Chef Adison Lee: Not New to Nobu, But New to Raku

Chef Adison Lee is passionate about fish.

That should really come with the territory when you're helming one of Houston's most upscale sushi restaurants, but Lee seems singularly inspired. Visiting our table at last night's media tasting for the brand new chef's menu additions and changes, Lee waxed rhapsodic about fish.

He doesn't get much that's local; salmon comes to him via overnight delivery from Norway and Scotland. Tuna comes from far away places, as well. And he won't even consider buying escolar. Not one to adhere to Japanese regulations against eating escolar, he simply won't bother with it because "it's frozen; you can't get it fresh." He paused. "It's so greasy, too," he said, with a look of distaste.

Lee recently took the executive chef post at Sushi Raku (3201 Louisiana) after family matters meant that young Taka Sekiyuchi (click here to listen to an interview) had to return to Japan. Sekiyuchi was a hard act to follow, but Raku appears to have outdone themselves in appointing Lee. An alum of high-profile restaurants in London, Tokyo and New York City, Lee already seems at ease in the significantly less choppy waters of Houston.

Lee didn't necessarily come to the United States from Japan to become a sushi chef, but it seems he was born to it. After working in restaurant kitchens as a teenager, Lee landed in San Francisco to attend college. But before he knew it, college had been abandoned for life back in those same fast-paced kitchens -- this time in New York. By 1997, he had worked his way up the ladder at Nobu, arguably one of the best sushi restaurants in the entire world, run by famous chef Nobu Matsuhisa.

He did so well there, in fact, that he was asked to move to London to open the U.K. version of Nobu across the pond and act as its head chef. Lee helmed the restaurant there for a few years before returning to his old stomping grounds: the United States.

Sushi fans may already know him from his work here in Houston at Kaneyama, Sushi King and Sage 400, but at Raku, Lee has been given a chance to truly shine and create the same level of food that you'd find at Nobu, without having to grab a Continental flight to Newark.

In his time so far at Sushi Raku, Lee has added nearly a dozen new items to the menu. In a six-course tasting last night, there wasn't one that didn't work, not a single component that seemed out of place or didn't contribute to the greater whole. Ingredients are used sparingly and wisely yet creatively; the fish always shines through as the star in the end. And with the kind of commitment that Lee has to obtaining the freshest fish, it would be a travesty if it wasn't allowed to be the centerpiece in each dish.

Even something as simple as a trio of yellowtail tuna was a fascinating experiment in textures: one carpaccio-style, one seared and one served simply raw with a sliver of jalapeno on top of a inkblot of yuzu sauce. Perhaps the flake of edible gold on the seared yellowtail was overkill, but I found myself smiling at it regardless. There's something about the sensual nature of sushi that almost encourages such indulgences at times.

Overindulgers will be thrilled with dishes like East vs. West, Lee's personal favorite. Surf and turf taken to a Caligulan sort of excess, the plate features a pile of thinly sliced Kobe beef cooked to a ruby rare alongside plump Alaskan king crab legs with a Hokkaido scallop perched daintily on top. In keeping with the theme, the dish was paired with a throaty Malbec; Raku offers wine as well as sake in its well-curated list.

Dessert surprised the entire table. Lee's very own creation proved that despite my misgivings, a savory sushi chef could create a mystifyingly good dessert. Those who prefer not to end their meal on an overly sweet note would do well to sample Lee's black sesame crème brûlée, a light, just-creamy-enough dessert with an inspired combination of nutty and salty flavors with a touch of sweetness.

Rather have something sweet? Just go with the raspberry-flavored sake as a nightcap; trust me on this. Whatever your choice, putting yourself in the capable hands of Chef Lee for an evening is a no-brainer. Houston's other sushi restaurants are about to have to step up their game.

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