Escolar and Uni at Aka Sushi

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Sea snail up front, uni in the back.
Every time I mention enjoying a particular sushi restaurant, a commenter or two will chime in to tell me that I'm a blithering idiot for not enjoying Aka Sushi more. (Sometimes that's an exaggeration, but not usually.) This also used to happen with Sushi King until I went over there one day, enjoyed my meal and wrote about it.

I finally made it over to Aka Sushi (2390 West Alabama, 713-807-7875), the sister restaurant to the original Aka on Eldridge. First of all, the service was quite enjoyable. As it turns out, my waiter, Tony, seems to be a bit of a favorite on sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon. I didn't know this going in; I just knew that I liked him from the get-go. He reminded me of Agador Spartacus from The Birdcage (which I sincerely hope isn't viewed as an insult; I love me some Hank Azaria).

"Finish all your sake, honey!" he would trill gleefully as he came by the table to check on me throughout the evening. I enjoyed Tony, the food, the sake and the music at Aka so much, I could have stayed cozy in my little booth -- head mostly in my book and stuffing myself silly with fish -- all night long.

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I make chopstick stands with the wrappers when I'm fidgety. What?
"Do you have any questions about the menu?" he asked after I had gotten my sake.

"Just one: Do you still have uni tonight?" I pointed to the specials board at the entrance.

"Oh yes!" His eyes lit up. "Just flown in today!" I doubted the veracity of that claim, considering I was dining on New Year's Day, but that wasn't going to stop me ordering some. I ordered the sea snail, too, for good measure; it was also on special and I couldn't recall ever having any sea snail.

The uni came as a two-piece cut roll that was made rather clumsily, but I suppose that's what you get for $10. It's fascinating that the Japanese demand for sea urchin roe -- that's the soft, orange part that's eaten as uni -- turned it into a luxury item over there, which in turn made it a luxury item in the United States over the past decade. The U.S. originally viewed sea urchins as pests, until Japan started purchasing them from Maine fishermen 20 years ago.

How best to describe the taste of uni? It's like standing on the edge of a pier and tasting the ocean spray on some far-flung, isolated tip of New England...if the ocean was also made of softened butter. It's easy to see why it's prized for its flavor and texture, but also becomes a little silly when you think about all the annoying sea urchins fishermen used to scrape from their boats in fits of irritation smash to bits with hammers. (Note: I somehow confused barnacles with sea urchins while writing; how, I have no idea.)

The sea snail (known over here as whelk) also had a lovely texture, albeit of a different kind. It was enjoyably cartilaginous and had a fun snap to it that reminded me of octopus. It also tasted faintly briny, in the same way that you can hold a sea snail's shell to your ear and hear the vague roar of the ocean inside it.

After finishing my snail and roe, I turned my attention to the menu. The thing is a bit schizophrenic, featuring nearly every kind of Japanese food -- sushi to ramen to pork katsu-don -- and nearly every kind of preparation, from modern to traditional, under the sun. It's as if the restaurant looked at the popular items at other restaurants -- some hasame shiso age here, some deconstructed hamachi dishes there -- and threw them all into the mix. As a result, the happy hour menu is vast. You can't complain about a lack of options here.


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17 comments
Alone in Houston
Alone in Houston

Om nom nom. Wish I had someone to take there, I do like me some good sushi experiences. But I despise eating alone. Excellent writeup, though - very descriptive!

Colkurtz
Colkurtz

So... you do realize uni is not roe, right? It's actually the gonads of the urchin. I thought it was disgusting before I discovered this.

Kathy
Kathy

Don't use the phrase "schizophrenic" to describe a wide menu. It's offensive, and it doesn't even make sense.

Exleywes1
Exleywes1

Kaneyama is the place to beat for both of these.

But don't feel like a blithering idiot if you haven't tried it yet.

Jay
Jay

Why do stupid rich people insist on telling us how stupid they are? Probably because stupid poor people keep giving them money. Of course, stupid poor people proclaiming how great the choices stupid rich people make is even better.

I hope your heart attack hurts, a lot.

Amber
Amber

Steatorrhea: is the presence of excess fat in feces. An oily anal leakage or some level of fecal incontinence may occur.

Jimthesailor
Jimthesailor

Nobody scrapes urchins off their boats. Urchins don't cling to boats. You are thinking of barnacles... which have absolutely nothing to do with urchins.

EricL
EricL

Repeat after me: ALL SUSHI FISH IS FROZEN FIRST!

They do it to kill off any parasites that might be in the flesh.

Granted, it's frozen much faster and at temperatures far below what your freezer at home can manage, but it is frozen nontheless. So whether it was flown in that day or a week before, you would never know the difference.

jason
jason

escolar was also banned in the us for about a decade, starting in the late 80's..wolfgang puck was known to serve it proir to the ban.......

Pablo Escolar
Pablo Escolar

Katharine:

Thanks for linking to my post. I never really thought about it before, but I noticed that both Steatorrhea AND Keriorrhea and there are references that the internet indicts Escolar as inducing both. More escolar mysteries!

tinyhands
tinyhands

I'll split the escolar with you. I always order a couple pieces at [HIDDEN] and save them for last. Mmm, butter.

Eric S
Eric S

Sounds about like my experiences at Aka - good for happy hour, affable service, tasty food. Not quite playing at the same level from a culinary perspective as places like Kubo's or Kata. I have a personal preference for Osaka or Nippon for sushi, but I've never declined to meet friends at Aka. And hey, less crowded than Oishii. That's gotta count for something.

One issue: I think the address should be West Alabama not Westheimer.

Wuwu
Wuwu

AKA best sushi in Houston for what you get, again, for what you get, period! Will take AKA over places like Soma and Kata all day long. And, the happy hour, seriously does it get much better than those prices? Basil chicken wings are yummy.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Me? Rich? LOL!!!

Oh, how I wish I was. I'd eat uni all freaking day long. And escolar. And I'd hire someone to deal with any resulting "messes," Mr. Burns-style. Ehhhhhxcellent.

gregb
gregb

EricL: You're incorrect, in fact, in a quality sushi bar, all fish will be fresh (never frozen) except for salmon. Salmon will be frozen for a prescribed time period in order to kill parasites. Salmon spends part of its life cycle as a freshwater fish -- freshwater fish parasites are capable of infesting human beings. Saltwater fish parasites will not infest humans.

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