I have to wonder if, when Dallas-based Blue Fish set its sights on Houston, they realized that there was already two restaurants here with the same name. Not just any restaurants, but fellow sushi restaurants -- and fairly popular ones at that. Confusion is bound to play out for the rest of these restaurants' lifespans for as long as they continue to co-exist in Houston, moreso when a fourth Blue Fish opens in a few months on Washington Avenue, next door to benjy's.
No matter, as the restaurants are named what they are, and I don't see that changing. Especially considering that the new-to-Houston Blue Fish is one of Dallas's most popular restaurants.
I met a friend of mine, Shinobu, at the brand-new Blue Fish in Bayou Place on Monday afternoon. Shinobu, a sushi chef for more than 20 years, was excited that the sushi restaurant was coming to town -- she used to work up in Dallas at Royal Tokyo. And while I, initially, was not as eager to welcome a Dallas import to town, her enthusiasm for the place was infectious. She knows what she's talking about, after all.
The sleek new restaurant hasn't yet had its soft opening, although the doors are tentatively open to the public this week. Inside, it's all shades of cobalt, sapphire and Persian blue, with high ceilings and a tile mural featuring the faint shapes of sea life, as if they were off in the distance. "It feels like we're underwater," Shinobu said. It's a crisply cool feeling that will be particularly attractive in the summer months.
Behind the long sushi bar at Blue Fish stood an old friend of Shinobu's, Korean chef Lin Xu, a veteran of the sushi business who had semi-retired to open his own boat-cleaning business in Dallas. Owners Julie and Alex Lee asked him to come to Houston to open the two new outposts of Blue Fish here. He won't be here forever, just long enough to get the two restaurants up and running.
But for now, he sliced pieces of fresh snapper from Japan and salmon from Scotland as he chatted with Shinobu about fish prices, the intricacies of sushi rice and life back in Dallas. I watched as he formed perfect little quenelles of vinegared rice with his hands, pressed a slice of tuna on top and then plated each piece.
The sushi rice was pillowy and soft and melted in my mouth. Ponzu went onto a couple of pieces of albacore. I dipped my fingers into the citrusy sauce when the nigiri was gone and remarked on how good it was. It turns out that Blue Fish makes it themselves in-house.
At one point, Xu began constructing one of Blue Fish's famous ahi towers, an often imitated dish that's popular across the DFW metroplex, but which originated in their kitchens. Once constructed, the tower is meant to come crashing down in a grand affair of destruction that's wrought tableside, avocado and tuna and snow crab and three different kinds of roe all smashed together in a mess of lovely, fresh fish. (There's plenty of creamy wasabi sauce, too, for our Western palates to enjoy.)
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After the tower was cleared away, Xu cleaned our palates with a single piece of tai (snapper) nigirizushi each. The buttery fish and the vinegared rice both spread out unctuously in my mouth. It was shamelessly decadent. Why even get dessert?
Although I imagine the quality of the fish will remain intact, it will be a shame when Xu leaves, because it's clear that he knows his stuff. One can only hope he passes on this same emphasis on excellence to the kitchen staff before he goes back to running a boat hull-cleaning business up north.
As we were leaving, I saw Samba Grille owner Nathan Ketchum and his wife just sitting down to dinner. It warmed me to see the neighborly show of affection for the new tenant at Bayou Place, which joins the newer Samba Grille and the older Mingalone. With positive attitudes and stunning food like this coming in to Bayou Place, I think there's life in the old girl yet.