A common misconception about Peska Seafood Culture, the new seafood restaurant located in the BLVD place next to True Food Kitchen, is that it's a Mexican seafood restaurant much like Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught's Caracol. The confusion arises mainly because the owners, Maite Ysita and her brother Diego Ysita, are from Mexico, where they own and operate two successful seafood restaurants, La Trainera, in Mexico City and Acapulco.
Perhaps that's why they decided to name their first Houston restaurant Peska Seafood Culture, a name which in itself tells the story about the food that they serve. "At Peska Seafood Culture, our concept is a seafood market. So we carry seafood from all around the world, and we try to make preparations related with where we get our product from," says Omar Pereney, the 20-year-old chef wunderkind and executive chef of the restaurant.
Though he is young, Pereney's career in the culinary world is akin to that of someone close to twice his age. Born in Venezuela, he started cooking in a fine-dining kitchen at age 12. He's been all over Latin America — was even given his own Spanish-language cooking show on The Gourmet, a Latin American cooking channel.
At Peska, he deftly breaks down a huge mahi-mahi in minutes, slicing up chunks and using his culinary wizardry to create a mahi-mahi and octopus ceviche — seasoned with an aji amarillo (yellow pepper) leche de tigre (tiger's milk) — that is easily one of the best versions you'll find around town.
Fresh, glistening red ahi tuna is diced up into chunks to make one of the standout dishes on the menu, a Hawaiian-style poke topped with thin strips of nori seaweed and served in a fragrant, lightened sweetened soy-sauce base for a bit of Asian flair.
Tiraditos, thinly sliced fish preparations originating in Peru, are made with cucumber and red onion, and finished, just before serving, with fresh lime and yuzu. Though purists would argue that a traditional Peruvian tiradito cannot have red onions, it works here. Asked specifically about it, Pereney is pragmatic. Having traveled as much as he has, he likens tiraditos to ceviches, which are found throughout Latin America and widely interpreted.
In addition to Peska's raw bar, which will feature items such as live uni (sea urchin), scallop, shrimp and oysters, Pereney uses other preparations such as frying, pan-searing, grilling, wood-roasting, poaching and baking.
A whole deep-fried strawberry grouper is not only striking to look at but unforgettable, dusted lightly with corn starch, fried until the skin is super-crisp, and then served with a smear of brick-red, complex-tasting adobo and grilled vegetables.
There is also a floor chef, whom they've dubbed a "seafood sommelier," on hand to help guide guests when they choose something fresh from the fresh fish case. Of the hot kitchen items we sampled, the lobster bisque topped with whipped truffle foam was notable, as was the salt-baked branzino, known as "pesce alla sale," which has a lot of wow factor. The fish is wheeled to the table on a cart, and the salt crust is broken down table-side.
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On the decor front, Peska is also a design showcase. Overseen by Houston-based design company Gensler, a pale palette of silvers, grays, cream and pale peach were chosen to "capture the essence of water, as well as the sunset, with an array of whites and corals," says a press release. The space is light and airy, with an attractive bar that opens to a well-appointed patio, creating a seamless indoor-outdoor environment.
Perhaps most striking about the decor is the metal sculpture designed by Houston-based Alberto Bonomi, which is suspended from the ceiling. Shiny metal pieces meant to mimic fish scales are hung in a curved, clustered array, like a fish school swimming in the water.
Peska is one of the most unique and exciting restaurants to open in Houston in recent years. The concept, which Pereney likens to Greek seafood restaurant Estiatorio Milos, (which has multiple locations in the United States), is a lot like Houston's Mambo Seafood or Connie's Seafood, but much broader in scope. Where Mambo and Connie's are all about Mexican food and the idea of "You buy, we fry," Peska's chefs can prepare food however you like, and prepare it with a level of skill that makes you feel you're dining in the locale where the seafood originated, and that's something pretty special.