We were somewhat inclined to write a two word review: Not Uchi. But that’s unfair. Katsuya isn’t striving to turn out the uber creative, intricately prepared dishes for which Uchi excels, and Katsuya isn’t marketing to the same demographic. Katsuya hails from Los Angeles, touting its “master sushi chef” (Katsuya Uechi) and “design impresario” (Philippe Starck). Located in the trendy West Ave complex, Katsuya has been featured regularly in the social columns for its celebrity sightings.
Frankly, we were expecting to be more impressed by the design. Perhaps it’s because Houston has not lacked for distinctive rooms in recent restaurant openings (Triniti, Uchi, Underbelly, Phillipe). There’s a large four-sided sushi bar in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by tables, with the walls lined by banquettes. We peeked into the lounge area, with its many white sofas, but we were at the restaurant far too early to check out the action there.
We had the multi-course Omikase dinner on our first visit to Uchi, so we wanted to give Katsuya the same opportunity. We appreciated our waiter’s candor when he advised against Katsuya’s Omikase dinner, which the menu said included all the chef’s specialties. Indeed, very few of the items featured as specialties on the menu were served with the dinner. So, we embarked on a la carte ordering.
Like at so many places nowadays, cocktails are prominently featured. We found one of the specialty drinks — the Burning Mandarin — to be pleasant enough. We tried one of the signature dishes — Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna — which turned out to be fried sushi rice cakes topped with tuna tartare that wasn’t really all that spicy. (Our waiter had tried to steer us instead to the seared tuna with Japanese salsa.) We also tried the soft shell crab, which was not overly battered (a good thing) although a little soggy.
The highlight of the meal was another of the signature dishes — miso marinated black cod — beautifully cooked with a lovely flavor. The square of potato gratin on the plate tasted good but was also a little soggy. Our other entree dish — Cajun halibut cheeks — was dry and overcooked, the pieces too small to be cooked correctly when also trying to blacken the spiced exterior.
If it’s fair to compare Katsuya and Uchi — both of which arrived on the Houston scene at about the same time — Uchi wins by a mile (about the distance between the two on Westheimer).
2800 Kirby Drive (West Ave Complex at Westheimer)