Not that we were big fans of Katsuya, but we’re hoping this restaurant has longer legs than its predecessor in West Ave. Fortunately, Nara benefitted from the the Asian influence of Katsuya as the decor doesn’t appear markedly different. The sushi bar remains in the middle. The rest of the menu is decidedly different, reflecting a mix of Asian influenced dishes with an emphasis on the owner’s Korean heritage.
Don’t expect the same dynamic as Houston’s long-standing Korean restaurants. There are no grills in the middle of the tables (replaced by trendy hot rocks brought from the kitchen) or multiple (banchan) side dishes. Nor are the prices nearly as spender friendly as the long-standing Long Point locations. (My Korean friend was shocked with the price we paid for a couple standard dishes.) But this is in an upscale retail complex, and the restaurant describes itself as “Modern Korean.” (We understand there is a private dining area that includes the table grill.)
We didn’t really come for the sushi. We were going for the Korean offerings. We tried an appetizer that we understand is inspired by a dish at Momofuku in NYC — flat buns (bao), like little tacos, available with various fillings. We tried the Spicy Pork Bulgogi (shredded pork collar, with cilantro and cucumber), which we enjoyed although it didn’t knock our socks off. We asked the waiter to bring us some sauces for the dish and, while we can’t recall what they were, they added some needed zing. More impressive was the pork belly bipimbap, a traditional Korean rice dish, served in a very hot stone bowl that cooks the raw egg that you stir into the dish, as well as the rice (creating a crispy lining). The dish was quite tasty, although it was also enhanced by the sauces we’d received. Probably our favorite dish was the Korean-style Shin Ramen, with squid and claims (could have been more seafood) in a lush red chili based broth. (Our waiter described the dish as bold and didn’t seem too excited about it, but we thought it was great.) We finished nicely with the Crunchy Yellow Tail Roll.
We haven’t had a chance to make it back, but we’ll return for the Shin Ramen as well as to try some of the other dishes. (Anyone for Bulgogi Pot Pie or whole Spicy Squid Quinoa?)
2800 Kirby Drive (in West Ave)
Update: September 2013
This restaurant had a fire and is not currently open.
First Reviewed: June 2013
Fish So Very Fresh
An Oasis In This Heat
This is MF Good
This sushi newcomer has made quite a splash as its chef/owner, Chris Kinjo, ports his magic from Atlanta to an unassuming strip center at the corner of Westheimer and Fountainview. Perhaps we were behind the foodie curve, but we first heard about this curiously named place when we read that a number of local chefs were touting the freshness of the fish and the chef’s deft knife skills. That was quickly followed by Alison Cook’s four star rating. Out we went one recent Saturday evening to sit at the sushi bar and try the Omakase (chef’s pleasure) dinner.
Unlike Uchi or Kata Robata, this Omakase dinner was all about raw fish — either sashimi or nigiri, no rolls. There are a few hot dishes on the menu, but this is a traditional sushi restaurant, not Asian fusion. And we had an amazing experience. From start to finish, the fish was fabulously fresh. While our helpful and efficient waitress gave us a dish of freshly grated wasabi, which was quite a treat, we only used soy sauce and wasabi on one of the many courses. Not sure how many dishes we had, we weren’t counting, just eating. The initial dish was a delicious warm seaweed soup into which we stirred a raw quail egg yolk. The chef then started us off with a variety of sashimi dishes, simply presented, with little adornment. The salmon belly was a particular highlight. We’d read that the chef really shines with nigiri. The dewy fish lay on lightly formed grains of rice with a hint of wasabi and soy sauce, arriving with instructions from the chef to eat in one bite. Multiple bites came our way and we followed instructions well, enjoying everything we tried.
In the interest of journalism, we separately ordered the fried calamari for dessert. It was nicely done and, if variety is our goal on our next visit to MF Sushi, we’ll consider ordering one or more hot dishes and perhaps one of the beautifully presented rolls we saw the kitchen turn out. But the real reason to come to MF Sushi is for the raw fish, served in all its pristine wonder.
We were remiss not reviewing Kata Robata the first time we dined there a few years ago. But there’s no excuses for not sharing our recent Omakase dinner experiences, particularly after the Houston Chronicle’s Alison Cook included Kata Robata in her top five Houston restaurants.
Approximately 8-10 courses, priced in the $100 per person range, depending on how many courses you want, the Omakase dinner showcases the restaurants variety of hot and cold dishes, sushi, sashimi, and carpaccio offerrings. There wasn’t a course we didn’t like or, more typically, love. And we don’t recall any of the dishes being the same from our first visit. We sat at the sushi bar both times which added to the experience and which we’d highly recommend. We had great service by the same waiter both times who even remembered we’d ask them on our prior visit to slow down between courses.
Highlights included wonderfully fresh sashimi and carpaccio, expertly seasoned and deftly sauced, including one plate with shaved truffles; sous vide beef short ribs; a decadent shitake mushroom soup with sous vide duck, topped with seared foie gras; sparkling fresh raw oysters topped with ponzu gratinee or mignonette; and beautifully served sushi, both maki (roll) and nigiri style. We even got to try sauteed geoduck, cooked personally for us by the head sushi chef when we said we’d never tried the giant mollusk. And they graciously honored our request to include the miso-crusted bone marrow which was delicious. Every plate was beautifully presented, frequently accessorized with micro herbs or edible flowers.
Creativity and deft hands abound at this place and, judging by the packed house, it’s well appreciated by the Houston dining crowd. Together with Uchi, Kata Robata is serving the best Asian fusion in town.
3600 Kirby Drive