Specialty Rolls and Customer Service Make The Blue Fish a Solid Washington Ave. Destination

See more photos of The Blue Fish in our slideshow.

Despite the popularity of sushi, many of us still cringe at the idea of eating raw fish. I remember the first time I tried it, during my early twenties. No amount of coaxing, reassurance or gentle prodding could get me to taste it until my colleague, who'd been eating sushi for years, turned on some intense peer pressure.

When I finally took my first bite -- a deliciously plump, exceedingly fresh yellowtail (hamachi) belly sashimi -- I tasted something unlike anything I'd ever tried before. The flesh was firm, not slimy. The taste was almost sweet, with not even the slightest hint of "fishiness." I've been hooked ever since.

The thing about sushi is, once you've had the good stuff, you really can't go back. Even if you haven't had the really high-end, blow-your-mind sushi that I've experienced on occasion, though, you should still be able to tell if it's good or bad.

Enter The Blue Fish on Washington, the subject of this week's cafe review (I filled in for Katharine Shilcutt), which started successfully in Dallas with four locations before expanding to Houston. I'd tried its sister restaurant in The Bayou Place and liked it enough to visit the Washington location with expectations of good sushi.

On the first occasion, I went with a friend who was new enough to the sushi game that she didn't realize, even after eating it, whether it was supposed to taste the way it did. After her first bite of each of our raw fish dishes -- especially the not-so-good ones -- she'd look at me and ask, "What do you think?"

Her instincts were right on in each instance. I didn't need to be a sushi expert to agree with her that some of the sushi and sashimi we had wasn't as good as it should be. Our almaco jack (kampachi) sushi had this almost slick, powdery mouthfeel, and a kind of fishy taste to it. Likewise, my beloved hamachi belly sashimi did not taste like the sweet, delicate fish that I'd come to know and love.

On another occasion, the sea urchin (uni) was heaped on in a large pile, but didn't look or taste as good as it should. With high-quality uni, the pieces look like a yellow tongue, with a slight split down the middle and a noticeably pebbled texture. This uni looked like a gelatinous blob of yellow, with no visible texture I could see, and on the taste had a slight fishiness to it as well.

The Blue Fish also offers appetizers, but on the whole, the highlight was the rolls. Over my three visits, I ordered three different specialty rolls, and enjoyed them all. The Rainforest roll was crunchy and sweet, very easy to eat and share. The SoBe roll was beautiful to look at and tasted just as beautiful, and the Volcano roll was rich with a very generous portion of baked scallop in cream sauce poured over California rolls. All three would make great plates to share among friends.

Another highlight was the service. I liked that the servers knew enough about the dishes to make recommendations, and it's thanks to them that I ordered the rolls that I did. When the manager noticed that we didn't eat the sashimi, he quickly took action to remove it from our bill, offering each of us a $10 gift card to return.

I wish that other restaurants had policies as clear-cut as The Blue Fish's when it comes to customer satisfaction. So often, you'll ask a server what they recommend, and they can't answer because they haven't tried the dishes. And then there are the servers who get that deer-in-the-headlights look if you tell them that something's wrong (oversalted, overcooked, etc.), servers who ignore an obviously uneaten dish or fail to communicate to the manager when the customer expresses dissatisfaction. At The Blue Fish, they had managers regularly walking the floor, asking customers if everything was all right, if there was anything they could do.

In the end, while there were definitely dishes that could have been better, what I remember the most is The Blue Fish's willingness to make things right. That alone makes this place a good stop before a night of Washington Avenue antics or for a post-event bite to eat (it's open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays). In fact, after my friend and I stopped by late one Saturday evening, she didn't rave about the four-hour opera we'd just seen at the Wortham. As we said our goodbyes, she told me, "Our meal was the highlight of the night!"

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham