Not Eating Sushi at Soma Sushi

Chef Jason Hauck would kindly like for you to disabuse yourself of the notion that Soma Sushi only serves sushi. Sure, it's a sushi restaurant. Sure, the word "sushi" is in its name. But as we discovered at a chef's tasting dinner on Tuesday night, there's much more than raw fish coming out of the kitchen.

When the restaurant first opened three years ago, Soma's kitchen was manned by none other than the infamous Robert Gadsby. Under his stewardship, it manifested an impressive display of French-Japanese fusion dishes that were inspired in their ideas, but not always in their execution. And although the elegant, airy and seductive interior remains the same at Soma, the Gadsby days are long over now -- something that Hauck and his staff are eager to impress upon their guests. The kitchen still turns out dishes that aren't quite sushi bar and aren't quite the deconstructed cuisine of Chicago's Alinea (as they were quick to point out), but somehow manage to work.

Over ten courses along with ten sake pairings (of which we didn't partake) on Tuesday night, it became clear that although Chef Hauck isn't running a traditional Japanese restaurant, the man knows what he's doing. On any given night, diners can walk in and request the chef's tasting menu -- which is roughly what we had -- and Hauck will tailor-fit a meal for that table, whether they want to binge on the finest o-toro or indulge in the more modern and more Western side of Hauck's repetoire. That side includes luscious adornments of Hudson Valley foie gras and strikingly American ingredients, like the Pappy Van Winkle's bourbon ice cream.

But diners who aren't out to splurge on a tasting menu can also order certain items that we tasted straight off the menu, like the butternut squash-ginger bisque, which was perfectly restrained in its roasted, autumnal sweetness, or a trio of sushi so fresh that only a scant dusting of pure wasabi root is all that's required -- no soy sauce needed.

Below is a recap of some of the many courses we sampled on Tuesday night (this was not a media tasting; this was a pay-your-own-way tasting). As strange as it sounds, we enjoyed the non-Japanese dishes every bit as much as the voluptuous, boundlessly flavorful sushi. That said, we're getting an all-sushi plate the next time we're at Soma -- which will be sooner rather than later.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Katharine Shilcutt