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Somewhere in the fever dream of running a Jewish-style deli and brainstorming his new Boca Raton restaurant, AlleyCat, chef Eric Baker decided to put a pastrami sandwich on a Japanese menu.
The result is the Pastrami Sando, a savory Katz’s-meets-Tokyo mashup in which ribbons of fresh pastrami are diced, breaded with Panko and fried, before Baker piles it onto Japanese-style milk bread slicked with red onion marmalade and hot mustard.
Such is the culinary ingenuity at AlleyCat, a Japanese izakaya born last month in an alleyway inside Boca Raton’s Royal Palm Plaza, on the southern edge of the Mizner Park hullaballoo. The small kitchen at 409 SE Mizner Blvd. replaces the old Pat’s Wine Bar and features a 10-seat sushi bar and omakase tastings from chef-partner David Bouhadana.
It also includes a selection of rare sakes and eclectic American-Japanese pub fare from Baker, whose American gastropub Rebel House and next-door Uncle Pinkie’s Deli sit a half-mile north on Palmetto Park Road.
In short, AlleyCat feels like an Eric Baker restaurant. His third neighborhood eatery is a study in gastronomic cross-pollination, and is never married to just one cuisine. At Rebel House he dishes cheeseburgers and cheesesteaks, but also Asian-leaning Chinese barbecue ribs and Mongolian beef lo mein. Uncle Pinkie’s does pastrami-by-the-pound and deli classics drawn from Baker’s Jewish and Eastern European upbringing, but it also borrows the DNA of Mazie’s, his former small-plates restaurant in West Palm Beach.
“My upbringing and personality definitely seeps through in many ways, and with the Pastrami Sando, not-so-subtle ways,” Baker says of AlleyCat. “You go to Japan, and for decades American food has been ingrained into their cuisine. Why can’t it be the opposite here?”
Dining out one evening a year ago, Baker struck up a friendship with Bouhadana (Sushi by Bou in Pompano Beach) at the latter’s Sunset Sushi restaurant on North Federal Highway. A Japanophile who has dined in Tokyo and Kyoto, Baker say he grew inspired instantly. “He’s a sushi chef who studied in Japan, and I’m a chef who studied in France who doesn’t do sushi,” he says. “I was like, ‘What can we do together?’ ”
“David likes to describe his craft like, ‘You don’t mess with a thousand years of sushi tradition,’ ” Baker says. “You procure the best fish, you make the best rice, cut the fish properly, and serve.”
At AlleyCat, like Sunset Sushi, Bouhadana specializes in traditional omakase (eight pieces for $36), in which the chef crafts a tasting menu of sushi rolls and nigiri and diners eat whatever they’re served. There are also four-piece tastings of tuna, king salmon and hamachi ($14-$22) and rolls ($17-$32), such as the Surf & Turf roll with lobster, seared wagyu and brown butter aioli.
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It is on Baker’s side of the menu where Japanese tradition flies out the window. A plate of Japanese karaage-style chicken, dubbed “hot fried chicken” here ($19), is glazed with yuzu ranch and miso honey. More crossovers abound: There are barbecue lamb ribs ($25) with yuzu, chili and sesame oil, as well as grilled short rib ($28) with kabocha squash, black garlic and braised daikon. There is even bacon and spicy pickles ($17), a dish featuring Kurobuta pork from heritage-breed Berkshire pigs. Other dishes include shrimp crispy rice ($15) with spicy mayo and eel sauce, miso sea bass ($37) in dashi broth and wagyu beef dumplings ($16) with fermented chili and black vinegar.
AlleyCat’s drink menu features 19 rare sakes ($35-$220), along with Japanese beer ($6-$11) and wine ($14 per glass, $50 for bottle).
After a new migration of northeasterners to South Florida, Baker – who grew up on Long Island – says AlleyCat marks his latest push to bring trendier small-plates cuisine to Boca Raton, where izakayas are rare.
“We both understand the climate in east Boca,” says Baker, referring to Bouhadana. “After the new influx of people from the past year, I think this town is primed for trendier restaurants. We’re the right people to create them.”
And he’s not done partnering with Bouhadana. Baker’s fourth restaurant, Sunset Café, will debut in January or February on Yamato Road serving coffee and bagels for breakfast and Japanese bento boxes for lunch.
AlleyCat, at 409 SE Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton, is open 5-11 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 561-717-8415 or go to AlleyCatBoca.com