This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston® issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.
"What did that taste like?" I recall someone asking with awe when I showed them the photo above of Kata Robata's dish of Hawaiian amberjack sashimi and foie gras. At first glance, the two wouldn't seem to work well together at all. But that's what executive chef Manabu Horiuchi specializes in at his Japanese restaurant: creating exciting and inventive dishes that push the limits of what you'd expect to find in a sushi joint.
"It tasted glorious," was my quick response. And it really had: The glimmering slices of amberjack have a thick, meaty flavor to them -- much like that of swordfish -- that belies their delicate appearance, and therefore aren't overwhelmed by the glorious bloom of livery fat from the wiggly slices of foie gras. There's no soy sauce to be found here, as well it shouldn't be, since the umami from the foie acts as a far more interesting way to enhance and deepen the amberjack's flavor.
Despite this, the dish would be pretty standard were it not for Horiuchi's other accompaniments, each new flavor or texture added into the composition as if Hori-san were writing a piece of music: an oboe singing a single, lingering phrase over the main melody or a clarinet entering the movement with a sweet, plaintive voice. Discovering each new flavor as it blossomed on my palate reminded me of F. Murray Abraham's version of Salieri describing Mozart in the film Amadeus:
Through the dense fattiness of the foie gras and the brusque meatiness of the amberjack comes a zesty note of lime juice, but the citrus is immediately cut -- its acidity tempered -- by the deep, woodsy sweetness of Noble Tonic 05, an aged balsamic vinegar that's warmed up with vanilla and bourbon. The vinegar adds back in the acidity that it cut with an entirely different touch, an almost syrupy bite to it that rises and falls gently throughout the dish and acting on the foie gras almost as a Sauternes would.
A scatter of crushed hazelnuts add a welcome crunch to each bite, as well as the sort of chocolate-y hint found in well-composed moles. Edible flowers add nothing other than bright color to what would otherwise be a rather staid composition, but olive oil -- nearly invisible to the eye -- adds a final slick sweetness at the end of each bite. And at $16, it's not a cheap dish, but it's an affordable luxury -- especially when paired with a basin-sized serving of Kata Robata's excellent ramen (the best in Houston right now) for only $10.
It may not be the newest restaurant in town nor the hottest, but the astonishing depth of flavors and maturity in Hori-san's dishes (as well as pastry chef Chris Leung's equally inventive and thoughtful desserts) still make Kata Robata one of the best restaurants in the entire city -- and Hori-san himself one of our greatest treasures.
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The list so far:
No. 100: Chili cheese mac at Jus' Mac No. 99: Texas turkey sandwich at Spec's No. 98: Custard at Petite Sweets No. 97: Caprichos mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito No. 96: Pineapple-wasabi burger at Lankford Grocery No. 95: Farmer's MKT Pizza at Phoenicia's MKT Bar No. 94: Potatoes at Money Cat Brunch No. 93: Breakfast tacos at Sunrise Taquito No. 92: Hot dog at Tacos D.F. No. 91: Avocado gelato at Frozen Cafe No. 90: Chicken sandwich at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers No. 89: Beer-battered asparagus at Hearsay No. 88: Honey Badger omelet at Kraftsmen Cafe No. 87: Pastelitos de carne at El Jalapeño No. 86: Pancakes at Union Kitchen No. 85: Wild boar and crab pizza at Boheme No. 84: Breakfast croissant at BB Donuts No. 83: Pretzel at Anvil Bar & Refuge No. 82: Short rib sandwich at Shepherd Park Draught House No. 81: Grilled shrimp po-boy at Pappadeaux No. 80: Dahi puri at Shiv Sagar No. 79: Aporreado at Los Corrales No. 78: Oxtail francobolli at Aldo's Cucina Italiana No. 77: Tonkotsu at Cafe Kubo's No. 76: Spinach danish from Angela's Oven No. 75: Pupusas at El Petate No. 74: Pheasant dog at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 73: X-Tudo burger at Friends Pizzeria No. 72: Esparragos gratinados at Tintos No. 71: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen No. 70: Geisha dog at Happy Endings No. 69: Oyster po-boy and gumbo at Goode Co. Seafood No. 68: Ceviche at Sirena Seafood No. 67: Caldo de mariscos at Taqueria Arandas No. 66: Banana pudding at Pizzitola's No. 65: Fried catfish and gumbo at Cafe-A-La No. 64: Soft-shell crabs at Banana Leaf No. 63: Macaroni and cheese at Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse No. 62: Torta burger at El Gran Malo No. 61: Black bean burger at Ziggy's No. 60: Parillada at Pampa Grill No. 59: Peanut butter and jalapeño jelly burger at Wicked Whisk No. 58: Eggplant involtini at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 57: Lone Star dog at James Coney Island No. 56: Sushi at Sushi Miyagi No. 55: Palestinian chicken at Al Aseel No. 54: Roast beef sandwich at Local Foods No. 53: Mexico City plate at Molina's Cantina No. 52: Tacos at Brothers Taco House No. 51: Branzino at Lucio's BYOB No. 50: Beef sweetbreads at Feast No. 49: Golden Doomba Special at the Rice Box Truck No. 48: Malted waffle at City Cafe No. 47: Banh mi bo kho at Cafe TH No. 46: Chicken fried steak at Triple A No. 45: Larissa plate at Harry's No. 44: Spaghetti carbonara at Coppa Ristorante Italiano No. 43: Wings and grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 42: Frito pie at C&D Burger Shoppe No. 41: Pollo con mole at El Gallo de Jalisco No. 40: Fried avocado taco at H-Town StrEATs No. 39: Rigatoni in bolognese sauce at Paulie's No. 38: Chorizo kolaches at Peña's Donut Heaven No. 37: Sashimi at Dadami No. 36: Half-pound burger at benjy's No. 35: Fried chicken at Haven No. 34: Whole-fried speckled trout at Liberty Kitchen No. 33: Moules congolaise at Jeannine's Bistro No. 32: Pancakes at Fountain View Cafe No. 31: Pineapple with chile en polvo at Canino's No. 30: Fried chicken at Barbecue Inn No. 29: Dirty Burque at Green Seed Vegan No. 28: Egusi at Finger Licking Bukateria No. 27: Brisket and turkey at CorkScrew BBQ No. 26: Menudo at La Mexicana No. 25: Shrimp and grits at Shade No. 24: Kinilaw at Reef No. 23: Lamb at El Hidalguense No. 22: Gumbo at Danton's No. 21: Chicken-fried water buffalo at The Hay Merchant No. 20: Roasted cauliflower at Roost No. 19: Truffled egg toast at Dolce Vita No. 18: 63-degree egg at Brasserie 19 No. 17: Drunken foie gras at Philippe No. 16: Beet salad at Triniti No. 15: Yogi thali at Pondicheri No. 14: Bialy and lox at The Hot Bagel Shop No. 13: Ribs at Gatlin's No. 12: Venison carpaccio at Thanh Phuong No. 11: Camarones henesy en hamaca at Arturo Boada Cuisine No. 10: Prosciutto and arugula pizza at Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana No. 9: Crawfish at The Hideaway on Dunvale No. 8: Pho at Pho Binh No. 7: Ceviche at La Fisheria No. 6: Ma po tofu at Mala Sichuan No. 5: Machi cure at Uchi No. 4: Tuna and bottarga at Tony's No. 3: Roast summer squash at Oxheart