Chef Billy Kin to Open Two Japanese Restaurants in Familiar Upland Space



Chef Billy Kin, known for heights’ beloved Blackbird Izakaya restaurant and Galleria area spot, Hidden Omakase, has a new project underway for the old Golden Bagels location at 3119 White Oak Drive.

The place will be two restaurants in one – an omakase restaurant reserved for reservations and a more casual izakaya-style restaurant. The first phase of the project, the omakase restaurant, is expected to open in early November. Both restaurants will incorporate influences from Kin’s many previous projects and jobs, as well as establishments run by his father and grandfather in Asia and San Francisco. Called Kinokawa, the omakase portion is named after a Japanese restaurant Kin’s father ran in Taiwan for more than three decades.

Half of the izakaya, which will be called Tesserack, will likely open in early 2022, once Kin gets a liquor license. This aspect of the restaurant is partly inspired by the science fiction film Interstellar, a favorite of Kin and his daughter. Restaurants, like the movie, aim to “connect with the past and the present,” says Kin.

Former Kin’s Heights restaurant, Blackbird Izakaya, opened in 2018 and has gained a loyal following for its innovative approach to Japanese cuisine, including dishes like katsu curry and super fresh sushi. However, the restaurant couldn’t withstand the early days of the pandemic and Houston’s stay-at-home ordinance, and closed in July 2020.

Kin took a few months off, but was quickly approached by restaurateur Tuan Tran to help open Hidden Omakase, which debuted in an office building in the Galleria area in December 2020. Kin worked to get it off the ground. the very popular restaurant, finally handing over the kitchen to chef Niki Vongthong at the end of March.

Like many people at the start of the pandemic, Kin says he went through a slowdown, especially after Blackbird was shut down. But working at Hidden re-inspired him. “I thought, ‘I’m never going to open a restaurant again,’” he says. “But Tuan is the one who helped me rediscover that it’s fun to cook again.”

He also never thought he would land in the Heights again, claiming he had an “emotional attachment” to the location of Blackbird and his many regulars in the neighborhood. But when Golden Bagels closed in September, the time and place was perfect.

For Kinokawa, Kin will work with the connections he made during his tenure at Hidden Omakase to source fresh seafood direct from Japan. He plans to focus on edomae style sushi, which originated in Japan in the 1820s, before electric refrigeration. In edomae sushi, the fish is often preserved in soy sauce, vinegar, or simmered in broth.

At Tesserack, the menu will focus on Japanese whiskeys and craft cocktails. Kin said he also plans to put some of Blackbird’s most popular dishes on the menu.

He also incorporates a pandemic hobby – woodworking – into the design of both restaurants, building an old-fashioned, non-electric cooler for Kinokawa to mimic those used in 19th-century Japan, and handcrafting almost all of the furniture in the two restaurants.

Kin says one of his inspirations is Georges nakashima, an architect and carpenter who is considered the father of the American Craft Movement. “After reading his book, I saw that the way he sees nature and wood is really similar to the way a chef sees food ingredients.”

Kin says he builds


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