Kata Robata. If you want to know more about Kata Robata, feel free to check out their website… But I hope you’ll enjoy reading about my experience at this culinary gem.
I found out about Kata Robata at the YTAC “Kiss My Grits” competition a few weeks ago. I thought the Chef’s kimchee grits were interesting (in a good way) and made a mental note to try out their restaurant which I had driven by countless times.
A week later, while traveling for business I read through the YTAC program and landed on the Bio pages of Chef Manabu Horiuchi and Chef Seth Siegel-Gardner… Let me hit you with the highlights:
Chef Horiuchi, or “Hori” as he likes to be called, served as the Consulate General of Japan’s Official Executive Chef – preparing family meals and cooking for large social events…
Chef Siegel-Gardner was Sous Chef at Marcus Samuelson’s Aquavit, he worked for Scott Conant at Alto, opened Maze with Gordon Ramsey – first as sous, then executive chef, opened C-House with Samuelson, and staged at The Fat Duck with Heston Blumenthal…
Holy shit! are you kidding me? These guys are cooking in Houston… where is their restaurant? TWO blocks from my house… How the hell did I not know about this place?! I had to eat here… I needed to experience their food… their experience. I couldn’t wait to try it out!
One of my first stops after my 13 hour commute home from Boston, was Kata Robata. I was tired, grumpy, and hungry. I had looked at the menu on-line and knew I wanted to try a couple of dishes…
I ordered the Kata Ramen ($9) and Shiso Yakatori ($5 Happy hour special). I know, this is a sushi place, why not order sushi… I have a confession… I don’t really like sushi… I’m in the process of being converted… having some decent sushi in LA, but I’m far from a sushi lover. <<more on this later.
The ramen was amazing! perfectly cooked noodles, a light but flavorful broth, a bit of fish cake, spinach, tender pork shoulder, and a hard-boiled egg. The only thing I would change about this soup is the egg. A 63 degree egg would have been perfectly at home in this delicious soup… but then again, I think a 63 degree egg would be at home on a bowl of ice cream…
The Yakatori was simple but well executed, with a bit of scallion, salt and pepper. A squeeze of lemon added the perfect bit of acidity.
These two dishes were a great lunch… Immediately my mood was lifted and I was in good spirits… but I was not done with Kata Robata yet…
I returned a day later (tonight) to give the menu a full taste.
A table of one, I asked to sit at the sushi bar… mostly so I could see the kitchen. The day before I had seen Chef Hori peel a cucumber with a small sword… it must have been at least a 10″ sushi knife that he wielded skillfully around the vegetable like it was a paring knife. Chef Hori was directly in front of me during my meal… slicing fish with speed and precision, selecting only the very best parts of each cut. It was almost hypnotizing to watch.
I started off my meal with an order of the Agedashi Tofu ($6). It was awesome… soft, silky tofu, lightly fried served in a light tempura sauce and topped with bonito flake. The textural contrast of the silky tofu and fried crust was awesome. The flavor of the tofu, savoryness of the bonito flake, and light sweetness of the tempura sauce balanced perfectly.
Following the Tofu was a grilled Hamachi Collar ($14). Collar is my FAVORITE part of the fish… it’s like the baby back ribs of the sea… there’s some bones you have to work around but the meat of the collar is laced with gelatin-y goodness. This collar was perfectly grilled, and served with two interesting accompanyments… Grated Dikon which was just fresh and waterly, a good pallet clenser after the rich fish, and a small red berry from japan that looked like a raspberry, but smaller and with a pit. It is called yamamomo (Thanks Esther!) It was the perfect amount of tart to compliment the fish… these guys are clearly thinking out each plate. I’m excited to order more.
Next up, one of the night’s specials… Blue Fin and Snapper Sashimi ($15). This was served with a colorful array of purple carrot, micro greens, a light cilantro pesto, and a bunch of other [delicious] garnishes… the plate was stunning. Sadly my iphone camera did not do it justice.
Okay, I’m feeling adventurous now and this is clearly as good a place as any to give sushi a go… I ordered a Crunchy Unagi (Eel) Roll ($8). It came with three different caviars, crispy tempura bits, and a sweet soy syrup… I found out that I like Unagi… a lot. The rice also didn’t have the over-seasoned vinegar taste that had turned me off from sushi before… I’m on my way to being a sushi-convert.
More sushi next… this time one of the signature rolls: Texas Hamachi Roll ($15). My server, Blake, who was also my server yesterday and had done a great job explaining the menu and giving reccomendations so far described this roll as spicy tuna, eel, and crispy shrimp wrapped in a rice roll, topped with yellowtail, jalepeno, and yuzu. He said it was one of his favorites… Now I understand why. This was really quite magical… perfectly balanced, different textural sensations, fresh fish, jalepeno heat, accented by the brightness of Yuzu.
and another pic:
And I’m full… Blake comes by and offers some dessert. I had intended to decline, but I decided to entertain the dessert menu. Blake hilights what he calls “Alice In Wonderland strawberry shortcake”… he says it looks nothing like strawberry shortcake but tastes like it. That is right up my alley! I’ll take it!
This dessert was nothing short of mind blowing… Better than my dessert at The Bazzar (Coconut Floating Island). On the menu it’s modestly listed as “Nasturtium”… here’s what it came out as:
It’s got a perfect brunois of strawberry, lightly masserated. Small dollops of yougurt and meringue (toasted). Paper thin slices of strawberry that have been dehydrated, and a bright green nasturtium brioche that I think was aerated with an iSi canister and microwaved a la Bryan Voltaggio (I may have seen Ferran Adria do this too) Blake is right… construct the perfect bite and you’ve got a mouthful of strawberry shortcake! One more pic because this one is AWESOME!
So in short, I HIGHLY reccommend Kata Robata… Chefs Hori and Siegel-Gardner are working some culinary magic over there… you can have lunch for under $20, or blow out an amazing dinner (I won’t tell you what my bill was, but it was worth every penny and then some)… truly world class food walking distance from my house.