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First Looks: Gun Izakaya

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Is...is the Paseo cool again? 

I mean, look, the Paseo hasn’t been uncool for a while. It has Picasso and Sauced and The Paseo Grill and Six Twelve and bars and artsy types who look like they know their way around a scooter. 

But now there’s Buttermilk, Scratch, and OSO. There’s The Mayan and Red Rooster. There’s a cool dispensary. There’s Frida. And now there’s Gun Izakaya. 

I don’t want to get too deep in the world of restaurant groups here, but anyone worried about Gun need only look at the ironclad reputation of 84 Hospitality. Empire Slice House. Goro Ramen. Ponyboy. Revolucion. Burger Punk. 

84 Hospitality doesn’t do anything halfway and you will feel that the second you step inside Gun. Past that heavy door is another world. The decor. The lighting. The...everything. It’s been so meticulously thought out and yet it doesn’t feel unnatural. It’s cool and it’s dark and everything is so on point that my biggest worry was, “How is the food going to live up to this?”

Grilled chicken hearts

Well, that’s all down to Jeff Chanchaleune, whom I first met through his much-loved and much-missed ramen truck, Kaiteki Ramen. 

Chef/owner/player/coach Chanchaleune and business partner/bar maven/entrepreneur extraordinaire Rachel Cope are a killer team and their ability to birth concepts and then find the staff to keep them running at Bugatti levels of performance is unparalleled—especially in an Oklahoma City whose chef corps is stretched to the point of breaking.

I didn’t get to experience the full menu, but I was able to peel Robbie C. away from pepperoni pizza for the night, so here are the highlights of what we tried:

On the yakitori menu (that’s meat, skewered with wooden sticks, grilled over open flame) you cannot go wrong with the chicken thighs and wings. 

Grilled chicken wings

The wings, especially, were just tremendous. As much as I obsess about hot wings on the regular, seeing Gun’s preparation—simple split, skewered, and grilled—is making me rethink everything I know about wings. The meat is so tender. The fat has just crisped up and bathed the rest of the wing in its juice. 

I think the skin (aka hawa) is going to surprise a lot of people, because it really is just pieces of crispy fat and if that’s not flipping your switches, you must be a different model than I’m used to. 

Most people I talked to were iffy on the texture of the chicken heart, which I actually quite enjoyed, but the flavor is a little minerally, so if that’s a deal breaker for you, that deal is broken.

Under “snacks” you’ll find some pretty bonkers dishes, but the one I know you’re all going to try first is Tokyo Hot Chicken. 

Tokyo hot chicken

First it’s cooked confit, which is the art of poaching a meat in fat instead of water or another braising liquid. Then it’s fried and served with sesame-soy chili oil brushed over the drumsticks for a bright kick of heat that will surprise you. 

Catfish kara-age is such a crazy Japanese take on an Okie favorite that I know it’s going to be a best seller. Marinated catfish, fried in a super-light batter that almost reminds me of funnel cakes, is so instantly perfect you’re just going to order it again and again. 

Tonkatsu sando

I really dug the tonkatsu sando, which swaps out pork loin for a smoked pork sausage for a huge upgrade in flavor. But the star of the show (at least according to Cope) is the housemade milk bread they use for the sandwich. It’s intoxicatingly delightful. How can I get a few loaves for my house, huh?

But if we’re being honest with each other, and I like to think we’re that kind of friends, this menu could have started and stopped with the following two items and I’d still be a frequent return customer:

Pork and crab shumai are some of the best dumplings I’ve ever had and I need you to understand that I am drawn to dumplings like a fat food critic to dumplings. I heart them very much and these were so wonderful, especially with an avalanche of crispy fried garlic served on top.

Pork and crab shumai

And yet, if I had to choose, I’d probably go for the eggplant wontons next time, because this vegan dish is so powerful and spot on that—it’s not that you just don’t miss the meat, it’s that you are so consumed with the textures and flavors that you will momentarily forget what meat is. When you are eating eggplant wontons, eggplant wontons are the only thing in the world that exists in that moment.

For dessert, we had the Okinawan donuts, which are made with matcha and served with strawberries and a yuzu curd. And I feel bad ending with them, because they were great, but holy cow am I still all about those eggplant wontons. 

Gun opens to the public on July 5, so celebrate your independence from hunger and eat there. 

About the Author

Founder and Eater-in-Chief of I Ate Oklahoma, Greg Elwell has been reviewing restaurants and writing about Oklahoma’s food culture for more than a decade. Where a normal person orders one meal, this guy gets three. He is almost certainly going to die young and those who love him most are fairly ambivalent about it. You can email Greg at greg@iateoklahoma.com.

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