Azuma Group celebrated its tenth birthday on Thursday with Azumapalooza, a showcase of its five Houston sushi and Japanese fusion restaurants: Azuma Sushi & Robata Bar (two locations; downtown and on Kirby), Azuma on the Lake, Kata Robata Sushi and Grill and Soma Sushi, where the festivities were held.
In addition to turning ten, said Qunnin Hoang, director of special events for The Azuma Group, Azumapalooza was meant "to really let Houston know we are a family."
"It's a good opportunity to bring everybody together," she said, pointing to the lineup of restaurants that stood under a tent in Soma Sushi's parking lot.
Azumapalooza lasted about three hours, but it didn't need to. By the end of the first hour, there was a maximum-capacity crowd turning Soma's seemingly spacious lot into a cramped outside hallway. Foodies jostled back and forth, bumping elbows, making the sold-out event feel like an open-air marketplace -- and it was, with the executive chefs of each restaurant cooking up and handing out "their best version of Asian street food," according to Hoang, along with arts and crafts vendors selling wares nearby and the Moodafaruka's ever-changing music genres keeping the hungry crowd on pace as they wandered from booth to booth, grabbing their next bite.
Each restaurant's street eats included two appetizers and a signature cocktail. Azuma on the Lake's citrus tuna and pork belly sliders -- tasting a wee bit like those bits of orange chicken handed out at the food court -- won appetizer of the night. The ginger in Soma Sushi's Red Geisha cocktail, a mixture of Tito's Vodka, strawberry puree, lime juice, ginger cinnamon chile chipotle syrup and Topo Chico, was memorably potent, coating our mouths with a stinging aftertaste. The restaurant played more tiddlywinks with our tongues with its beef and chicken skewers dipped in a spicy sauce blend. Both Kata Robata and Azuma on Kirby gave out soba noodles with shrimp, while the downtown Azuma passed out whitefish meatballs on skewers.
Topping off the event was a "hottest sushi roll eating competition" in which 12 contestants vied for the chance to win a $100 gift card to any one of The Azuma Group's restaurants. Those who could finish the sushi roll won $50.
Though meant as a birthday celebration, Azumapalooza was so successful that Hoang thinks it will happen again next year.
"We're hopeful," she said.
We are, too. Happy birthday, Azuma Group, and may you have many more.