A sake sommelier. A yakitori bar with imported Japanese white charcoal, called Binchotan, to heat things up. Japanese "tapas".
A flight of three dry sakes at Izakaya Nin.
A fresh concept in casual Japanese, Izakaya Nin, offers these out-of-the-ordinary features, and is now open at 20330 Huebner Road. (A half block east of Stone Oak on Huebner Road, on the south side. If coming north on Stone Oak, turn right; the restaurant is just past the Slater White Cleaners on the southeast corner.)
The Japanese appetizers, sushi, tempura and so forth, are popular favorites, but we went out to meet the sake sommelier and owner, Koji Kubo.
Kubo, who received his sake training from a master teacher in San Francisco, started us off with a flight of dry sake, three generous pours in small glasses. The restaurant has more than 30 sakes to choose from and Kubo told us what to expect from each in our flight: one light and hinting of fruit, one with earthy, mushroom undertones and one that was supple and slightly spicy.
Kubo explains that "Izakaya" is a Japanese term for a sort of pub that offers numerous appetizer type dishes to go with drinks. "Originally, it catered to men as after-work drinking destinations, but more recently, it has become popular with women, students, and young couples. Izakaya dishes are often hybrids. It may include traditional foods, but often takes on a self-described “fusion” approach that incorporates its Japanese specialties and marries Eastern and Western offerings."
A small plate with Chicken and Green Onion Yakitori from the robato grill.
Our first tastes were excellent. The yakitori chicken and sirloin, each with green onions, came on small plates and were tender and flavorful. The teriyaki grilled baby octopus was properly tender-chewy. The yakitori comes off the robato grill, fueled by imported Japanese white charcoal. These are made from real cedar, and are extra hard, burning smoothly and hot.
Hamachi and yellowtail sushi was very good, with correctly seasoned rice. A Huebner roll, with tempura shrimp and avocado, was topped with minced spicy tuna.
The menu offers many of the small plates, but also larger dinner portions, including tempura and noodle dishes. Wine and beer are available, as are brewed, iced black tea and green tea.
Japanese Pancake, a fluffy, egg-based dish with savory, rich toppings.
One of our favorite dishes was the Japanese pancake, which Kubo says is unique in San Antonio. It is something like a flat, fluffy omelet with a little bacon on top and green onion in the batter. It's topped with shredded, dried bonito flakes, finely sliced seaweed and pickled radish on top. Drizzled with rich Japanese mayonnaise and a pungent tonkatsu sauce, it was a filling plate, even with two sharing it.
The restaurant is open daily. Contact them at 210-549-3030 or visit their website
Photographs by Bonnie Walker