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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.

And part of Cove's draw is how different the seafood dishes are in a town that's obsessed with ceviche. It seems to be a requirement that every new restaurant include ceviche on its menu — regardless of whether it has any connection to the Mexican seafood concoction more substantial than sheer proximity to the country. Cove has only one ceviche on its menu, made with red snapper and served with all the traditional accoutrements. But it begs you to take it one, two, ten steps further and discover a whole world of raw preparations past simply ceviche and sashimi. Gaston has littered his menu with raw dishes from Fiji, Peru, Israel, Italy, Greece, Japan and more.

There's the Cook Islands dish I met for the first time back in November called ika mata, which piles red albacore tuna into a deep bowl and cooks the fish in a marinade of coconut milk, lemongrass and olive oil. A scatter of green onions and roasted peanuts give it snap, a dusting of edible flowers sets the tropical dish dancing. It's sweet and intensely herbal, with a floral astringency from the lemongrass that cuts through the sugary coconut broth, and like nothing I'd ever tasted before.

And there are raw dishes beyond just fish, too, like the tartare of velvety antelope that tasted of sweet young grass and clean, fresh beef under a fine snow of brash shallots and the meaty punch of Worcestershire sauce. There's an Italian carpaccio of beef heart that treats the thick, substantial organ like prosciutto or any other hard, cured meat and slices it thinly and neatly into ribbons. Unlike charcuterie, however, the raw meat of the heart is somewhat cooked by the citric acid in the lemon vinaigrette that's poured on top, the entire dish set off by rugged flakes of Maldon sea salt and robust, craggy shreds of Parmesan cheese.

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

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The tough part here, however, is making a meal out of Cove's offerings. It's not difficult to do if you have the same penchant for seafood and raw dishes that brings you to sushi restaurants on a regular basis. And it's not difficult to do if you've got deep pockets. But building a meal substantial enough for a dinner — or rather suited to the Houstonian appetite for dinner, as it were — can be hard on your wallet. No dish is above $15 save a giant cheese and meat board, and the portions are more than generous — especially on the $4 to $6 cheese plates that come with giant rounds of Grayson or Little Boy Blue along with prosciutto, brioche toast points, quince paste and nuts — but it's easy to order five or six dishes and watch the tab build and build.

On the other hand, the prices are in line with the quality of the food you're receiving; let there be no qualms about that. At Kata Robata, for instance, chef Manabu Horiuchi chose Gaston's food from a blind taste test that included eight other potential sous chefs before selecting Gaston as his right-hand man. Hori-san was also the first sushi chef to recognize Gaston's talent enough to allow him — a non-Japanese person — behind the sushi bar. As a result, Gaston brings with him not only the skills acquired learning fish from a master, but connections to get the best stuff into Cove as well.

"They catch this tuna in the Pacific, load it off the boats that night and ship it to me overnight the next day," Gaston said one evening of a fine, fat piece of ruddy tuna that rested in his hands. "It's so fresh you can't even cut it for the first day," he said, laughing at this welcome problem. "Got to let that rigor mortis set in."

After fussing with the tuna the way a proud father shows off his son's baseball trophies, Gaston got to slicing it for a dish he calls "Chicken of the Sea," with a cheeky grin and a nod to Texas's own Jessica Simpson, who once memorably confused tuna for chicken. The tuna is formed into delicate curves before I know it, gliding in a long, elegant line across the plate. A drizzle of rich, golden olive oil is streamed onto the top. Pickled beech mushrooms are perched delicately among the ribbons of tuna. Gaston pulls a plastic tub of dehydrated brussels sprouts from his intricate mise en place and opens the top.

"Let me tell you about these little leaves," he says, plucking out a few for his dish. And another story begins.

katharine.shilcutt@houstonpress.com

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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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