Chef Nobuo Fukuda Brings the Izakaya to Phoenix with Nobuo at Teeter House

Categories: First Taste
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Jonathan McNamara
The heart of Nobuo at Teeter House.
"Drinking is very important, but you want something to nibble on," says James Beard award-winning chef Nobuo Fukuda.

This is the concept of an izakaya, a cultural commonplace in Japan that, with the exception of Fukuda's new place, Nobuo at Teeter House, is a rare thing in the Valley. Simply put, an izakaya is a place to drink with friends and get a bite to eat as the alcohol flows. 

"Not just a snack," Fukuda adds. "It could be sashimi, steamed dishes, grilled dishes, fried dishes -- so many different kinds. So I think it's more like tapas in Spain."

Step into Nobuo and you'll find a space that Fukuda describes as "elegantly casual." Yet take a second look and you might notice the ways that the chef has adapted a historic building for modern uses.

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Jonathan McNamara
Nobuo's cramped but well-equipped kitchen.
While transforming the 111-year-old Teeter House at Heritage Square into an eatery, Fukuda could do little to alter the space without disturbing the house's historic integrity. The original frames, floor, cabinets and kitchen space have been kept as they were, only with the occasional flourish of Japanese artistry to remind patrons they are in an izakaya. 

A paper curtain hangs behind the bar. A blue flag separates the dining area from the kitchen. Bonsai-esque plants thrive in a vase housed in drift wood hanging on a wall.

Of course this sense of adaptation applies to the food as well. Currently Nobuo at Teeter House serves lunch and a selection of "small plates," all of which incorporate Japanese techniques and ingredients, and pair well with the wine selection. Fukuda calls it "casual street food," and looking down the menu, we can't help but be reminded of his recent bouts of impromptu cooking at Welcome Diner

There is a panko-fried soft shell crab sandwich on homemade focaccia with cucumber and a spicy kanzuri aioli adapted from a sauce traditional in northern Japan. "Ebi Salad" comes with grilled shrimp layered with rice noodles, purple basil, mint, cucumber, soy-glazed peanuts, and nuoc cham.

This casual take on food is a bit of a departure from Fukuda's previous restaurant, Sea Saw, which served high volumes of wine and the chef's stylized sashimi. As previously mentioned on Chow Bella, Nobuo has plans for an afternoon tea service (a bit of a tradition at the Teeter House, which formerly had a Victorian tea room), a happy hour with a menu, and dinner. 

For now, Fukuda and his staff are slowly dealing with the quirks of running a contemporary restaurant in a very old space, and taking it slow.

"Everything for us is a brand new challenge," Fukuda said.

Foodies interested in sampling what dinner at Nobuo might taste like can stop by this Friday through Sunday from 6 - 10 p.m.for a grand opening. The cost is $15 and dishes will be served family style.


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