In early June, a new Japanese bar landed just off Oak Lawn Avenue. It debuted quietly — the restaurant is still in a lengthy soft opening phase — but when the crowds find Izakaya RoMan, they might be thrilled. Our first impression is of a winning bar with an especially good happy hour.
The space stretches through two large dining areas, one focused on the bar — which offers a half-dozen Japanese beers on draft and an enormous, connoisseurial selection of sakes — and the other centered on an open kitchen where sushi and yakitori chefs work. Televisions are everywhere, tuned to travel shows, sports networks and cooking competitions all at once. In the far back, a private dining room offers parties of eight an opportunity for more traditional service — but even that room has a couple of TVs.
The menu covers a wide range of territory, starting with small, traditional Japanese home cooking dishes that don’t receive a lot of play on Dallas-area menus. A couple are even marked “Grand Ma Recipe,” like a salad of braised hijiki seaweed with slivers of carrot and spots of fried tofu ($4.50). There are classic Japanese tavern foods such as tempura, katsu, curries and bowls of ramen. The sushi bar and yakitori are the handiwork of chef Koji Aoki, who’s finally been tempted into Dallas city limits after stints at restaurants in Arlington and Grand Prairie.
Although the restaurant is still in soft opening, we couldn’t help trying a little bit of everything. That included two pieces of salmon sushi with delightfully soft-textured fish ($6), yakitori skewers of fatty pork collar ($3.50) and gently charred okra ($2), and half of a grilled hokke (atka) mackerel, its spinal cord running along the top and its tail grilled practically to dust ($12). The grilled fish is a joy to pull apart; tug the bones up, and a rich ribbon of tender meat will beckon.
A freshwater eel and cucumber hand roll the size of an ice cream cone ($6) is impressively well made: There are big slivers of eel and veggie right down to the bottom bite.
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Happy hour, from 3-6 p.m. weekdays, means discounts on draft beers — Hitachino on tap for $5 is an eye-opener — and discounts on many of the snacks, including pan-fried gyoza with super-thin skins primly folded around a generous helping of ground pork ($4 during happy hour, $5.50 otherwise) and one of Dallas’ best seaweed salads ($4 at happy hour, $5 otherwise).
There are opportunities for Aoki and his team to show a little creativity, like a mango-habanero sushi roll and a tuna carpaccio dotted with maybe slightly too much balsamic vinegar (listed on the menu at $15, but it rang up $2 cheaper).
But we’re most keen to head back and try the more traditional dishes, especially after a few bites of ika sansai, a salad of thin, tender slices of cooked squid with a mix of julienned vegetables ($5; “sansai” translates to “mountain vegetables”). Dallas proper doesn’t have a lot of this kind of Japanese cooking, so the fact that Izakaya RoMan is so promising, so centrally located and so affordable is very good news.
Izakaya RoMan, 3211 Oak Lawn Ave., Suite C. 972-308-6149, izakayaromandallas.com. Open 3-10 p.m. Monday, 3-11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 3 p.m. to midnight Friday, 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday and 5-10 p.m. Sunday.