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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 9, Uni Chawanmushi at Kata Robata

The Uni Chawanmushi at Kata Robata won an award in 2011.
The Uni Chawanmushi at Kata Robata won an award in 2011.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg

This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

Plain chawanmushi has five ingredients: soy sauce, mirin, dashi, eggs and salt. It's an incredibly simple dish conceptually, but quite complex to execute. Once the elements are combined, the mixture must be strained through a cheesecloth or very fine sieve to remove any possible impurities. There should be just enough egg that the ingredients will congeal. Miss the mark by a hair -- a few too many flakes of dashi, an extra drop of soy sauce -- and the custard will break.

The light, quivering chawanmushi at Kata Robata is served steaming hot, literally. It's made to order, so it takes about 20 minutes from the time you request it until it's placed before you in a small ceramic pot, still emanating heat from a bath in the steamer. It's a breathtaking moment when the lid comes off, revealing the bright orange uni and tremulous bed of custard beneath it.

See that smooth surface? This chawanmushi has the perfect texture.
See that smooth surface? This chawanmushi has the perfect texture.

Digging in gently, you'll discover additions to this chawanmushi that elevate it beyond a traditional egg custard to a dish indicative of the talent of Kata Robata's chef, Manabu Horiuchi. Beneath the top layer of uni, custard and strips of shiitake mushrooms lie shrimp, chicken thigh meat and distinctive bright yellow ginkgo nuts. In spite of the fact that the uni is merely resting on top, the briny, slightly sweet ocean sensibility of the sea urchin invades the entire dish.

The silky, airy custard takes on the flavor of the uni, while underneath it the bits of shrimp and chicken swim in a light broth, adding a different textural element to an otherwise smooth dish. And then, every now and then, a pop of soft ginkgo nut the consistency of a lightly boiled potato.

It's the combination of textures -- silky, glutinous, chewy, soft -- and flavors -- briny, gamey, umami -- that makes this seemingly simple, classic dish so unique. Chef Hori even won an award from Star Chefs for the dish, which was featured on the website in 2011.

And why wouldn't it be? A clean, quiet dish hiding unique layers of flavor beneath possibly the most perfect texture food can have...sounds like a star to me.

See the full list of favorites on the next page.

 

The list so far: No. 10: Seafood Gumbo at Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen No. 11: Grilled Fish Masala at Himalaya Restaurant No. 12: Curry Noodle Soup at Mamak Malaysian Restaurant No. 13: Foie Gras au Torchon at Étoile Cuisine et Bar No. 14: Caramelized Pork Spare Ribs at Cafe TH No. 15: Kobe Beef at Nara No. 16: Okra With Crème Fraîche at Oxheart No. 17: Alba White Truffle Soufflé at Tony's No. 18: Phat Ass Ham Hock at Goro & Gun No. 19: Dahi Puri at Shri Balaji Bhavan No. 20: Fried Catfish and Cajun Crawfish at The Cajun Stop No. 21: Foie Gras Crème Caramel at Just Dinner No. 22: Roasted Pear Salad at Backstreet Cafe No. 23: Fluffernutters at Fluff Bake Bar No. 24: Som Tam at Vieng Thai No. 25: Chips and Queso at Fusion Taco No. 26: Spicy Miso Ramen at Soma Sushi No. 27: Kim Cheese Fries at Coreanos No. 28: Fried Cauliflower at Roost No. 29: Caesar Wedge Salad at Provisions No. 30: Ice Cream in a Waffle Cone at Fat Cat Creamery No. 31: Cochito con Mole Xico at Hugo's No. 32: Carnitas at Molina's Cantina No. 33: Taleggio Pizza at Dolce Vita No. 34: Chiles de Padron Asados at Caracol No. 35: Morning Thali at Pondicheri No. 36: Fried Mini Fish at House of Bowls No. 37: Trompo Tacos at Taqueria La Macro No. 38: Spicy Tamale Plate at La Mexicana No. 39: Mum's Chicken Curry At The Queen Vic Pub No. 40: Canestri alla Funghi at Paulie's No. 41: Biscuit with Marmalade and Crème Fraîche at Blacksmith No. 42: Fried Oyster Po'Boy at Goode Company Seafood No. 43: Roasted Duck Red Curry at Morningside Thai No. 44: BBQ Pulled Wild Boar Sandwich at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 45: Guanciale Burger at Plonk No. 46: Parma 600 Pizza at Pizzeria Solario No. 47: CFC Deviled Eggs at Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar No. 48: The El Real Burger at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe No. 49: Custard Sandwich at Petite Sweets No. 50: Black Pepper Beer Lobster at Hai Cang Seafood Restaurant No. 51: Red Dragon Roll at Michiru Sushi No. 52: Fried Bananas Foster at Custom Confections No. 53: Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho No. 54: Kimchi Koagie at Koagie Hots No. 55: The Juicy Lucy Burger at Lowbrow No. 56: Eggplant Fries at Batanga No. 57: Macarons at Ganache Dessert Bar No. 58: Grilled Cheese at The Golden Grill No. 59: Baklava French Toast at Harry's Restaurant & Cafe No. 60: Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro's No. 61: Old Fashioned Frito Pie at Armadillo Palace No. 62: Korean Spiced Brisket Plate at Revival Market No. 63: Bánh Mì at Les Givral's Sandwich and Cafe No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme

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