100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 2, Amberjack Sashimi and Foie Gras at Kata Robata

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston® issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.

"What did that taste like?" I recall someone asking with awe when I showed them the photo above of Kata Robata's dish of Hawaiian amberjack sashimi and foie gras. At first glance, the two wouldn't seem to work well together at all. But that's what executive chef Manabu Horiuchi specializes in at his Japanese restaurant: creating exciting and inventive dishes that push the limits of what you'd expect to find in a sushi joint.

"It tasted glorious," was my quick response. And it really had: The glimmering slices of amberjack have a thick, meaty flavor to them -- much like that of swordfish -- that belies their delicate appearance, and therefore aren't overwhelmed by the glorious bloom of livery fat from the wiggly slices of foie gras. There's no soy sauce to be found here, as well it shouldn't be, since the umami from the foie acts as a far more interesting way to enhance and deepen the amberjack's flavor.

Despite this, the dish would be pretty standard were it not for Horiuchi's other accompaniments, each new flavor or texture added into the composition as if Hori-san were writing a piece of music: an oboe singing a single, lingering phrase over the main melody or a clarinet entering the movement with a sweet, plaintive voice. Discovering each new flavor as it blossomed on my palate reminded me of F. Murray Abraham's version of Salieri describing Mozart in the film Amadeus:

Through the dense fattiness of the foie gras and the brusque meatiness of the amberjack comes a zesty note of lime juice, but the citrus is immediately cut -- its acidity tempered -- by the deep, woodsy sweetness of Noble Tonic 05, an aged balsamic vinegar that's warmed up with vanilla and bourbon. The vinegar adds back in the acidity that it cut with an entirely different touch, an almost syrupy bite to it that rises and falls gently throughout the dish and acting on the foie gras almost as a Sauternes would.

A scatter of crushed hazelnuts add a welcome crunch to each bite, as well as the sort of chocolate-y hint found in well-composed moles. Edible flowers add nothing other than bright color to what would otherwise be a rather staid composition, but olive oil -- nearly invisible to the eye -- adds a final slick sweetness at the end of each bite. And at $16, it's not a cheap dish, but it's an affordable luxury -- especially when paired with a basin-sized serving of Kata Robata's excellent ramen (the best in Houston right now) for only $10.

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You'll never want another chocolate molten cake after tasting Chris Leung's light, deft desserts such as this black sesame tart with compressed cucumbers, cantaloupe sorbet and Greek yogurt.
It may not be the newest restaurant in town nor the hottest, but the astonishing depth of flavors and maturity in Hori-san's dishes (as well as pastry chef Chris Leung's equally inventive and thoughtful desserts) still make Kata Robata one of the best restaurants in the entire city -- and Hori-san himself one of our greatest treasures.

The list so far:

No. 100: Chili cheese mac at Jus' Mac
No. 99: Texas turkey sandwich at Spec's
No. 98: Custard at Petite Sweets
No. 97: Caprichos mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito
No. 96: Pineapple-wasabi burger at Lankford Grocery
No. 95: Farmer's MKT Pizza at Phoenicia's MKT Bar
No. 94: Potatoes at Money Cat Brunch
No. 93: Breakfast tacos at Sunrise Taquito
No. 92: Hot dog at Tacos D.F.
No. 91: Avocado gelato at Frozen Cafe
No. 90: Chicken sandwich at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers
No. 89: Beer-battered asparagus at Hearsay
No. 88: Honey Badger omelet at Kraftsmen Cafe
No. 87: Pastelitos de carne at El Jalapeño
No. 86: Pancakes at Union Kitchen
No. 85: Wild boar and crab pizza at Boheme
No. 84: Breakfast croissant at BB Donuts
No. 83: Pretzel at Anvil Bar & Refuge
No. 82: Short rib sandwich at Shepherd Park Draught House
No. 81: Grilled shrimp po-boy at Pappadeaux
No. 80: Dahi puri at Shiv Sagar
No. 79: Aporreado at Los Corrales
No. 78: Oxtail francobolli at Aldo's Cucina Italiana
No. 77: Tonkotsu at Cafe Kubo's
No. 76: Spinach danish from Angela's Oven
No. 75: Pupusas at El Petate
No. 74: Pheasant dog at Sammy's Wild Game Grill
No. 73: X-Tudo burger at Friends Pizzeria
No. 72: Esparragos gratinados at Tintos
No. 71: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen
No. 70: Geisha dog at Happy Endings
No. 69: Oyster po-boy and gumbo at Goode Co. Seafood
No. 68: Ceviche at Sirena Seafood
No. 67: Caldo de mariscos at Taqueria Arandas
No. 66: Banana pudding at Pizzitola's
No. 65: Fried catfish and gumbo at Cafe-A-La
No. 64: Soft-shell crabs at Banana Leaf
No. 63: Macaroni and cheese at Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse
No. 62: Torta burger at El Gran Malo
No. 61: Black bean burger at Ziggy's
No. 60: Parillada at Pampa Grill
No. 59: Peanut butter and jalapeño jelly burger at Wicked Whisk
No. 58: Eggplant involtini at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino
No. 57: Lone Star dog at James Coney Island
No. 56: Sushi at Sushi Miyagi
No. 55: Palestinian chicken at Al Aseel
No. 54: Roast beef sandwich at Local Foods
No. 53: Mexico City plate at Molina's Cantina
No. 52: Tacos at Brothers Taco House
No. 51: Branzino at Lucio's BYOB
No. 50: Beef sweetbreads at Feast
No. 49: Golden Doomba Special at the Rice Box Truck
No. 48: Malted waffle at City Cafe
No. 47: Banh mi bo kho at Cafe TH
No. 46: Chicken fried steak at Triple A
No. 45: Larissa plate at Harry's
No. 44: Spaghetti carbonara at Coppa Ristorante Italiano
No. 43: Wings and grits at The Breakfast Klub
No. 42: Frito pie at C&D Burger Shoppe
No. 41: Pollo con mole at El Gallo de Jalisco
No. 40: Fried avocado taco at H-Town StrEATs
No. 39: Rigatoni in bolognese sauce at Paulie's
No. 38: Chorizo kolaches at Peña's Donut Heaven
No. 37: Sashimi at Dadami
No. 36: Half-pound burger at benjy's
No. 35: Fried chicken at Haven
No. 34: Whole-fried speckled trout at Liberty Kitchen
No. 33: Moules congolaise at Jeannine's Bistro
No. 32: Pancakes at Fountain View Cafe
No. 31: Pineapple with chile en polvo at Canino's
No. 30: Fried chicken at Barbecue Inn
No. 29: Dirty Burque at Green Seed Vegan
No. 28: Egusi at Finger Licking Bukateria
No. 27: Brisket and turkey at CorkScrew BBQ
No. 26: Menudo at La Mexicana
No. 25: Shrimp and grits at Shade
No. 24: Kinilaw at Reef
No. 23: Lamb at El Hidalguense
No. 22: Gumbo at Danton's
No. 21: Chicken-fried water buffalo at The Hay Merchant
No. 20: Roasted cauliflower at Roost
No. 19: Truffled egg toast at Dolce Vita
No. 18: 63-degree egg at Brasserie 19
No. 17: Drunken foie gras at Philippe
No. 16: Beet salad at Triniti
No. 15: Yogi thali at Pondicheri
No. 14: Bialy and lox at The Hot Bagel Shop
No. 13: Ribs at Gatlin's
No. 12: Venison carpaccio at Thanh Phuong
No. 11: Camarones henesy en hamaca at Arturo Boada Cuisine
No. 10: Prosciutto and arugula pizza at Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana
No. 9: Crawfish at The Hideaway on Dunvale
No. 8: Pho at Pho Binh
No. 7: Ceviche at La Fisheria
No. 6: Ma po tofu at Mala Sichuan
No. 5: Machi cure at Uchi
No. 4: Tuna and bottarga at Tony's
No. 3: Roast summer squash at Oxheart

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Location Info

Kata Robata Sushi & Grill

3600 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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absolutely agree, and well-said, Katharine!



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@HoustonPress V & A does not have prime rib on the menu. They serve USDA Prime rib eye. Also, AMC Best Movie theater? Umm @SundanceHouston

Mai Pham
Mai Pham topcommenter

One of my absolute faves. 

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