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Tired of Turkey?

Chef Wakasugi's sushi is designed to please the Texan palate

The decor at Osaka is rather innocuous. A graceful curve of dark wood along the ceiling frames the sushi bar like a theater proscenium. There are a few large Japanese calligraphy characters on the walls and flowers here and there, but nothing very dramatic. The windows on the shopping center parking lot provide a lot of light, and most of the tables are placed alongside them.

We sat at one of the window tables on a recent afternoon. The lunch specials at Osaka aren't really much of a bargain. There's a $9.95 sushi assortment that isn't all that exciting and a $9.95 bento box with tempura shrimp, salted salmon and vegetables. My date tried the tempura special, and I got a beef teriyaki lunch that appears on the regular menu.

Both came with that subtly seasoned snore called miso soup and an equally flavor-free iceberg salad. The tempura assortment included three big shrimp, sweet potato, squash and onion, all of which were quite competently fried. A couple of bland cucumber sushi rolls and a lonely dumpling rounded out the meal. The salted grilled salmon with katsu sauce was good, if you like salty food, but all in all, the bento box was disappointing. My teriyaki beef was nicely marinated and grilled, then chopped into strips and served over a salad. It came with the same assortment of tempura vegetables. It tasted fine, but I couldn't help thinking that for the same $15.95, I could have taken four people out for a far tastier Chinese lunch at Peking Cuisine (see "Forbidden City Food," November 7).

Chef Wakasugi has some firm ideas about sushi: Start with the toro.
Troy Fields
Chef Wakasugi has some firm ideas about sushi: Start with the toro.

Location Info

Map

Osaka Japanese Restaurant

515 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Montrose

Details

713-533-9098. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.; Saturday, noon to 12:30 a.m.; Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.

Bottle of draft sake: $10.50
Toro (varies with market price): $8
Yellowtail: $4.60
Sweet shrimp: $8
Eel: $3.95
Daily lunch special: $9.95
Teriyaki beef lunch: $15.95

515 Westheimer

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Of course, the sushi at Osaka isn't cheap, either. But I suspect the letdown I felt on the lunch visit was from the fact that I was comparing iced tea and a tempura medley to premium draft sake and a performance by a virtuoso sushi chef. It's hardly a fair comparison.

If you visit Osaka, go with enough time to enjoy the full-length feature. Chef Thomas Wakasugi is a Japanese classicist with a unique twist. Though he was born in Japan, all his sushi experience has been acquired in Houston. And his soft-shell crawfish, sweet shrimp and raw beef-like toro creations suggest that he has developed a knack for fitting Japanese sushi to the Texan palate. He certainly has my tastes nailed.

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