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Rarefied Rolls: A Guide to Houston’s Most Exotic Sushi

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By Joanna O’Leary

As with so many foreign foods, Americans warmly embraced sushi, then proceeded to adapt it (sometimes in borderline vulgar fashion) according to their tastes and the availability of local ingredients.

See, for example, the rise of inventive futomaki—those thick rolls with various fillings such as (in the case of the “Philadelphia roll”) cream cheese and salmon. Purists may thumb their noses at these perversions, but nevertheless they endure because, well, many of them are damned tasty.

While one of the many virtues of Houston’s dining scene is the plethora of places serving traditional sushi, once you’ve educated your palate via exposure to the “real” stuff, you’ll want to check out some of the funkier options created by these H-town sushi chefs.

James Beard finalist Hori Horiuchi, of Kata Robata, has designed an amazing menu of Japanese fare featuring authentic dishes with creative modern inflections. Case in point: his foie-gras-and-scallop sushi (a decadent French twist on tradition), or his hamachi-and-quail-egg sushi, a lovely hat-tip (pun intended) to Texas’ most famous game bird. Also worth trying is Chef Hori’s playful “Caribbean” roll with lobster, spicy tuna, mango, avocado, eel sauce, and fish roe.

Just down the street at Azuma Sushi and Robata Bar are other fun futomaki, like the “Crazy Irishman” roll, a deep-fried cylinder of rice stuffed with salmon, tuna, spicy mayo, avocado, eel sauce, and green onion, all encased in green soybean paper (hence the inspiration for the name). A lighter but equally lovely option is the “Sunshine” roll, a collaboration of botanical and citrus flavors in a blend of salmon, mango, asparagus, and avocado in a kelp sheath.

At Oishi, the Big Easy meets the Land of the Rising Sun in their “New Orleans” maki, which is stuffed with crawfish and peppercorn tuna and crowned with avocado slices. For a warm contrast, try the appropriately titled “Volcano” maki—a tuna, avocado, and cream-cheese roll served as a cluster of upright slices that are dressed with a liberal amount of mayo, then baked. It’s worth the extra calories and the longer time required for preparation.

Izakaya Wa is one of the few sushi joints in town that won’t have meat-and-potatoes dining companions asking, “Where’s the beef?” Thanks to the “Cowboy” roll with cucumber, chili, avocado, spicy mayo, and seared angus beef, they’ll barely have to leave their comfort zone. How-ever, the more adventurous ones in your party should try the “Caviar” roll, which boasts terrific pops of briny salt due to the inclusion of four different types of flying-fish roe.

Although I have never met the namesake of Koto’s “Josh W” maki, I think we would get along swimmingly given the roll that represents him. Salmon, avocado, and tuna are enveloped in soybean paper, battered and fried, sliced into eight pieces splayed on a thin horizontal platter, and then adorned with tiny pearls of masago, unagi, peppery mayonnaise, and diced green onions. From its components, we can presume Josh W is sweet, spicy, rich, and earthy (i.e., complicated) but delicious.

Finally, for the most complex and sometimes confounding selection of innovative, Americanized not-healthy-but-who-cares sushi, head to Miyako. One sure bet is the “Texas Hold ’em” maki, a punchy combination of jalepeño and salmon topped with bacon, chives, and cucumber cream sauce. The pretty pink “Baha” maki comprises a kani, cucumber, and ruby tobiko roll garnished with shishito peppers, cilantro flakes, and whole fried coconut shrimp. My personal favorite is the Hot Geisha maki (an oxymoron?)—a salmon tempura roll layered with green mussels, doused in unctuous caviar cream, and toasted in the oven. Jiro may not dream of this sushi, but I do.

This article appears in the August 2017 issue of OutSmart Magazine.

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Joanna O’Leary

Joanna O’Leary is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine and a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.

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