Fast Times: Montrose H-E-B a la Carte Sushi Bar

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My grocery store of choice is H-E-B, and my go-to store since moving to Houston has been the Buffalo Speedway location -- a little out of the way, considering my Museum District home base, but makes sense when you factor in my Saturday-morning shopping trifecta: Urban Harvest Farmers' Market, H-E-B Buffalo Speedway, Spec's on Bissonnet. (I love downtown Spec's but Head Wine Genius Patrick at the Bissonnet location is a minor god, in my book.)

Anyway. I have been anxiously awaiting My Very Own H-E-B, and a few visits have convinced me that it is quite an excellent option. Like our own Katharine Shilcutt, I have a few reservations (they don't stock enough escarole, the booze isn't on sale yet), but the main attraction for me is the a la carte sushi bar that is snuggled in between the meat and produce sections.

In addition to the usual selection of pre-rolled and -wrapped trays of sushi, sashimi, dumplings and salads, the Montrose H-E-B offers shoppers the option of assembling their own trays from a huge case of individually wrapped hand rolls and sashimi. They're priced by the piece (average $1.50-$2 each), and you simply grab a tray (small or large), make your selections, hand it over for a chef to add pickled ginger and wasabi, total the price, and you're on your way out the door with a customized sushi lunchbox.

Don't forget to pay, of course.

Last week I was in a rush and threw pieces in willy-nilly: Grilled Eel, Octopus, a Tuna & Avocado Roll, and some Seared Pepper Tuna. I was held up a little at the counter by a store employee who enthusiastically extolled the virtues of the new a la carte sushi service -- a spiel I had already heard twice during previous visits. I understand that it's a new feature and they want patrons to know about it, but my polite attempts to extricate myself from the conversation by stating that I already had visited the counter did nothing to dissuade the employee from continuing on with the script. Hey, I've worked retail and sales, I get it, but I was anxious to be on my way; I hope the Explainer Guy is gone after the store has been open for awhile.

The good -- nay, great -- news is that I am in love with this particular feature of the Montrose H-E-B. You can stand there and watch the chefs prep the food, which is fun, and there is always something yummy to taste. The sushi was fresh and delicious, and the eel was a particularly sweet surprise; literally, sweet, with that nice ocean flavor that some people mistake as "fishy". The entire container came in under $10 and made for a light, very tasty lunch on-the-go.

This is a brilliant option whether you love sushi or are a newbie, as it allows you to focus on the things you like while avoiding those you don't, and to try something new without buying a whole tray. Kudos, H-E-B.

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