Is It Déjà Vu?


Laurann Claridge
December 16, 2013

Chef and restaurant owner Donald Chang has opened a ground-breaking modern Korean restaurant at West Ave. We’ve been counting the days till Nara’s official debut early this month. Does the name sound familiar? Then you must be one of the food cognoscenti who, for a decade, made their way west on Westheimer to dine at the original Nara, then-26-year-old Chang’s first effort, which was renowned for its serious sushi. (After all, Chang studied the Japanese craft classically.) After the lease expired, Chang shuttered Nara and concentrated on his next venture, Uptown Sushi. His reinvention of Nara takes the restaurant into another realm, as he educates diners about a cuisine foreign to many but close to home for this Seoul-born Houstonian. He collaborated (again) with Issac Preminger on the quiet earth-toned design of the nearly 7,000-square-foot space with an elaborate Sakura tree made from petrified wood strung with pink blossoms, furnishings from Janus et Cie, sleek glass-enclosed wine storage and an open robata kitchen (in a footprint left from the previous occupant, Katsuya). The Korean food, created in collaboration with mama Kyong La Chang and sister Esther Cho (the only ones, Donald says, who possess the vital marinade recipes), focuses on elevated ingredients with Kobe beef, Berkshire and Spanish Duroc pork in coveted roles throughout the menu. Try a couple of Chinese bao steamed buns ($9 to $12) such as chashu sandwiched with braised pork and its belly; tasting bites including jellyfish salad with green bean noodles, crab and pine nut vinaigrette ($17); and creative comfort food that will leave you craving more, such as a fragrant Bulgogi pot pie — a rich, beefy dish with Kobe hanger steak cubes and black truffle encased in a puff pastry ($18). Last, the sushi here is a blend of traditional Japanese rolls and those popular at the Korean table, such as the eponymous Nara roll, a kimbap-style roll stuffed with rib eye, spinach, carrot, egg and pickled radish that Chang will encourage you to try sans soy sauce, the way the Koreans do. 2800 Kirby Dr., 281.249.5944;