HOUSTON – A girls’ night out, a romantic date, a honeycomb hideout or just a good ole’ fashioned time with great music, fabulous friends and a buzzing D.J.? Whatever you want, Tarakaan has it for you – fully equipped with a Buddha for your spiritual needs and a menu designed to satisfy every taste bud.

I chose to hit up the diner with my best friend and we had a fantastic time sampling what seems like everything on the menu (hungry, sharing drinks (like any self-respecting girl-gabbing gobblers do) and people watching in grand fashion. And yes, we shall return……….

Since returning to the culinary hot spot ring this spring, Midtown’s Tarakaan is packing the house, boasting a refined look, a redefined taste and a renewed focus under the direction of Executive Chef Rob Frias.

Tarakaan gives an eclectic vibe for diners looking to enjoy an upscale dinner, in a trendy establishment with a funky feel. And the fun, relaxed atmosphere mixed with the great food makes the revamp a total hit in Houston.

“This is very much a Tarakaan 2.0 that takes into account things that we’ve learned about the area, our customer base and ourselves,” said operator Piran Esfahani. “When we halted our food service at the outset of spring, we upset a lot of our regulars and hindered our ability to support event requests – a major misstep given our proximity to both downtown and the Medical Center. Midtown offers a myriad of choices for cocktailing; this time around, we want to solidify Tarakaan as destination for memorable cuisine and happenings that will continue to serve the neighborhood through its ongoing evolution.”

Frias, formerly the Chef de Cuisine at Donald Chang’s Nara, honed his skills at Uptown Sushi and has assembled a very talented team which includes Philippe Restaurant + Lounge alum, Andy Hodson, and Executive Pastry Chef Cait Laub, a former nutritional consultant who earned her Diplôme de Pâtisserie from Le Cordon Bleu London.

Initially debuting in fall 2015, Tarakaan quickly became a popular stop for pre-theater, pre-party and later evening dining, especially with larger groups. To better accommodate diverse diners, the menu has been retooled to maintain a Pan Asian focus – injecting both Korean and Japanese elements to its mix – while substantially decreasing cooking and wait times. Highlights of the sharable small and large plates are lobster wontons, Thai coconut curry, tempura shishito pepper, papaya salad, hamachi crudo, short rib rice cakes, pork belly bao, fried baby octopus in a homemade eel sauce plus beef tenderloin carpaccio with a cacao espresso demi-glace.

Our favorites:

Sushi Bar: Pepper Tuna

Cle Pool: Tarakaan Fried Fried Chicken

Small Plate: Short Rib Rice Cakes

Large Plate: Tonkotsu Ramen

Sake: Yuki Nigori White Peach

Cocktail: Scorpion Bowl (PERFECT for a group of friends to share)

A portion of the expansive bar has been repurposed to support a sushi component with seating for eight. Whether at the sushi bar or in the dining room, guests can choose from an array of premium nigiri and sashimi options, as well as signature rolls ranging from the Cherry Blossom, featuring shaggy kami kana, spicy salmon, truffle, lavender, cream cheese, cherry compote, shiso and eel sauce, to the Tarakaan with tempura lobster, cucumber, soy tabiko, tamago, pickle, daikon, avocado and tenderloin topped with gochujang, kewpil, mayo, eel sauce and sesame.

While lounge seating has been removed to add additional tables around the bar – and tablecloths have been incorporated throughout – creative cocktails still stay front and center. They include popular holdovers like the fiery, tequila-based Asian Spring with homemade Thai pepper and lemongrass syrups and the Champagne Firecracker with pineapple juice and strawberry pearls in addition to new sips such as the Tarakaan Smash with rye and St. Germain and the Sai Tai, composed of white and dark rums, Disaronno and lychee syrup.

What hasn’t changed is Tarakaan’s unique, inviting ambience and landmark location. Inside, guests are still greeted by décor elements inspired by 1920s Shanghai and two Instagram-worthy Buddha sculptures carved specifically for the site. Just steps from downtown with a valet entrance on Hadley, the 6,000-square-foot, 1920s era building originally housed Davis Baking Powder Co. and Lipper Motor Car Co. and earned widespread acclaim following famed Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman’s redesign for Knoll in the 1980s.

Tarakaan is located at 2301 Main Street at the corner of Hadley. Introductory hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. and Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

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