As a Japanese immigrant growing up in Austin, Tatsu Aikawa found that the best way to pay respect to both of his cultural identities was through the culinary arts.
Unlike his other restaurant, Ramen Tatsu-ya, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya isn’t just a ramen joint. The recipes for the dishes at Kemuri Tatsu-ya are inspired by Aikawa’s rich history in enjoying both Texan and Japanese culinary cultures — a natural stepping stone towards his career in the food industry.
“The inspiration comes through all of the experiences and memories of food I’ve had over the years,” Aikawa said. “They’re like pockets or drawers that I can pull the ideas from and and put things together.”
Aikawa’s restaurant blends together traditional Japanese fare with Central Texas barbecue with the casual atmosphere of a Japanese izakaya, a type of Japanese pub specaliazing in small snacks.
“It’s supposed to be a social dining experience,” Aikawa said. “It’s a sit-down service where people drink and hang out and have a good time.”
Unlike conventional establishments, a large, filling meal is not to be expected at Kemuri Tatsu-ya. The menu items are meant to be sampled and shared among groups of friends while they relax and enjoy the laid-back vibe of an izakaya.
While the dishes are small, they all deliver a massive amount of distinct flavors. There are two separate food menus at Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, one of which specifically boasts “exotics and rarities,” such as jellyfish, monkfish and ray jerky.
The rarities menu features a “funky” scale, with Kenny G being the least funky and James Brown being the most. This scale is not to be taken lightly, as the dishes with James Brown’s mug plastered next to them truly do pack a level of funk that is a force to be reckoned with.
The shiokara, in particular, does not hold back with the pungent flavor of squid. For those unfamiliar, shiokara is squid marinated in squid guts. It is definitely worth trying, but it might behoove patrons to order a shot of whiskey to chase it with.
The marinated jellyfish is a far less eccentric rarity that is actually pretty delicious. The cold sweet and sour marinade goes well with the seaweed-like texture of the jellyfish.
As for the more conventional menu, there are plenty of hits and very few misses. The smoked duck breast is easily the best piece of meat on the menu. It is perfectly smoked to the point of being about as tender as sashimi, with a nice thin layer of skin to add a little bit of crunch. While it is tasty enough to be enjoyed without any sauce, throwing on some of the accompanying ponzu sauce certainly doesn’t hurt.
Kemuri means “smoke” in Japanese, and that is exactly what Aikawa brings to the table at his new establishment. Even the sashimi doesn’t go without a touch of smoky flavor, albeit a much more mild one. The hamachi is given just enough smoke to bring out a taste typically not associated with sashimi without compromising the texture and flavor of the raw fish.
Surprisingly, the Texas Ramen falls a bit short of expectations. Maybe it’s because it has to follow some of the most flavorful dishes Austin has to offer, but it comes off a little on the bland side. The ramen was still great, though, especially with the deliciously tender brisket. A bit of chili paste can easily nip any blandness in the bud.
With its few shortcomings aside, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya excels at bringing the izakaya vibe to East Austin with great food to be enjoyed with friends and family.