Ever had Robatayaki?
It’s pronounced “robot-uh-yah-key” and is a style of cooking at the newly opened Tamari Robatayaki & Whisky Bar in northwest Fresno.
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Like other Japanese restaurants in town, it has sushi, ramen and traditional dishes like teriyaki chicken and salmon.
But it’s the robatayaki that sets it apart. That’s a style of cooking done over stainless steel mesh using a special kind of charcoal that can get up to 1,000 degrees. Unlike the Kingsford charcoal used in your backyard grill, this charcoal – called Binchotan – is shaped like tree branches.
You can watch the chefs cook vegetables and meat behind glass in the center of the dining room. The food comes mostly on skewers on small plates ideal for sharing.
What’s good here: The lollipop lamb chops cooked robatayaki style and served with the bone as a handle are a favorite of one of the owners. Also on the robatayaki menu, the corn on the cob split three ways is served with a shiso butter, a mysteriously delicious concoction. And for a more traditional dish, the restaurateurs recommend the $13 chicken karaage, chicken marinated in a special soy sauce mix before being deep fried and served with rice.
Chopsticks are on the table, but don’t be afraid to eat a lot of this food with your hands.
And of course, Tamari has a whiskey bar. Whiskey bars are a trend that’s taken off in other cities and is making its way into Fresno (The Standard and Vino Grille & Spirits both have decent whiskey selections, too).
“Whiskey bars are popping every night. We believe Fresno is ready for it,” says Tamari co-owner Edward Yung.
Tamari has nearly 100 whiskeys available, including Japanese whiskeys. They range from a $10 pour to a Yamazaki 18 that’s aged in an oak barrel and sold for $300 an ounce.
You may have noticed Tamari spells the whisky in its name without an “e.” That’s because the spirits made in Japan, Scotland and Canada are spelled that way – and this place carries lots of Japanese whisky. Whiskey with an “e” usually refers to Irish or American-style whiskeys.
Tamari also has a full bar.
One other noticeable thing at Tamari? The wood.
The lounge area in front has seating made from actual tree stumps that have been sanded and treated with a smooth finish. Tables and the long bars came from fallen trees in the Bass Lake and O’Neals area. The trees were killed by a combination of beetles and the drought and handpicked by co-owner Tom Tymn, who had them made into furniture.
“When I say I picked it up off the forest floor, I picked it up off the forest floor,” he says.
Look for the reddish or bluish streaks in the wood, evidence of the fungus the beetles brought into the trees.
Tamari’s regular hours start Dec. 26: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Thursdays through Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.