Onaga Opens Quietly -- Let's Hope It Stays That Way

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I'll admit it I bought into what you could call the "club sushi" environment of Zake Sushi Lounge. A few birthdays, one going away party and many a nights out started there -- the food was pretty good in the beginning, although it was never really about that, it was about beginning the night listening to house music, throwing back shots of sake and imbibing overly sweet lychee martinis before hitting Crome -- which thankfully has transformed into Triniti -- leaving behind the douchebaggery that once was.

Whether you buy into Yelp or not, Zake's reviews in the later years were a clear indication that they weren't going to be around much longer. It had become even less about the food and somehow actually became a club complete with DJs, Saturday night cover charges and rowdy fights.

Eight years later and Zake has quietly become Onaga Pan Asian Bistro.

The interior hasn't changed at all and neither has the reputation yet as on both my visits, for happy hour and for dinner there were only about four tables filled. The service is still slow, albeit friendly.

From the happy hour menu I had the Black Easten Wings ($4), what makes them black eastern you ask -- I didn't know and neither did the server as he described them as wings with brown sauce. Four baked wings came to the table with a plum sauce streak. The wings were fairly tasty -- not exactly crispy but the skin had a bit of char and the plum sauce added sweetness. At $1 a wing I wouldn't order them again.

The surprise from the happy hour menu was the Chicken Fire-Pot Udon ($7--current HH menu online does not list). Don't ask why my dining companion and I were craving udon but I'm glad we were. The udon was actually in a spicy thai broth, with chicken, asparagus, broccoli, red onions and slivers of fresh jalapeno. It was not at all traditional and don't think you could even call it udon -- aside from the thick noodles-- but it was good -- we split the big bowl and slurped up every last bite. The lemongrass and kaffir lime flavors really came through.

The boneless short rib appetizer from the regular dinner menu was also another enjoyable dish. The short rib was tender and worked well with the tangerine and miso glaze. The other appetizers from the regular menu sound intriguing as well -- items such as the sweet and spicy Szechuan fries with cilantro and ginger, pan seared scallop with a carrot ginger puree and mango salsa and wakame seaweed, scallions with octopus and miso sauce might bring me back.

As for sushi, it's on par with other casual sushi restaurants, It won't knock your socks off but the peppered tuna, and salmon we had looked and tasted fresh.The sushi game has changed quite a bit in Houston -- Kata Robata and Uchi have upped the bar, so Onaga calling itself a Pan Asian Bistro and taking the focus off of just sushi was probably a wise move but will it be able to overcome the legacy that Zake left behind and have it be about the food? I'm not so sure.

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