, but was much smokier due to to the BBQ brisket. The tuna carpaccio was fresh and light. The Guaca Poke was just simple poke tune with rice crackers, but it was delightful. The most impressive dish though was the uni on brisket. Both elements had prominent tastes and combining them really energized the palette. Both the brisket and uni melted in our mouths like hot butter in a pan.
Kemuri Tatsu-ya is definitely worth a try, but make sure to book a reservation online. It’s located at 2713 E 2nd St in East Austin