kata robata

kata robata
3600 kirby dr #h @ richmond

first walking in, you'll notice that not too much has changed inside except the wall color and some art work. the green tea stained walls are now a warm brown hue, but hue, the former restaurant, is now a goner. that upscale, vietnamese restaurant that opened last year almost to the exact day has been put to bed and the azuma group have decided to focus on what they seem to do much better: sushi.

so interestingly enough, there is no robatayaki (japanese style charcoal grill) in sight. i was told they are planning to build a grill outside which seems even stranger. i'm sure i'll return and actually try the robata - i dig any foods usually served on a stick - but tonight was for omakase. i was here to find out how sushi chef hori-san (from kubo's) was settling in behind his new sushi bar. i definitely recommend sitting front stage when you go. hori-san is a real pleasure to chat with and totally understood all my photo taking even showing me his own photos on his i-phone from catalan a couple weeks ago.

it's been awhile since i've actually felt the need to blog about a meal as soon as i got home. tonight i felt it. i don't think i've ever been excited about japanese cuisine in houston, but now i am. this is what omakase (chef's choice literally translated "it's up to you") looked like tonight.

lobster ceviche. lobster tail, avocado, spinach, green leaf, tomatoes, and red onions in a soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin, & yuzu vinaigrette: a tad overdressed, but the dressing was tasty and brought out the sweetness of the lobster tail.

japanese red snapper (madai) sashimi w/asian truffle oil sauce. the sauce of white truffle oil, yuzu and soy was absolutely delightful and the yamamomo ("mountain peach") was a wonderfully sweet and luscious palate cleanser to save for the end. (available on regular menu)

uni & king crab spoons. the sweet uni and the dashi-heavy and tangy sunomono sauce had a wonderful smokiness to it. black caviar added a bit of salt and texture. (available on regular menu)

"kakuni" pork belly. pork belly braised in sweet soy sauce over butter sauteed spinach with micro greens. i can't explain how delicious this was. the pork belly was tender and unctuous but the buttery spinach sent each bite over the top with the added depth the butter imparted. chinese hot mustard garnished the plate and helped balance the fat. (available on regular menu) don't we have a pork belly throwdown coming soon?? this would rival the best of them.

foie gras with daikon. foie was a tad overcooked but still very enjoyable. the sauce was smokey from dashi, slightly sweet from mirin, and had a nice depth imparted by fish stock made from hamachi fish bones. very good dish, but totally outshined by the foie dish to follow. (available on regular menu)

shima aji (japanese striped bass), o toro (tuna belly), copper river salmon sashimi (from left to right). both the toro and salmon melted in my mouth from the high fat content. all of the fish was very fresh. the copper river salmon seemed smoother and more mild than regular salmon. this was served with hon wasabi.

hon wasabi on sharkskin grater. stolen from behind the sushi bar for the photo, this is what fresh wasabi (japanese horseradish) looks like. it's grated to order and is milder than the powdered, bright green stuff that we're used to that is cut with mustard to make it cheaper and more potent. the crisp, radish-like texture is enjoyable. once you taste this stuff, you might not ever accept the cheap, powdered stuff again.

foie gras and scallop sushi. served on a nugget of white rice, this was such a winning combination of creamy, buttery foie and a completely different kind of creamy, buttery scallop. topped with a bit of nabeyaki (sweet eel sauce), this dish was truly amazing and easily the highlight of the meal.

soy marinated tuna. we were instructed not to use soy sauce with this course. the tuna was already salted from the marinade. the fish was firm almost a bit rubbery, but not in an unpleasant way. it was very interesting to experience tuna this way.

amaebi with uni sushi. i have to admit that i'm not a big fan of amaebi (sweet shrimp). i usually order it at a sushi bar if they'll deep fry the heads and i'll try to pawn the shrimp off on a dining companion or i'll reluctantly eat it just to get rid of it. it has an unnerving creamy texture that i don't like. today i learned it can be enjoyable with uni on top. the uni tonight (on a monday btw) was so sweet and fresh. i'd eat amaebi any day if it were served like this.

copper river salmon sushi. a much deeper orange than regular salmon although it's not apparent from this photo. simply prepared with yuzu and a little sea salt. was instructed by the chef not to use any soy sauce. a great ode to the "simpler is better" school of thought.

anago and toro & takowan maki. the steamed sea eel (left) was tender and rich with nabeyaki and hon wasabi on top. hori-san said he orders the sea eel whole from japan and cuts it himself. the maki doesn't look very enticing but the buttery toro combined with the crunchy takowan (japanese radish) was a tasty combination.

after twelve courses, i cried uncle and then the desserts came out...

black sesame creme brulee. i never met a creme brulee that i didn't like and ground black sesame adds a wonderful nuttiness to it. totally yummy.

yuzu sorbet. very good too. the sorbet was smooth with a great mouth-feel and the yuzu (japanese citrus) added fantastic citrus-y and floral tones. it was refreshing and great summer dessert.

green tea tiramisu. good but not great. i wanted more floral green tea flavors from it. it was delicate and very hard to offend.

hori-san said he has more creative freedom at his new home. i'm glad i don't have to deal with kirby traffic and village parking to visit him now. also, totally excited that i have a new restaurant to add to my rotation of restaurants open on monday.

and i've been saying that the "don't eat seafood on mondays" axiom that bourdain propagated with his book kitchen confidential really doesn't apply to houston. tonight i think i proved my point.

p.s. i asked hori-san if there is any good ramen in houston and he said no.


FCTD winners

it was a full house of full bellys at beaver's this past monday for the houston chowhounds fried chicken throwdown. jonathan jones was our gracious host. over 150 houchies, chefs, and industry folks gathered to binge on copious amounts of fried chicken and some of the best sides imaginable. but really everyone was there to see which of houston's top chefs would be the throwdown champ. the prize? just good ole fashion bragging rights. here's how the throwdown... well, went down.

twelve chefs competed in the classic fried chicken competition. the requirements for this category were: must be (1) chicken, (2) bone-in, and (3) skin-on. entries in this category were judged on (1) crispiness/texture of crust, (2) tenderness of meat, (3) seasoning and (4) overall taste.

Justin Basye, chef de cuisine at VOICE
Classic: Basye Family Recipe*

Frank Butera, chef/owner of Frank's Chop House
Classic: Frank’s Chop House Classic Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Fowl Frying Flyers
Jason Gould
, chef/owner of Gravitas
Team Member(s): David Grossman & Cody Dryer
Classic: Buttermilk Battered Fried Chicken

Jonathan Jones, chef/owner of Beaver's
JJ's Famous Fried Chicken

Killen’s Steakhouse
Ronnie Killen, chef/owner of Killen's Steakhouse
Team Member(s): Dee Dee Killen & Ryan Penn
Classic: Ronnie Killen’s Fried Chicken*

*17 Ex-Pats
Dax McAnear, chef de cuisine at Textile and Ryan Pera, executive chef at The Grove
Classic: Exhibit A

Frank “The Shank”
Frank Moore
, sommelier at Textile
Classic: Family Tradition*

Michael O'Connor, restaurant chef at Houston Country Club
Team Member(s): Marc Gabriel Medina
Classic: Fried Chicken w/ sweet potato waffles and honey-lemon butter*

Dusty Sagasser, smokemaster at Beaver's
Classic: Beer battered, smoked fried chicken

Catalan (AKA those Mother Cluckers)
Chris Shepherd
, chef/owner of Catalan
Team Member(s): Antoine Ware & Matthew Pridgen
Classic: I Am Not Sharing

Cody Vasek, executive sous chef at VOICE
God’s Country Classic Chicken*

Jamie Zelko, chef/owner of Zelko Bistro (opening soon)
Classic: Zelko Bistro’s Captain’s Fried Chicken*

five chefs competed in the creative fried chicken competition. the requirements for this category were: must contain (1) poultry of some design, (2) a fried component, and (3) an attachment to fried chicken (i.e. must be reminiscent of fried chicken somehow). entries in this category were judged on (1) originality, (2) presentation, (3) how evocative of fried chicken it was and (4) overall taste.

Frank Butera, chef/owner of Frank's Chop House
Creative: Pollo Fritto All’abruzzese
spaghetti w/an italian, peasant-style ragu made with chicken hearts and gizzards topped with more fried hearts and gizzards.

Team Haven
Randy Evans, chef/owner of Haven (opening this fall)
Team Member(s): Kevin Naderi
Creative: Fried Chicken Ballantine with Watermelon Rind Slaw & Black Pepper Bourbon Gravy*

Fowl Frying Flyers
Jason Gould, chef/owner of Gravitas
Team Member(s): David Grossman & Cody Dryer
Creative: Mustard Crusted Battered & Fried Chicken

Plinio Sandalio, pastry chef at Textile & Gravitas
Team Member(s): Erika Mandeville
Creative: Chicken and Biscuits: buttermilk biscuits, chicken ice cream, honey-guajillo butter, crispy chicken flakes*

Cody Vasek, executive sous chef at VOICE
Creative: “Chicken and Funnel Cake”
chicken drumettes, frenched, dipped in funnel cake batter and deep fried. served with maple syrup and powdered sugar.

* recipes are included in the recipe book


Congrats to all of our fried chicken throwdown winners!

In the Classic category

1st place - Cody Vasek, VOICE, God’s Country Classic Chicken
Cody's fried chicken was brined in pepperoncini juice and served with shiner bock beer bread

2nd place: Ronnie Killen, Killen's Steakhouse (Pearland), Ronnie Killen's Fried Chicken
Ronnie's fried chicken was cryovac-ed in buttermilk & spices and sous vided before it was battered and fried.

3rd place: Jason Gould, Gravitas, Buttermilk Battered Fried Chicken
Jason's fried chicken is available every Tuesday night at Gravitas as a blue plate special.

if i could give an award for most interesting crust, my first place would go to the *17 Ex-Pats team (Dax & Ryan) for a "bread crumb" mixture made from a combination of chicharron (pork rinds), pulverized crawfish shells, ramen noodles, and the ramen seasoning pack. it created an extremely crispy crust and some really interesting flavors no one quite expected.

my second place would go to Jamie Zelko for her slightly sweet crust of Captain Crunch cereal, corn flakes, oatmeal, and panko bread crumbs. the taste and texture was wonderful and definitely kid-friendly.

also worth noting is Dusty Sagasser's entry which was first smoked and then beer battered. the smokiness of the chicken meat was very pleasing.

In the Creative category:

1st place: Randy Evans, Haven, Fried Chicken Ballantine with Watermelon Rind Slaw & Black Pepper Bourbon Gravy
randy's chicken was served with a refreshing watermelon rind slaw and very delicious watermelon juice iced tea. he nailed the "evocative of fried chicken" judging criteria.

2nd place: Plinio Sandalio, Textile, Chicken and Biscuits: buttermilk biscuits, chicken ice cream, honey-guajillo butter, crispy chicken flakes
plinio's chicken ice cream (basically a frozen sweet veloute) was surprisingly tasty (well, maybe not if you're familiar with his work). he had some freezer issues at the event so his ice cream was served more like a semi-freddo. the chicken cracklin was incredibly, ridiculously delicious.

3rd place: Jason Gould, Gravitas, Mustard Crusted Battered & Fried Chicken

so who judged all 17 of these entries? a panel of houston chowhounds composed of (clockwise from top) Bryan Caswell of REEF, Jim Gossen of Louisiana Foods, Katharine Shilcutt Houston Press' food writer and She Eats blogger, Jay Francis Houston Press' food explorer, moi, and Karen Rittinger who won the wild card judge spot. it was seriously hard work, but someone had to do it!

but we weren't the only judges at the event. Nine houchies participated in battle mac and cheese potluck. Guess who judged this event? All the chefs at the event including Bryan Caswell and Monica Pope.

The chefs decided. Our mac & cheese winners were:

1st place: Cindy Robertson, Truly Scrumptious Mac-N-Cheese
2nd place: Chuck Redick, Chuck E. Mac and Cheese
3rd place: Matthew McClung, Not Yo Crawdaddy's Mac & Cheese

The event raised over $700 for Recipe for Success who were onsite at the event. Four chefs donated their $50 stipend towards food costs to the charity. These gastro angels were Ronnie Killen, Michael O'Connor, Plinio Sandalio, and Chris Shepherd.

Recipe books were also sold at the event which contained all nine mac & cheese recipes and 8 fried chicken recipes (including both 1st place winners) with 100% of the proceeds donated to Recipe for Success. Special thanks to Syd Kearney and 29-95 for printing our books and ballots for free and for doing it with such short notice.

If you would like a copy of the recipe book, please send a $5.50 donation via paypal to imneverfull@gmail.com and a PDF of the book will be emailed to you. Our goal is to raise $1000 for Recipe for Success.

Also, be sure to read the Houston Press write-up.

all photos courtesy of katharine shilcutt. view the complete set of FCTD photos on flickr.


and the FCTD wild card judge is...

congrats to Karen Indellicati Rittinger for winning the 6th spot on the judges panel for the fried chicken throwdown next week! here is her winning response to "why i should be a FCTD judge."


10. My palate has enjoyed the sophistication of foie gras at Lucas Carton in Paris to fried chicken at Hodaks in St. Louis.

9. Ten years of prescribed Lipitor is not the result of eating boiled, baked or braised chicken.

8. Never allowing the annual fryer butchering event on my grandparent’s farm to deter my taste for fried chicken even after wringing necks, opening the gizzards to determine the fowls’ last meals, plucking feathers and singeing the naked bird over a flame.

7. Good fried chicken is like the man in my life……..always satisfying.

6. My family’s fried chicken got me a wedding proposal, a 2.5 carat diamond and 17 years of good marriage (There’s truth in that old saying that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”).

5. My grandmother fried enough chicken in her kitchen on a 100 degree Texas summer day with no air conditioning to feed children, grandchildren, a few neighbors and the field hands.

4. Zone‘d Erotica has never sold anything as satisfying as my family’s fried chicken.

3. I taught my Yankee cousins that Emily Post does not criticize if you eat southern fried chicken with your fingers.

2. I can proudly say that fried chicken has helped me reach a weight of ***.

And the number 1 reason that I should be a FCTD judge is because:

1. I can fry chicken just like my mother and grandmother!

***Will disclose if selected as a FCTD judge

karen, of course we won't ask you to disclose your weight. because then i might feel the need to share mine and that would just be TMI. congrats!
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