100 Favorite Dishes 2013: No. 51, Red Dragon Roll at Michiru Sushi

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. It's a list to drool over.

The majority of Michiru's crazy, designer sushi rolls are just OK. In general, I prefer traditional rolls or sashimi or nigiri to rolls filled with cream cheese, filet mignon or mango pico de gallo. That said, Michiru serves some stunning appetizers and at least one roll that I can't get enough of: The Red Dragon Roll.

As you can see by the photo, it's gimmicky. It's a sushi roll arranged to look like a dragon's writhing body with some creatively cut fruit and veggies forming a dragon head at one end. Yes, it's cute, and no, I'm not ashamed that it's whimsy is part of the reason I like it.

But I also think it's the best roll on the menu and one of the most well-balanced and delicious rolls in Houston.

The Red Dragon is on Michiru's list of "Signature Rolls," which are more creative than the average California, Philadelphia or Spicy Salmon rolls. It's accompanied by the Michiru Roll (a disappointing creation wrapped in soy paper), the Pacific Roll (lobster and crab meat salad) and the Waikiki Roll (salmon and sweet mango glaze), but the Red Dragon is arguably the star of Michiru's sushi lineup.

Plenty of restaurants rely on expensive gimmicks to draw in crowds (Rainforest Café, anyone?). Still others are able to devise ingenious uses for tired ingredients, breathing new life into seafood or vegetables, as the chefs do at Oxheart, Uchi and Cove. But it's not often that you can find quality and innovation that won't break the bank, and that's the specialty at Michiru.

I've been told that the chef who opened Michiru and invented the Red Dragon Roll is no longer at the restaurant, but whoever has taken over appears to have maintained the integrity of the dish, which is arranged with carefully sliced lemon and radish garnishes to resemble a traditional Chinese dragon (the lemon being the head and the roll the twisting body). The inside of the roll contains spicy tuna and that ubiquitous crunch, which I'm pretty sure is just tempura crumbs. The outside is draped in thin avocado slices, spicy peppered tuna, a generous sprinkling of more crunch and a smattering of scarlet-red tobiko (flying fish roe).

Of all the rolls I tried at Michiru, this one was both the most adorable (it's a freaking dragon!) and the most balanced and interesting, and I found myself surprised and enchanted by the crunch of the tempura, the peppery spice of the tuna, the pop of the salty tobiko and the smooth finish of the ripe green avocado. I'm not only impressed by the produce art that accompanies the roll, but also by the play of flavors and textures that are just as fun as that cute little dragon head.

The list so far: 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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