Adventure and Trust: Umami Dinner #3 at Kata Robata

Chuck Cook Photography
Blowfish sounds dangerous, but it's as mild as Clark Kent.
Writing about event dinners can sometimes come across as a bit of a tease, i.e. "I ate all this awesome stuff that is never going to be served again and you didn't get to have it."

Fortunately, this isn't one of those types of articles.

The Umami dinners held at Kata Robata are a series, so this past Sunday's event was not just a one-off. It was actually the third so far.

This Umami dinner featured Randy Rucker and Chris Leung, formerly of Bootsie's, who are waiting for their new place, restaurant cōnat, to be finished. (The current estimate for opening will be in March 2012.) Host Chefs Manabu "Hori" Horiuchi and Mark Gabriel Medina prepared dishes as well and J.D. Woodward of *17 and Michael Castillo of Houston Country Club were on hand to assist.

Chuck Cook Photography
Served alongside the blowfish was clear soup with a hefty dose of lemon
I received a bit of a shock when I was informed that fugu was on the menu. "Fugu," which is Japanese for "river pig," means pufferfish. Pufferfish (also referred to as blowfish) is notorious because its skin and liver contain a neurotoxin, at least when found in the wild. (Farm-raised varieties don't get to ingest the bacteria that carry the precursors of the neurotoxin.)

Years ago, I had declared the purposeful ordering of pufferfish as just being kind of stupid. By all accounts, the flavor is just not that great, and hey, I have three kids to live for.

However, I have, on more than one occasion, had Chef Hori's omakase (in "omakase," the chef makes the selections; the word means "entrust"), and if there is anyone in Houston I'd trust to prepare it safely, it's him. Additionally, he is actually certified to prepare the fish safely.

So, I ate the fugu.

Rather boring, as it's an extremely mild white fish. The texture is nice and has a lovely firmness. I was much more interested in the delicious ponzu served on the side. I could have drunk the citrusy, salty sauce in a cup. I did indeed drink the clear soup that included a substantial amount of lemon. One of my tablemates and I joked that it was actually the antidote for the fugu.

Chuck Cook Photography
The blowfish and this beautiful amuse bouche of Kobe beef had to tide diners over for a while.
"Extreme eating" out of the way, we were ready to continue on with more flavorful dishes. However, at this point it became apparent there was a timing problem. Dinner started at 6:30 pm. By 8 p.m., diners had received only the amuse bouche (delightful Kobe beef sashimi in a tart yuzu sauce with lotus roots and a crispy squid chip) and the fugu. By 8:15, the service timing started to smooth out and we continued at a perfect pace, but dinner did not end until 11 p.m. For us eight-to-five working stiffs, a late Sunday night is problematic.

Location Info

Kata Robata Sushi & Grill

3600 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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Thank you so much. My husband Chuck is a photographer and I am extremely fortunate that he lends his talent to help with these articles! (Otherwise, it's just me and my iPhone.) You can see more of his work at

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