Possessed of a jewellike individuality, Komé hits it out of the park
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., Feb. 17, 2012
Komé4917 Airport, 712-5700
Monday-Thursday, 11am-2pm, 5-10pm; Friday, 11am-2pm, 5pm-late; Saturday, 11am-3pm; 5pm-late
I once read in a book of theology that things which are evil have a tendency to be banal and identical and extraordinarily dull, while things that are good have the characteristic of being breathtaking and unique and possessed of a jewellike individuality. Wise words, and unquestionably true when you think about restaurants! (Think about it for a minute. See? It's true!)
What this has to do with Komé is that, unlike the sea of indistinguishable strip-mall sushi places that seem to open with regularity, Komé is one of these impossible gems of individuality. Owners Také and Kayo Asazu mindfully set out to open a restaurant that serves the one food that they could not find in Austin, for all our sushi bars: Japanese home cooking, or as Kayo calls it, "comfort food."
Také and Kayo are no strangers to the Austin food scene. Both have worked at notable Japanese restaurants (including Uchi and Musashino Sushi Dokoro), and they are also the couple behind the two popular Sushi A-Go-Go trailers. Indeed, the sushi menu at Komé includes many of the signature rolls served at Sushi A-Go-Go, as well as standard sashimi and sushi. But although the sushi bar is a busy, important part of the restaurant, it is overshadowed by the excellence of the home-style cuisine.
The dinner menu is divided into cold dishes, fried dishes, grilled dishes, and rice dishes, with miso soup and rice available à la carte. The servings are comparable to small plates or appetizers, and a satisfying meal would probably consist of three or four different selections. However, one of the goals of the Asazus is for Komé to be a affordable place – suitable for regular life, not just special occasions – and everything is priced accordingly. The three dishes you would need for a filling meal can easily be ordered for $15, certainly for less than $20. Cold dishes range from $3 to $9 and include such varied dishes as Tako-wasa (octopus with wasabi and quail egg, $5), Hiyayakko (cold tofu, grated ginger, and scallions, $3) and Komé Viché (ceviche with madai, salmon, and mango, $9). The fried dishes are even less expensive, and include tempura ($7.50), croquettes ($2), spring rolls ($3.50), and dumplings ($4.50).
The grilled dishes range from $5 to $12, and present a wonderful variety of choices. The Ika-yakí (whole grilled squid with grated ginger, $10) was simple and wonderful, a large, very tender grilled squid with just the faintest ginger sauce. The Yakitori ($6), a trio of tenderloin, chicken thighs, and chicken and taro croquettes, all grilled and served on skewers, was crispy, tasty, and varied enough to be interesting. But the quintessential example of the home-style cuisine Komé offers was the Kansai-style Tonpei-yaki (grilled pork and cabbage with egg and special sauce, $7). Resembling an omelette more than anything else, the delicate flavors of the grilled cabbage and pork blend seamlessly with the ephemeral egg and bonito flakes, with a touch, every bite or two, of pickled ginger and fresh scallion. According to Kayo, this dish has been "a sleeper favorite" with the crowds of people that have already been thronging Komé.
Dinner at Komé was wonderful, but I liked lunch even better. There are ten different Teishoku, or combination lunches, as well as ramen, rice bowls, and sushi lunches. Each combination lunch is served with a bowl of clear soup; a bowl of rice; a serving of Japanese pickles; a fresh, local, seasonal salad; and an entrée. Ranging in price from $8 to $12, these are a fantastic deal. Entrées include Panko-fried chicken, pork, oysters, and shrimp; grilled salmon, tofu, and mackerel; and stir-fried beef. I sampled the fried oyster combination, and every aspect of it was superb. The clear soup was hot and flavorful, the salad a delicate mix of baby beet greens and shaved green cabbage with sweet cherry tomatoes and paper-thin slices of watermelon radish, all locally sourced from HausBar Farms. The oysters were served with a lovely tartar sauce made the old-fashioned way, with mayonnaise, chopped egg, pickles, and nearly microscopic pieces of bright chopped carrot and parsley. On all sides, other diners were enjoying bowls of homemade ramen ($6.50-$9), hearty rice bowls ($7-$10.50), and sushi and sashimi combinations ($10-$14.50).
If I were the kind of reviewer who had a set rating system, Komé would inspire me to devise a new rating: Can't Wait To Take a Friend. Which would, of course, become my new highest rating.