Open for about a year now, Kauboi Izakaya—essentially “cowboy gastropub” in Japanese—serves a variety of small plates intended to be shared among friends. The flavors are a fusion of traditional and modern. On our recent visit, the service was excellent, and—despite the hipster ambiance—the experience was welcoming and comfortable.
The menu is sectioned by size of plate and style of cooking: fresh, fried, skewered, ramen, etc. From the list of fresh menu items, we sampled bowls of salmon lomi-lomi with watermelon radish and crunchy quinoa ($12) and spicy soba noodles with cucumber, golden grape tomato, avocado and Thai basil ($8).
Lomi-lomi—meaning “to massage” in Hawaiian—generally refers to a dish that’s prepared entirely by hand. The fish and veg in this bowl had definitely seen a knife—appearing more like poke than lomi—but both were very fresh. Quinoa added texture, and notes of toasted sesame and furikake—a Japanese seasoning, usually made from dried fish, chopped seaweed, sugar and salt—made for a strong finish. A similar but bolder use of those seasonings packed the soba bowl with plenty of savor. The actual noodles were cooked just fine. The dish’s presentation was attractive, and the fresh herb and veggies worked well to balance a slightly aggressive sauce.
Of the very smallest plates offered, we shared seasonal Japanese pickle ($5) and rice tots with dragon sauce ($6). The rice tots had a nice crunchy exterior, with a risotto-esque inner core that worked well with the coating of spicy sauce. The fresh mix of pickled cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, cucumber, cherry, ginger and Thai basil garnish in the Japanese pickle was an explosion of bright colors and subtle, pleasant flavors. The perfect use of seasoned rice vinegar and gorgeous plating made this dish a stand out.
We also sampled Tokyo fried chicken ($10). Each morsel of tender, juicy, boneless fried chicken was more than a couple of bites, set atop a schmear of nicely spiced Japanese mayo. Tsukune yakitori—skewered chicken meatballs—($8) had a fair amount of char, mostly due to caramelization of the sweet, soy-based sauce.
Although I thought the flavor and texture were solid, everyone agreed that an order of beef tongue kushiyaki skewers seemed a bit small ($11). Served with a dusting of peppery, prickly ash and a squirt of lemon, the little squares of tender beef were gone too quick.
Kauai prawns ($15) were partially shelled with the tails and heads left on to add sweetness while frying. Lightly coated in tempura, the sweet shellfish went very well with a dusting of garlic and yuzukosho seasoning and were served with thin apple slices on the side.
Gyoza stuffed with kurobuta pork—Japanese for “black pig,” a variety of Berkshire pork—($8) were nicely browned. It was well-seasoned and paired perfectly with thin apple slices and a daub of ginger applesauce—though it wouldn’t have hurt to have a little extra sauce on the plate.
We ended the meal with grilled “giant” squid ($14). Not to be confused with its truly colossal cousins, the mantle of the plate-sized squid was tender and delicious. The tentacles were a bit chewy, but that happens you grill the whole thing at once. It was sprinkled with spicy togarashi powder, more of which was sprinkled atop a dipping bowl of yuzu mayo.