Donald Chang Opens Nara, a 'Modern Korean' Restaurant in West Ave, to Much Fanfare
Suddenly it seems everyone is talking about Nara. After remaining somewhat under the radar for the past several weeks, Nara, which opened last night, is now being discussed on blogs and on TV, And at first glance, you might wonder why.
Photo by Julie Soefer for Nara A cherry tree welcomes visitors to Nara, a new Korean/Japanese restaurant in Houston.
For starters, it's a Korean and Japanese restaurant opening inside the Loop, where there isn't much Korean food to be found. It's the brainchild of chef Donald Chang, who spent years training with sushi masters and opened Uptown Sushi in 2003. It's quite striking on the inside. Oh yeah, and in spite of the fact that it's joining other mega restaurants helmed by chefs with local celebrity status, it's doing something that Houston -- and the rest of the country -- hasn't really seen before: Modern Korean.
If it sounds improbable that something similar hasn't been done already in this day and age, in a city so focused on food and dining, then think about it for a minute. We have many fabulous Korean restaurants out in the Long Point Road area, and Chris Shepherd and other chefs are certainly reimagining Korean dishes from time to time, but there really hasn't been a restaurant in Houston devoted to serving contemporary Korean food in a fine dining setting. Until Nara.
"I traveled to Korea for research about two months ago," explains Chang, who was born in Seoul but has lived in the U.S. most of his life. "I just wanted to see what the trends were, and mostly to see if what I'm planning to do here is already being done anywhere in Korea or here. I was a little intimidated, because I didn't really see anything like this, even in New York."
Photo by Julie Soefer for Nara Donald Chang was born in Korea, but has been focused on Japanese food for most of his career.
Can Houston support this kind of innovation? Chang thinks so, but he also wants to emphasize that his version of Korean food will keep many beloved traditional elements intact. His goal is to show how Korean food can evolve into lighter, healthier fare while maintaing aspects of the cuisine that he remembers from his childhood and the food his mother makes.
"I think with all cuisines, you need to understand the basics," Chang says. "I've been eating my mom's food for 40 years, so I asked her about some historical things. I wanted to make sure I have a firm mind-set in traditional Korean food before I started tweaking it."