Sushi is still perhaps the quintessential Japanese dish to most in the US. Technological advances in freezing and shipping have allowed for sushi to be widely found. James Beard award winning chef ("Best Chef, Southwest") Tyson Cole introduced Uchi in 2003 and that changed the fine-dining and Japanese-dining landscape single-handedly in Austin. Uchiko followed in 2010 and helped spur the career of Paul Qui, who went on to win Top Chef. Together Uchi/Uchiko recently also landed on Bon Appetit magazine’s list of game changing top 20 restaurants in the US. But more importantly, this changing landscape also gave us Kome, which is the focus of this review.
Také and Kayo Asazu opened Kome to serve Japanese home-style cooking, or as my friend who recently returned from Japan and loves Kome, calls it: "homey, comfort food." The owners have worked at Uchi and Musashino in Austin, and they are also the couple behind the popular Sushi A-Go-Go trailers. This also means that Sushi-A-Go-Go fans can enjoy sitting down at Kome and eating some of the Sushi-A-Go-Go signature rolls off Kome’s menu.
Wait times can be a dampener and at peak times i.e. Thursday-Sunday evenings, wait times can escalate up to an hour and 30 minutes for a party of four. However, that shouldn’t stop vegetarians from rejoicing because in addition to being kind to their customers (complimentary appetizers, apologies, etc) about their wait times, the restaurant really does care about vegetarians. They are quick to point out that their table soy sauce has fish sauce and they do bring out one without fish sauce. In addition to that, the restaurant offers delicious options that vegetarians can fully enjoy without needing to eat fish (I know, ironic). But as I’ve repeatedly told my vegetarian friends – Japanese food doesn’t necessarily only mean sushi. Yes, it evokes pictures of fresh, good quality fish served in simplistic styles. But Japanese cooking should mean so much more than just fresh fish, for everyone.
I have always started out my Kome dinners with the delicious Age Dashi Tofu ($4). The dashi is best at Uchi, but Kome comes in a close second. The fried tofu is topped with bonito flakes. Vegetarians can opt to exclude the bonito flakes; just let the server know. The Yasai Kaki-Age ($4), which I ordered next was exactly what the menu said: one big mixed vegetable tempura cut in two. The tempura was not too greasy and was a mouthful of fried goodness! The Tofu Steak ($7.5) dish that came third was more than filling with it’s portion. Two soft grilled tofus topped with a delicious sweet-sour sauce and vegetables on the side made an amazing entrée for vegetarians. The Camembert tempura with honey ($7) was delicately battered, crumbled deliciously in my mouth and exploded with the perfect taste of good quality camembert and the light sweetness of the honey it was served with.
As yet untried items from the vegetarian options? The Veg Harumaki (vegetable fried spring roll), Kushikatsu-set (panko-fried mashed potato), Yaki-Onugiri (grilled rice balls with Japanese pickles) and others from the sushi-sashimi list.
The service is wonderful and they really do take care of you well. The setting is small and it can get loud on some evenings, but if you can get past the noise and focus on the lovely decor (including special wood-working and carpentry), delicious food and unbelievably inexpensive prices, it is worth it!
So, my vegetarian friends, open your minds and go forth to Kome, for an evening of great Japanese food and amazing service in Austin!
Price range: $- $$ per person