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Raw Materials at Cove

The raw fish and raw meat here are so delicately and deliciously rendered, you might think about giving up on the whole fire thing.

For a look at more of Cove's cozy quarters and fresh-caught seafood, browse through our slideshow.

At Cove, Jean-Philippe Gaston concentrates on a tenderloin-shaped piece of Verlasso salmon — furiously orange and marbled with only the most necessary rivulets of fat — with intense focus as he makes each quick cut. The salmon slices collapse to the cutting board like heavy silk drapes. The marbling is thin and intricate and imparts a plush feeling to the fish without coating your mouth in oil, unlike so much of the fatty salmon that's served in seafood and sushi restaurants these days. The Verlasso salmon, Gaston tells me as he gently plates each slice in a curving pattern across a stark white plate, is raised on a high-protein diet in the ocean.

"It tastes clean," he says in his gruff French accent. That clean flavor profile allows for the zinging, rocket-flare-bright pops of lime zest, brown sugar, caperberry salt and chiles to come through in the "quick cure" rub that Gaston uses to create his "PNWS," or Pacific Northwest salmon dish. Caperberries are dried out in a dehydrator and crushed into a fine powder that Gaston refers to as "salt," he explains, while hoja santa leaves are similarly dried until they resemble glossy green sheets of seaweed. The drying process candies the leaves, deepening and enhancing their natural sweet anise flavor, and they jut out of the dish like panes of stained glass. The herbal sweetness underscores the brown sugar in the salmon but balances it all out so that the fish is never overwhelmed by sugar.

The tuna-based Chicken of the Sea is a dish of Gaston's own creation.
Troy Fields
The tuna-based Chicken of the Sea is a dish of Gaston's own creation.

Location Info

Map

Cove

2502 Algerian Way, (inside Haven)
Houston, TX 77098

Category: Restaurant > Raw Food

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby

Haven

2502 Algerian Way
Houston, TX 77098

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby

Goode Co. Seafood

2621 Westpark Drive
Houston, TX 77098

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby

Christie's Seafood and Steaks

6029 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77057

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Galleria

Gilhooley's Raw Bar

222 Ninth St.
Dickinson, TX 77539

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Outside Houston

Gaido's

3828 Seawall Blvd.
Galveston, TX 77550

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Galveston

Reef

2600 Travis St., 100
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Montrose

Details

Hours: 4 to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 4 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.
Little Boy Blue: $4
Poisson cru: $10
Beef heart carpaccio: $10
Tuna crudo: $12
Antelope tartare: $14
Oktapodi krasato: $15
PNWS: $15

READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: Craving Cove: The Restaurant-Within-a-Restaurant Brings a Raw Bar to Haven
BLOG POST: Restaurants within Restaurants: Cove Is On the Cutting Edge

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Of the soft, fork-tender octopus that Gaston serves in a tumble — heads and tentacles diced and askew — he tells patrons at his station: "Frixos — you know, the guy who used to run Mykonos — told me that one day when I had my own place, he'd teach me his old family recipe from Greece. So one day when Cove opened, Frixos shows up with two octopus and says, 'Ready to learn?'"

Each dish at Cove, the new restaurant-within-a-restaurant tucked inside Haven, comes with a story. That's the way that Gaston and owner Randy Evans planned it when the duo — chef de cuisine and executive chef — decided to build a raw bar inside the existing restaurant, converting Haven's somewhat underused bar into a warm, self-contained cafe that's only open for dinner. You don't have to eat inside Cove — you can simply order from its smart cocktail and wine list — but you'd be missing out on one of the city's most immersive and subversive dining experiences, a meal that will turn any pre-existing notion you had about the depth and breadth of raw seafood and meat on its ear.

Be warned, though: You can't order Haven's food inside Cove and you can't order Cove's ceviches or sashimis or tiraditos inside Haven. But you can split the difference and enjoy two drastically different dining experiences under one roof in one night: Start with a few small dishes of freshly flown-in tuna crudo and some Shoregasm oysters from Prince Edward Island at Cove, then move into a bowl of wild boar chili and roasted quail with jalapeño-sausage dressing at Haven.

But I prefer to do it this way: Spend an entire evening at Cove, sipping on crisp Sauvignon Blanc or a pint of Real Ale Rio Blanco, while you watch Gaston work. Grab one of the four seats in front of his station, which is set up like a hybrid sushi bar and East Coast-style raw bar — complete with effusive display of oysters from all over the world and spindly crab legs in a brightly lit icebox — and call it an evening. When every dish is different from the last — a citrus-laced Tahitian-style poisson cru in coconut milk followed by that Grecian oktopodi krasato thick with warm thyme and oregano, for instance — it's easy to be captivated by Cove's short menu for an entire evening.
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For a city on the coast, Houston can be puzzlingly lacking in interesting seafood places. There have long been stalwarts such as Goode Co. Seafood and Christie's — the latter since 1917, making it one of the city's oldest restaurants — and avid fans will make treks down to legendary seaside spots such as Gilhooley's and Gaido's. People like P.J. Stoops have made Gulf "trash fish" into a proud native foodstuff and there is no shortage of crawfish places — Cajun, Vietnamese or otherwise.

But not since Reef and chef Bryan Caswell's pioneering attitude toward Gulf fish has there been such a fascinating seafood restaurant as Cove. Part of the allure is the interaction with Gaston himself, which allows you to direct your own meal in any number of ways while learning — if you're interested — about the various raw fish and meat preparations that Gaston learned in his travels and stints at spots such as Kata Robata, Soma Sushi and, yes, Reef. If you're the quiet type, it's just as satisfying to watch Gaston work, folding those slips of fish into insouciant rosettes, bending them with his fingers into a form that's very much his own signature.

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1 comments
FRL713
FRL713

Thanks for pointing out the cost challenges this place presents.  I enjoyed most everything we tried during our visit, but did suffer some sticker shock when the bill arrived.  $50+/per person for apps/drinks seemed a bit steep.  It would have been much higher had we tried to make a full meal out of it.  They did offer us Haven menus during our happy hour visit, and somebody ordered sliders.  So I'm not sure if there's a strictly enforced no-crossover policy.  All in all it is a fun sushi alternative with some cool menu items but just be careful not to arrive with a big appetite.

 
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