#PigOutOKC is brought to you by the Oklahoma Pork Council. Twice a month we’ll be delving into restaurants and recipes that bring home the bacon (among other delicious cuts of pork). Experiencing your own pork-fueled adventure? Use the hashtag #PigOutOKC to let the rest of us in on the fun.
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Gun Izakaya is not a “budget choice” restaurant.
I like cheap food as much as the rest of you and I understand the frustration that comes with reading about food you can’t afford, at least not without saving up a bit, but some restaurants cost more and it’s not arbitrary.
For instance, can you make a great steak at home for much less than a night out at The Ranch? Yes. But is that steak going to be as good? Probably not. And there’s so much more to a restaurant than a single dish. There’s the ambiance, the service, the selection.
“That stuff doesn’t matter to me,” some might say.
Cool. So don’t eat out. Don’t give your money to restaurants if you don’t care about the things restaurants provide. It’s crazy to me how some people complain about things like this when the simple answer is, “Fine. Don’t do that.”
I do care about what restaurants provide. I’m not a bad cook, but I know my best abilities are pitiful compared to the things our local chefs can do on instinct alone. So, yes, I care about how the food tastes, but it’s the entire experience that I’m spending my semi-hard-earned money on.
We’ll talk about Gun’s amazing food in a bit, and it’s truly wonderful. But let’s talk about those other factors first.
Gun is cool. The look of the restaurant is eye-popping, from the outside in. There are two bars to sit at, as well as several tables along a banquette. For a group, definitely reserve a table. If you’re solo or there’s just two of you, ask for the bars. One is all cocktails and the other, so much fun, is where the chef is doing live-fire cooking. Maybe that’s not something you’re into, but I am enthralled by it. The quick turns of the skewer, the way they’re always checking the temperature and the sear, it’s the same as watching any skilled craftsman, except you get to eat the crafts when they’re done.
The lighting stays dim, both because it’s romantic, and also because it really puts that live-fire station in the spotlight.
The service is impeccable. Throughout the night, our server was on it every step of the way. Drinks were refilled before you realized they were out and the cocktails came quickly (and were delicious). Plates were cleared promptly, which is good, because you go through a lot of plates at Gun.
Honestly, though, isn’t this what we ask for when we’re looking for a special night out? Of course the food needs to be good, but we want an experience, we want someplace comfortable and welcoming, we want service that actually earns the tip you add at the end of the night. That’s Gun. And that’s why I don’t mind spending more for an evening my friends and I will remember.
It’s no secret in this town that chef Jeff Chanchaleune knows his stuff. Goro Ramen is stellar stuff and his follow-up at Gun is no different. This is a guy who knows how to cook, but also how to train up-and-coming chefs to accurately recreate his dishes. Which brings us to…
There are three kinds of dumplings on the menu at Gun and the first thing you should do is order all three. If there are other people with you, that’s great! You can share. If you’re alone, even better, because now you don’t have to share.
I was with my girlfriend and my friends and, while I love them all, it definitely took a lot for me to share with them, because I almost always care more about dumplings than I do people. Sorry. That’s just the way I was raised.
Ebi gyoza ($11) are a mix of shrimp and pork, wrapped in dough and pan-fried, served under a crazy thin pancake in a bowl of ponzu sauce. Ah, yes, shrimp and pork. The un-kosher-est of combinations. But! These are wonderful. Not that it should be a problem, but be sure to eat these before they get cold. The texture and the temperature are important, and the cooler they get, the weirder the feel of the dough and the fillings become.
The pork + crab shumai ($12) are similar in flavor, but the texture is different from the start. These steamed dumplings are a little more gummy and sticky, a little thicker and heavier than the gyoza. The black garlic vinegar and fried garlic seem like they’ll be big players, but they’re mostly good at supporting and cutting through the richness of the meats. Between these and the gyoza, I would probably choose the gyoza, but your mileage may vary.
While I am certainly a big fan of meats, I think the vegan eggplant wontons ($10) are tremendously good. Because the eggplant is not really a dominating flavor, the sauces have more room to play and the fried shallots on top add some textural fun. They’re definitely spicier than the others, which I quite enjoyed. Of all the dumplings, these are the ones I’m the least-willing to share.
I think the breast is the most-boring parts of the chicken, which is why I didn’t try mune yakitori ($4) during my first visit to Gun.
Give it up to Gun, because they’ve figured out how to make the driest, most flavorless cut into a juicy burst of flavor. Push them off the skewer and watch them disappear. There’s a lovely spice to the yuzu kosho glaze and the direct-heat cooking method seems ideal for getting a steak-y texture on the chicken.
Along the same lines, but kind of the complete opposite, is the buta hara yakimono ($5). Made with pork belly—often considered one of the most-flavorful cuts of pork—and glazed with a miso mustard, these are gorgeous little bites meat. Don’t expect a lot of chew, here. These are great, solid planks of pork that just burst with juiciness when you bite into them.
For those avoiding meat, or just trying to work some non-meats into their diet, I was quite taken with the shiitake mushrooms yakimono ($6). Shiitake are quite tender and soak up the ponzu sauce quite well, so when you pop one into your mouth, it’s a flavor bomb waiting to go off with your first bite. The shishito peppers yakimono ($7) are charred and have a very mild heat, with a more vinegary flavor to them. I think these are wonderful on their own, but they also act as palate cleansers between bites of various grilled meats.
Under- and over-ordering is always an issue, especially at a small plates restaurant. If you’re getting items from the snacks menu, just be aware that it’s a lot bigger than the yakitori and yakimono items. For instance, while I think the Osaka okonomiyaki ($18)—a giant savory cabbage pancake topped with duck confit, mushrooms, and more—is a delightful dish, it probably would be all one person could eat if they’re dining solo. That’s not a problem, per se, but take that into account if you’re also ordering skewers of meat and dumplings.
Probably the breakout hit of Gun is their kastu sando ($10), which is just a ridiculous thing. I urge everyone to try this, but also, beware. Once you get it, you’ll be hard pressed not to order it again and again every time you go.
So, it’s a smoked pork sausage that’s pounded out, rolled in panko breadcrumbs, and fried, then put between Gun’s housemade milk bread and toasted. It’s crazy good. So juicy and crispy and the flavor just floods your mouth. Oh, and that milk bread is bonkers. I wish they’d start selling it by the loaf.
I could not be more taken with Gun if I tried and, I think, if you try it you’ll feel the same way. It’s not cheap, but then again, it tastes even better than the bill will reflect.
The Oklahoma Pork Council represents the interests all of pork producers throughout the state, promoting pork and pork products, funding research and educating consumers and producers about the pork industry. Learn more about the OPC, find recipes and more at OKPork.org.