KUU is a Japanese restaurant that marries tradition and technique with modern twists. The high-aiming newcomer, to my mind, at least, falls into the category of Houston restaurants that includes Kata Robata, Uchi and MF Sushi. Now that we know about the chef's experience, this comes as no surprise. We discovered in Part 1 of our interview, chef Adison Lee is a protégé of Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa, of the renowned, worldwide Nobu restaurant chain.
In Part 2, we learn more about KUU and find out three dishes that the chef recommends for first-time guests. They're not cheap, but they most certainly are representations of the best that KUU has to offer.
EOW: How do you differentiate yourself from places like Kata Robata and Uchi?
AL: I try to not compete with anyone and come up with my own concepts. I make a lot of traditional recipes but I do modern plating styles. If you come to KUU, you'll have some fish here that you won't find somewhere else.
EOW: So, you have traditional Japanese technique with a focus on seasonal ingredients, but modernized take on it. Tell me about your waygu and unagi dish.
AL: I have a story about this dish. I tried to create it a few years ago. I kept making it and making it and it didn't come out right. I think it's hard to combine the tomato and the beef. One day before we opened KUU, I got some very fresh tomatoes from a farmer. I roasted them, combined them with kimchi sauce, yuzu and miso. I thought it was a special and I loved it. During the grand opening party for [the Gateway Memorial City shopping center], I had many people try it and everyone loved it. I put it on the menu and everyone loves this dish. You won't find this flavor combination anywhere else. It's Japanese and Korean mixed together.
EOW: How do the Korean influences appear in the menu?
AL: I mix kimchi puree with fresh fruit, like strawberries or peach.
EOW: What made you decide on this location in Gateway Memorial City?
AL: There aren't many Japanese restaurants in this area. The people in Memorial City are a perfect match for this concept.
EOW: I met your sommelier, Ricky, earlier. Did you work together before?
AL: Yes, we worked together a long time ago. I think he's a perfect match because he works with the customers and I work in the kitchen and behind the sushi bar. He can provide the hospitality and bring the customer into my dish. We team up. EOW: Sometimes people don't think about wine in context of Japanese food. Do you have a big wine list?
AL: Yes, we do!
EOW: What are some of your favorite things about KUU?
AL: I spent a lot of time working with my interior designer. We went to many places to source materials. We went to China and other places looking for natural wood. Our dining tables took a long time to make. We kept sending furniture back. Sometimes they'd made a table and it wasn't level or warped. Finally, we got furniture that was good.
EOW: The fish made of lights in the hallway is really cool.
AL: We spent a long time on that. When you draw a fish on paper, it's easy, but when you make it out of six or eight metal pieces, it's difficult. EOW: The light pattern makes it look like it's swimming.
AL: The lights are computer-controlled.
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EOW: What else do you want people to know?
AL: We've been open for six months but since we're in the back of the complex, I think many people haven't discovered it yet. Since this is a new complex, it's taking time to get traffic.
Also, we have omakase. We can make a custom menu for customers. If someone hasn't had a Japanese restaurant experience before, we can make a menu for them that is less raw food and more hot food. It's not just sushi and sashimi.
EOW: Let's say someone comes in and says, "I want to do the deal! I want chef's omakase and really experience KUU." How many courses is that?
AL: It depends on how many people.
EOW: Let's say two, because that's how it usually is for me.
AL: In that case, it would be $100 per person and seven courses, plus dessert!
We also have a happy hour! It's from 4:30 to 6:30 pm, Monday through Friday. There's a happy hour menu with off-the-menu dishes and cocktail specials. Dishes range from $4 to $7.
EOW: If you could go anywhere you wanted to eat tomorrow, where would you go?
AL: I'd go to Noma in Denmark!
EOW: What does your family think of you being a chef?
AL: When I was young, I never cooked. I never even washed a dish! My mom was surprised when I got into cooking.
EOW: It's after work and you're done with your shift. It's been a great day. What do you drink?
AL: French, old vintage wine.
EOW: What do you do when you're not working? Do you have any hobbies?
AL: I have a boy and a girl at home. I haven't done anything for fun for a long time. Since we started KUU, I don't even have a day off right now. I work seven days a week.
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EOW: How many hours a week do you work?
AL: More than 60. When we're done [with service] I still have a lot of paperwork to do.
EOW: Do you have any advice for people who want to open their own restaurants?
AL: The best cuisine comes from your passion. If you put your passion into every dish you make, it will come out good.