There's a stretch along Long Point in Spring Branch that's long been known for its concentration of family-owned Korean restaurants serving authentic homestyle food. Now Upper Kirby will have its own version of one of these establishments, but with a Japanese edge and set in ritzy West Ave. Nara, which will be opening at Katsuya's old space, will be helmed by Donald Chang, the man behind Uptown Sushi and Bluefin. Chang is Korean, but he was trained in Japanese cooking and hasn't showcased his native cuisine professionally until now. He and his family will work collaboratively to serve up a kind of fusion we've not yet seen in town.
While this is Chang's first time spotlighting Korean fare, it won't be his first time owning a restaurant called Nara. That was the name of his Japanese restaurant that closed several years ago after a successful decade-long run. The obvious question is why he would go with this name again without fear of confusing local diners who might blindly assume that it's the same concept. Chang explains that nara has two meanings. It was a Japanese capital, and Chang tells Eater that it also means "country as in 'our country', so that's why we're showcasing the Korean food that we have."
The food will likely reflect the dual meanings of that word. "It will be a little bit a blending of both, but the kitchen is primarily modern Korean food, a modern Korean-inspired kitchen," Chang says. "So we do have the full sushi bar, and everything that I've done in the last 23 years in that arena exists, but from the kitchen I think [the Korean aspect] is what makes this restaurant kind of shine."
Yesterday the Houston Chronicle's Greg Morago revealed the plans and described the layout of the restaurant, saying that it will "boast four different dining areas, each with its own menus: There's the central sushi and steamed bun bar that will offer 12 different filled buns, 16 different sushi preparations and robata grill selections. A private dining room with a total of 16 seats will feature grills on each table and serve a authentic traditional Korean menu. The 96-seat main dining room will have a full menu. And a 10-seat chef's table with a view directly into the kitchen will serve 'riskier things' not on the regular menu."
When asked what he hopes local diners will take away from their experiences at this Nara, Chang says, "I hope they enjoy the food; I"m a little nervous because it's been six years since I've done a project and it's like a homecoming thing to me."
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