Live Lobster Sashimi and New Menu Items Wow at Azuma Kirby

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Photos by Mai Pham
You get lobster claw soup at the end of your meal if you order the Live Lobster Sashimi at Azuma Kirby
It's been at least ten years since I've been to Azuma Kirby for anything, let alone sushi. Located in the upscale strip mall that also houses Crave Cupcakes, Azuma Kirby has not been my go-to destination for sushi or Japanese for longer than I can remember.

The owners, who also own Azuma Downtown, Soma Sushi, Kata Robata, and Azuma Sugarland, are trying to restore the reputation of Azuma Kirby to its heyday years ago, and they are relying on Japanese Executive Chef Masa Wakatsuki, who trained at the same culinary school in Osaka, Japan, as Kata Robata's Executive Chef Manabu Horiuchi, to do so.

For the past four months, Chef Masa has been revamping the menu in the hopes of attracting Japanese patrons and sushi aficionados. I had a chance to sample a Chef's Tasting menu recently. Let's just say that as a self-professed picky sushi eater, I was duly impressed, and not just with the sushi.

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Omakase (chef's selection) bento box
It started with a beautifully plated omakase bento box laden filled with a chef's choice of assorted delights. Pan-seared duck breast, sweet shrimp sunomoto, sweet fish robata, bamboo shoot with spinach miso, egg omelette and lotus roots with mentaiko were artfully displayed in a large bento box. My eyes devoured everything greedily, not knowing what would come next. "If you order the chef's omakase, I can make something like this for you as a first course," Chef Masa told me.

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Live lobster sashimi. The body of the lobster is used for sashimi and the claws were still moving!
Next came the showstopper - Live Lobster Sashimi served in large square tray atop a bed of red seaweed and rocks. My lunch companion and I probably uttered the word "wow" about a dozen times as we oohed and aahed over the fact that the lobster was still moving, while its flesh had been prepared sashimi-style. A special one-day advance order, the sashimi lobster was reminiscent of the live sweet shrimp sashimi I've had in the past, but the flavor was more delicate, and utterly delicious. A freshly grated wasabi completed this awe-inspiring dish. Katharine Shilcutt recently wrote about the Five Best Foods Eaten Alive; had she had this dish, I'm sure it would have been number one on her list.

It. Was. Spectacular!

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Hiyayakko, cold soft tofu, ginger, green onion, grape tomato, kaiware
The next course was a simple Hiyayakko, or cold soft tofu, meticulously cut in rounds and served with green onion, grape tomato and kaiware. I appreciated this very traditional Japanese dish for its simplicity and marveled at how they were able to manipulate the soft tofu in to a round shape without breaking it. The rounds were stacked in an upside-down triangle with greens at the top, approximating the shape of a grape cluster.

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Grilled saba, panko, olive oil, grand mustard, sansho pepper
A Grilled Saba, or mackerel, which I didn't think I would like, was surprisingly tasty and decidedly less fishy-tasting than I expected. Served atop a wooden plank, and lightly dusted with panko bread crumbs to give it a slight crisp, the fish was flaky and moist, while the fishiness I associate with mackerel was cancelled out in large part by thin layer of grand mustard and the accompanying sansho pepper.

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Age Sampler, stuffed lotus root, eggplant, and shitake mushroom
An Age Sampler of fried stuffed lotus root with shrimp, calamari and shiso; eggplant with shrimp, calamari and cilantro; and shitake mushroom with shirmp, calamari and chives, reminded me of fried dim sum with a Japanese twist. All samplings were crisped to perfection, but it was the oozing eggplant that was notable for its contrasting texture and flavors.

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Yakitori of pork belly and wagyu kobe beef from the robata grill
Another favorite was the Yakitori of Pork belly and Kobe beef from the robata grill. The pork belly was dense, slightly crisp, slightly chewy, and burst with flavor, while the kobe beef was juicy and smoky, quite simply perfection on a stick. The yakitori was arguably better than the ones I've had in traditional Japanese izakayas and robata houses in Vancouver and LA, and I would go back here for these alone.

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Chilean sea bass, enoki mushrooms, snow peaw, carrots, green onions
Next came a Chilean Sea Bass Age, with enoki mushrooms, snow peas, carrot and green onions in a clear consomme. I love it when fish is served in a consomme because it always enhances the moistness of the fish. This lovely traditional Japanese preparation was clean and light, and easy for anyone to like.

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Wagyu Kobe beef shortribs braised in wasabi, sake, mirin
Wasabi Braised Wagyu Kobe Beef Shortribs, marinated in sake, wasabi and mirin, was the finale to our grand eight-course excursion. The meat was tender enough to slice with a fork and its flavors were wonderful, but I feel like it was a waste to braise the wagyu kobe beef shortribs, since wagyu is known for its marbling. Braising is traditionally used to tougher meats, and while I could not fault this dish on taste, a pan-seared or grilled wagyu kobe would have better highlighted this beef's unique taste profile.

The actual meal was finished, but we received a surprise at the end. The lobster claws from the lobster sashimi had been turned into a soup, and served in a cast iron mini-cauldron, making an already spectacular dish all the more fantastic.

Chef Masa came over at the end of the meal to see how we liked it, and I praised the unexpectedly excellent meal. Authentic Japanese? Check. Fresh ingredients and excellent quality? Check. Beautiful presentation? Check.

It's a meal I hope to repeat again very soon, and with the new power team of Executive Chef Masa and Kubo's/Kata Robata alum Takahisa Onishi helming the sushi counter, I think it's safe to say that as a dining destination, Azuma Kirby is well on its way to being on the map once again.



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Azuma Sushi & Robata Grill

5600 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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25 comments
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Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

I once watched a crawfish eat a fish.  Just an FYI, those little mouths they have make eating a long torturous process, so you're just returning the favor.

And it is essentially an insect.  I don't think anyone here would call spraying Raid on a cockroach "torturous."

sushi pro
sushi pro

The taste of the lobster meat is sweeter and it's more tender before it dies. Tissues begin to decompose when dead, and the result is less flavorful and tougher. Kudos to Chef Wakatsuki for an amazing looking bento as well. Just wish I could taste the yakitori :)

DC
DC

So did you pay for the meal or was it comp'd? Did the restaurant know you were going to write the experience on Houston Press? Just curious.

Copycat
Copycat

Live lobster is interesting, you know, IT watching you, as YOU eat IT. Kinda kinky Japanese if you ask me. Saw it done at Houston's Koto back in '96 or so...think it won a best sushi based on that.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

It's a well known fact that you should not cook and eat lobster after it has already died. 

If you eat lobster, you usually have to kill the lobster immediately before eating. This is why it's common practice to keep lobsters live right until the point that you stick them in the boiler. The same applies to crawfish. You boil them alive. Whether you eat the flesh after it's been cooked or before it's been cooked, you have to eat lobster immediately BEFORE it dies. According to the Atlantic Veterinary College and AVC Lobster Science Center: "Lobsters start to decompose very rapidly, for that reason, it is not recommended to cook and eat dead lobster unless you know that the lobster died merely moments before being frozen.  In the case of frozen lobster tails, the tails are frozen immediately after being removed from the lobster and do not have time to decompose before they are frozen." There are more FAQ's here: http://www.lobsterscience.ca/f... alive before boiling, it's alive before being frozen. The issue here seems to be that you see the whole lobster and the fact that there's still a bit of movement (it was more of a twitching of the whiskers). If that's the case, don't order it. But if you've eaten lobster or crawfish in the past, know that it was alive before they cooked it and don't be hypocritical about insisting that it be killed before it you eat it; it wasn't.

Guest
Guest

Wow. That's monsterously cruel.And needless, since you're torturing this animal to get something that is only 2 minutes fresher than it would be if they killed it quickly before serving.

Bayou619
Bayou619

what is humane over killing animals for food? never understood why people make that statement.

Joe
Joe

it would be helpful if EOW bloggers write whether they paid for the food or not in their entries. It's easy to ohh over free food. It would give the writers more legitimacy if we as readers know what's free and what's paid.

Kelli
Kelli

@429500a5a54600958c9c7ac032a37f66:disqus http://blogs.houstonpress.com/...   If you go back a few weeks, Katherine Shilcutt wrote a great entry outlining what they have to go through when eating meals.  And really, this is a food blog, past the prices they don't need to say whether they paid for it or not.  It's really petty.

Poop
Poop

It's not petty to want to know. Not at all. If you get comped, then yeah, the review might be biased.

No
No

We went last weekend for lunch and were amazed by the new menu. For those concerned about price they had quite reasonable lunch specials. For those concerned about the poor lobster...don't order it. (assuage your outraged morality with a burger) They had a cury rice dish with pork cutlets for the non adventurous that was a table favorite.

MrYumm
MrYumm

What a sumptuous menu.  I can't wait to try out the resurgent Azuma Kirby and put Chef Masa through the ringer.  As always, your articles make my mouth water.

Megan
Megan

My question: Is it truly still alive when it's used for sashimi?  I know when you use a knife to kill a lobster, it will involuntarily move its claws.  It's hard for me to tell from the picture if they've run a knife through the head.  If it was really, truly alive when they harvested the tail meat for sashimi, then that is unnecessarily cruel. 

MaineaicinTexas
MaineaicinTexas

That is a good question...but it looks to me like they haven't run a knife through the head.  I know that when they boil them in Maine, people often hypnotize them/put them to sleep first before putting them in the pot, so they theoretically feel less pain.  As I am pro-eating lobster but anti-eating a live lobster that can feel pain, that would make a bit difference to me as a consumer of sashimi. 

Lobsterluver13
Lobsterluver13

Where do they get their lobster?  Maine, I hope...

But all Mainers would probably say it's cruel to eat a LIVE ANIMAL!

Jewo
Jewo

I don't care how good it tastes. It is cruel and heartless to eat something while it is still alive.

Laurie
Laurie

I am far from being vegan, but there is something about eating another living thing as it still stares you in the face that I am not altogether comfortable with. It is slightly too Hannibal for me. I have never looked at Ray Liotta the same way since.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

I understand. I didn't start eating sushi until my mid-20's because I couldn't stomach the thought of raw fish. Now, excellent sushi to me = the freshest sushi/sashimi you can get, and there is nothing like live amaebi/sweet shrimp (and in this case, live lobster) for someone who loves sushi. Most good sweet shrimp are live before you eat it, they just peel away the skin and the rest of the body so you don't see it. 

Laurie
Laurie

I enjoy sushi on a regular basis, but I am under the assumption that the raw fish I am eating is killed quickly and humanely. This presentation just seems unnecessary. Would it not be as delicious if it was killed in the back and then presented to you?

Bruce R
Bruce R

Sounds great, albeit expensive.  You EOW bloggers must get fat paychecks.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

The live lobster sashimi will run about ~$45-50/market. Ok, so not cheap but not expensive for lobster. But not all the menu items are expensive, and compared to Japanese food of this quality in other cities, the prices are EXTREMELY reasonable. Cold tofu dish, $5. Grilled saba, $8. Age sampler, $8. Chilean seabass age, $15.Braised kobe shortribs, $24. Robata/yakitori: pork belly, $6, kobe $8. 

Hugh Ramsey
Hugh Ramsey

$124 on food for 2 is expensive.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

It's not your daily $10-$20 takeout, for sure. But for this quality of food and the quantity, it's not expensive. I prefer to pay more for great sushi than less for bad sushi, but that's just me. I typically spend anywhere from $50-75/pp on average for good sushi, or more depending on the restaurant.  For instance, I recently tried "cheap" sushi at Oishii and still ended up spending $45+pp. I did not enjoy my meal there, so to me, $45 of food i didn't like was expensive. Conversely, I can spend $75-100+ for excellent omakase at Kata Robata. I go home with less money in my pocket, but feel like it's worth every penny.

Expensive? Depends on how you look at it. And for the record, bloggers do NOT get reimbursed for meals, nor do we get paid anywhere near enough to pay for a meal like this. I love food, and I write about it to share my love with others. I live to eat, not eat to live. Where others spend on clothes and other hobbies, I will spend on food and travel. I subsidize a lot of my food with my own money, which I make at my day job. And yes, I have a day job wholly unrelated to food blogging.

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