Kenichi Austin

Recently, I joined a few fellow food writers for dinner and sake tasting hosted by Kenichi Austin. Considering my sake expertise is limited to perfectly balancing shots on chopsticks above beer, the evening offered the opportunity to expand my sake knowledge. And, truth be told, it had been a while since my last visit to the downtown sushi restaurant, and I was eager to see what the kitchen had in store.

Butterfish Sashimi w/pickled diakon & carrots over tomari gastrique

Butterfish Sashimi w/pickled diakon & carrots over tomari gastrique

The evening began in the bar with a tasting of Kamoizumi ‘Autumnal Elixir’ sake paired with pork belly asparagus kushiyaki and roasted shishito peppers. The night’s sake sipping began on a high note with the Autumnal Elixir, which proved to be my favorite of the evening. It was incredibly smooth with a nice balance of tartness and sweetness. Though I’ve been suffering from serious pork belly fatigue of late (I know, I know #firstworldproblems) I couldn’t help but enjoy Kenichi’s thinly sliced, lean strips. Salty and light, the kushiyaki dish played nicely next to the caramel notes in the sake.

Pork Belly Wrapped Asparagus

Pork Belly Wrapped Asparagus

We moved next to the sushi bar to taste three sashimi plates created by Chef Richard Lee. We began with hamachi with kangpoa chili, pine nuts, white soy dashi, and lemon oil paired with Narutotai ‘red snapper’ ginjo. While the unexpected components could have easily led to a bit of sensory overload, the dish was a standout of the evening. As for the sake, the creamy Narutotai’s hint of acidity and robust structure held its own against the intricate dish.

Hamachi Sashimi

Hamachi Sashimi

Whereas the Hamachi was rich in complexity, Lee took a more straightforward approach with his butterfish sashimi dish (pictured above). The delicate white fish was paired with pickled daikon and carrots and served over a tomari gastrique, resulting a lovely dish brimming with clean, bright flavors. Chef Lee threw us a curveball with his final dish. A prosciutto-wrapped big-eyed tuna topped with caramelized onions and black garlic oil was a crowd pleaser with its surprising and well-executed fusion of Italian and Asian cuisine.

Prosciutto Wrapped Tuna Sashimi

Prosciutto Wrapped Tuna Sashimi

We relocated to the dining room for the final leg of our meal featuring three dishes from Executive Chef Shane Stark. Chef Stark is the executive chef of both Kenichi Aspen and Austin, but recently made the move back to the Capitol city on a full time basis. In sourcing his ingredients, Stark focuses on finding the highest quality proteins from regional sources whenever possible, as exemplified by both beef dishes we devoured.

Ishiyaki hot rock w/ponzu, yuzu butter, and spices

Ishiyaki hot rock w/ponzu, yuzu butter, and spices

Ishiyaki hot rock

Ishiyaki hot rock

First up was the familiar fan favorite, an Ishiyaki hot rock with Texas ribeye, ponzu, yuzu chive butter, and spices. It’s hard to go wrong with a hot rock dish, and the high quality of beef made this version no exception. My favorite of this round, a seared sea bass over sake mash and sautéed spinach, arrived to the table next. The buttery, tender fish and sweet sake rice mash drizzled in a citrusy grapefruit dressing is a must order when visiting.

Sea Bass over Sake Mash

Sea Bass over Sake Mash

Chef Stark showed his ability to compete with any steakhouse downtown with our final dish of the evening. His Strube Ranch strip loin was seasoned and cooked to perfection.

Strip Loin over scallion potatoes & green beans

Strip Loin over scallion potatoes & green beans

Though it was no easy feat, I somehow managed to save room for dessert, something I was especially grateful for when a duo of sweets arrived to cap off the evening. While a dark chocolate fondant paired with aerated milk chocolate and cinnamon ice cream was a chocolate lover’s dream, the cheese lover in me meant I couldn’t get enough of a Maytag blue cheesecake topped with red grape sorbet. Needless to say, both desserts ended our already exceptional meal on a high note.

Chocolate Fondant & Maytag Blue Cheesecake

Chocolate Fondant & Maytag Blue Cheesecake

Big THANK YOU to Kenichi for such a wonderful evening! Can’t wait to return for round deux.

Visit Kenichi Austin at 416 Colorado, Austin, TX 78701. 512.320.8883. http://kenichiaustin.com

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