A pop-up star puts down roots
RESTAURANTS • First Person
In the wrong hands, the vibe at recently opened Budonoki in Virgil Village — poured concrete mixed with dark wood surfaces, paper lanterns, pops of neon-hued art, and a bass-heavy playlist of ’90s/early ’00s hip hop — could portend a bad night out. But on a busy Friday night one week after opening, the welcome was warm and the food was serious, and seriously good.
Chef Dan Rabilwongse’s (Tartine, Urasawa, Bouchon) menu is a tight collection of snacks, skewers, and oshizushi (pressed sushi). The drink list revolves around sake and Japanese beers, plus shochu-based cocktails and aperitifs.
Rabilwongse doesn’t stick to a strictly Japanese script when it comes to the food: Among the best dishes we tried was the naem, fermented Thai sausage from a family recipe, served with crispy fried rice balls and pickled shaved vegetables. Also notable: the chicken-and-negi skewers, a holdover from the excellent pop-up the team ran last year at beloved izakaya Ototo.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect with the Basque kinoko, but what arrived was a forest’s worth of rich wild mushrooms on a sizzling fajita-style platter, smothered in dashi, runny egg, and shaved truffle, served with a baton of grilled bread.
Nearly every table (including ours) finished with a swirl of pineapple koji Dole whip mixed with pandan-coconut soft serve, presented with adorable miniature plastic shovels in lieu of spoons. I dug in with the same lack of hesitation I have about coming back to see what else they dream up in the coming weeks. –Jamie Feldmar