Jason Liao has had a whirlwind couple of years. The young sushi chef, who made a name for himself at Nanami in Austin, moved back to Houston (where he grew up) with big dreams. In May 2014, he opened his first restaurant, the highly praised Preview Modern Seafood in Sugar Land.
Though Preview showed much promise, landing at number 17 on our 25 Best New Restaurants list for 2014, the restaurant’s nondescript strip mall location — in Sugar Land almost at the edge of Missouri City — made it tough to attract clientele, especially the kind that would buy into Liao's modern seafood dishes, which were better suited to an inner Loop crowd.
Ten months after it opened, Preview Modern Seafood closed its doors, and Liao announced that he had a new project in the works: Tides. He had his sights on a new location right in the heart of Midtown, and had plans to take over an existing restaurant. Everything seemed to be going well until negotiations hit a snag, pushing back the restaurant project indefinitely.
Without his own kitchen to call home, Liao took a temporary gig a a sushi chef at Haiku in Austin. Then, yesterday evening, via Facebook, he made an unexpected announcement: “H-Town: While we wait on this next project to happen, I will be slangin' sushi at Aka Sushi House five days a week starting tomorrow. I guess it's my first time doing sushi in Houston. Come show some love.”
In a phone interview, Liao says that the Aka Sushi position came about unexpectedly. “Edwin Hui, who had signed on to be the bar manager at Tides, has personal ties to Aka Sushi. He told me about the position,” says Liao about how the gig came about.
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Aka Sushi, located on West Alabama in Upper Kirby, is a popular spot for sushi inside the loop. Partly owned by Mike Tran (of Tiger Den and Mein Chinese Restaurant), Aka is known for its happy hour and reverse happy hour scene. The restaurant offers happy hour specials from 3 p.m. to 7p.m. and 9 p.m. to close Monday through Friday, as well as Saturday and Sunday all day. There is almost always a wait in front of the restaurant.
What will Liao’s new role entail? “Right now, there’s a head sushi chef, and I will working under him. But hopefully, eventually, when I get settled in, I might be able to do some creative stuff,” says Liao. As for Tides in Midtown, “We’re still trying to negotiate the space,” he says, projecting sometime in early 2016.
“In the meantime, come see me at the Aka Sushi bar.”