Franco-Japanese Meets Molecular Gastronomy at Soma Sushi

Categories: Local Spotlight

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Mai Pham
Akaushi short ribs, truffle sukiyaki glaze, Boucheron goat cheese mousse
Soma Sushi is probably better known as one of those trendy restaurants. It's nestled in the heart of the Washington corridor at the Shepherd intersection, making it the perfect pit stop for some nosh before a night on the town.

It's not as well-known for serious cuisine, but that's exactly what Executive Chef Jason Hauck is creating daily, and if you've been to the restaurant but missed out on his creations, you wouldn't be the only one.

Katherine Shilcutt wrote about "Not Eating Sushi at Soma Sushi" way back in January 2010, but since I'd only ever dined at the sushi bar, I had no idea that he was doing Franco-Japanese cuisine, or that he was experimenting with molecular gastronomy techniques, until sampling some of his dishes at a recent tasting dinner.

Hauck, who took over as Executive Chef at Soma after Robert Gadsby left its helm, has been waging a battle with the "sushi" moniker attached to the Soma name since he took over. "We are a full-service restaurant that happens to have a sushi bar," he tells me. "The owners wanted people to know that we served sushi, but Soma has always been more than a sushi bar."

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Mykel Ngo
Chef Jason Hauck making mango "molecular shots," with Beverage Director James Watkins
The evidence is in the food. To prepare his signature akaushi short ribs, the wagyu short rib is cooked sous vide for 48 hours, glazed with truffle sukiyaki, and topped with whipped Boucheron goat cheese mousse, sesame seeds, julienned scallions, Bluebonnet Farms living micro cilantro, and bulgogi foam. Cut into little squares, the ribs were meltingly tender, but full of the flavors of the goat cheese, sesame, and truffle sukiyaki glaze. My companion actually groaned when he took a bite. "You have to try this!" he exclaimed.

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Mai Pham
Organic pork belly "kakuni" by Chef Jason Hauck
The organic pork belly "kakuni," a daily special I had at lunch, was made of a sweet soy-braised pork belly, goma sauce, bacon powder, pickled cucumber, ponzu pickled shitaake, farmers' market greens and blossoms, and fennel vinegar. Beautiful and complex, the ingredients were harmonious on the palate.

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Mai Pham
Tuna and Truffle Roll at Soma Sushi
The tuna and truffle roll, made of shrimp, avocado, ahi tuna, yuzu tobiko, truffle shoyu and scallions, was simply a delight to eat, the truffle adding an extra bit of decadence to what would otherwise be a standard roll.

And for dessert, a vanilla caramel custard garnished with tellicherry pepper and sugar phyllo crisps, was transformed into something extraordinary when it was topped table-side with what was literally a smoking coconut key-lime "snow."

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Mai Pham
Vanilla Flan, served with a smoking freeze dried coconut key-lime "snow"
Even the tea service, overseen by Beverage Director James Watkins, was noteworthy. We chose a Japanese Kyoto Rose Tea, a wonderfully fragrant, smooth tea that was elegantly served in a traditional Japanese cast-iron tea pot. I'm also told that they have a flowering jasmine tea served in a clear glass pot so you can watch the flower expand.

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Mai Pham
Tea Service - Japanese Kyoto Rose Tea
What's really cool, however, is their mango molecular shot, a collaboration between Hauck and Watkins that results in a little gush or burst on the tongue when you take the shot. Playing with "caviar" methods, they figured out a way to encapsulate a chayote squash and jicama liquid into a delicate bubble, what they refer to as a "burst." The chayote-jicama burst is then placed into a glass, and the rest of the shot is created with Tito's Handmade Vodka, fresh mango juice, and coconut-key lime snow. When you down the shot, you get an exhilaratingly unexpected burst on the tongue. It's a must-try, but it's currently only available on weekends.

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Mai Pham
Mango Molecular Shot - shown here topped with mango glass
So, would I consider Soma Sushi a trendy restaurant? By virtue of its location, I can't deny that it's a fashionable place to dine. However, in Soma's case, "fashionable" is not just superficially cool. Soma's got the goods to back it up with some of the most creative and cutting-edge cuisine you'll get in Houston.



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Location Info

Soma Sushi

4820 Washington Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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10 comments
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Mern721
Mern721

We did the tasting menu about a month ago and were blown away with the variety and pairings!

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

It's been brought to my attention that the term "molecular gastronomy" refers to the science and knowledge behind the cooking, and that the correct terminology to use when referring to the new techniques described in this article is "molecular cooking," or more currently "modernist methods" or "modernist cuisine." Rather than edit the article, I will leave it in its original form and stand corrected, as the confusion about this term is rampant in the food world. 

As a reference, here is a link to the blog post by Hervé This, the father of molecular gastronomy, where he clarifies his stance on the term that he helped coin.

http://hervethis.blogspot.com/...

TQro
TQro

I've never had a bad dish there. A bit apprehensive the first time I went thinking it was just 'trendy', but was pleasantly surprised.  Oh, and that first trip was with an out-of-town guest.

Kata Robata
Kata Robata

i love Jason's work and when i had the pleasure to work with him at soma i learned alot from his technique and always hoped others would see his work. thank you guys for putting a light to a great chef and his cuisine. 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Beautiful photos. I just love the stuff that Chef Hauck is doing there, and love that he's getting recognized for it.

Ryan
Ryan

Katharine maybe this could be the basis for a good story or article? Houston's most underrated chefs as a storyline. People like Chef Hauck, who are creating such exciting and interesting food, yet fly under the radar for some reason may sometimes need a voice like yours to raise awareness of their good work. With so many restaurants in this city I guess its only natural and logical some will fly under the radar. That's where we need writers like you and good reporting from others in town who can do their part. Someone should try to expose the public to all the talent in this city that is unrecognized. This city is big enough to showcase anyone and everyone that has the chops, and it should.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I love that idea. Love it. Look for it soon... Any feel free to throw any suggestions my way, too!

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Thx, Katharine! The photos are only as good as the subject matter, which in this case was beautifully rendered. Chef Hauck is definitely under the radar, but hopefully that will change soon!

SuzanneN
SuzanneN

Knockout piece, Mai. And great pics. I'd been wondering about the direction that Soma was going, and just assumed it had become another mediocre spot dedicated to turning out massive quantities of sushi rolls. Now I know better.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Thx Suzanne! The nigiri sushi is actually some of the best I've had in the city, but yes, Chef Hauck is doing great things in the kitchen! They have a nitro bourbon ice cream  that gets "cracked" tableside, which is also a must-try. 

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