Chef Chat, Part 3: Chris Kinjo of MF Sushi and What He'll Give You If You Order the Omakase

Categories: Chef Chat

MF SUSHI small.jpg
Photos by Mai Pham
My 18-course omakase by Chris Kinjo at MF Sushi
This is the 3rd part of a three-part Chef Chat series. If you missed the previous posts, you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

This week, we chatted with Chris Kinjo of MF Sushi, a chef who has worked in countless restaurants, owned a few of his own, achieved fame and glory, and paid the price for it with a staggering financial loss. Now in Houston, he's back behind the sushi bar on a daily basis, doing what he loves at his six-week old restaurant.

And Houston, it's pretty darn spectacular.

Now, before you say that it's all hype, consider this: I myself was skeptical. Sushi is up there with my favorite foods of all time. I went to Peru last year, determined to find sushi comparable to what made Nobu Matsuhisa famous. I visit California regularly, scoping out sushi restaurants. For the first four years I lived in Houston (I first moved here in 1997), I refused to eat sushi, not relenting until I'd found a sushi chef that I could trust (Manabu Horiuchi, formerly of Kubo's, now at Kata Robata). So I can tell you that when I went into MF Sushi, I was prepared to be disappointed.

But then the opposite happened. First, I sat down at the bar, right in front of Kinjo, and took a look at his sushi case. This has always been my litmus test at sushi restaurants. I like to sit at the bar, see with my own eyes how fresh the fish looks, and then ask for recommendations from the chef for the best selections of the day, or let him handle everything omakase style if I'm not in a hurry. And Kinjo's fish case -- every single piece -- looked like fish I would want to order. The colors of the fish were vibrant, none of them having that flat, sometimes grayish tinge that I associate with frozen fish or fish that's being served beyond its prime. Everything looked moist and juicy, and, yes, fresh.

And so, I let the chef do his thing. And his thing turned out to be an 18-course omakase, or chef's tasting, that I haven't stopped talking about or thinking about since that day. I have a photographic memory when it comes to food, but we were served so many different types of sushi that night that I've had to refer back to my photos for some of the unfamiliar fish types that I'd never tasted before.

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The sashimi trio highlighted some of his more exotic, specialty fish -- note the skin on the edges.
The highlight of the night for me was the sashimi platter. He served King Salmon, Inada, or baby yellowtail, and kinmedai, or golden eye snapper, classically presented in a colorful arrangement of orange, pinkish-purple, and light pink. Each fish had me in a literal swoon. Each piece had this melt-in-your mouth texture and flavor: the salmon, silky smooth and buttery, the inada, kind of smoky and different in a good way, and the kinmedai had this pleasing suppleness to it, along with a bright cherry-red sliver of skin on it but not the slightest hint of fishiness to it.

3rd course b scallop muscle.jpg
One of my favorite parts of the scallop -- the muscle, served sauteed in soy-mirin-sake-butter. YUM.
We continued with a live scallop, one of my favorites for its sweetness and almost spongy, light texture. Served on the scallop shell with nothing but a small slice of lemon, the scallop was beautifully sweet, the flavor pure. I loved that Kinjo automatically saved the scallop muscle, or engawa, to serve like a hot appetizer. While many waste what can be considered a throwaway piece of the scallop, these slightly crispy innards were thinly sliced and served in a sauté of soy, mirin, sake and butter, tasting a bit like a cross between cartilage and fresh squid, or ika.

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Sushi of yellowtail belly -- my favorite. The kiriki sauce was basted on top, so all you had to do was eat the whole piece in one bite.
Next came a slew of made-to-order sushi, each piece hand-formed and served one at a time, centered on plates of differing shapes and colors: akamutsu was served on a brown earthenware plate; hamachi, or yellowtail, served on a square plate with a round yellow center; hamachi belly on shiny white porcelain; salmon and shima aji, each came on a wooden, red-colored plate with a rim of texture mimicking the fish scales; andaji on a white porcelain.

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King salmon is served on a red plate with textures that reminded me of fish scales
"I notice the plates are all different colors and shapes; how much thought do you put into the plating of each dish?" I asked.

"I lose sleep over the plating. It's all I think about," Kinjo replied, telling me that he still had a warehouse full of plates he'd brought over from Japan.

We continued with a few dishes you won't see often in Houston. Monkfish liver, considered the foie gras of the sea, was creamy and smooth, topped with a bit of black caviar, followed by a yamakuku appetizer of this strange, glutinous, soupy sauce with chunks of tuna in it that was probably my least favorite course. "It's a very traditional Japanese dish," Kinjo told me, noting my reaction.

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The yamakuku is a traditional appetizer made with a potato that is whipped up to a foamy consistency.
What followed was a light cucumber dish, a moro-kyu, or cucumber with red miso, which acted like an intermezzo before he brought out the trifecta of creaminess: chu toro, or mid-fatty tuna; toro, or fatty tuna; and San Diego uni, or sea urchin. Each piece of sushi was utterly delectable -- the rice mildly flavored and almost fall-apart in its formation, and the fish, brushed with a shiny layer of niriki sauce, needing nothing in terms of enhancement. Each piece was a perfect bite, through and through.

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This is what I call uni.

We ended with a traditional piece of tamago, or sweet egg, which Kinjo made with a consistency that reminded me of the French flan nature, or natural flan.

Sometimes, when you finish a meal, there is ambivalence. "What did you think?" I asked my dining companion. "It was pretty fantastic," he cautiously replied, his body language telling me that he was kind of stupefied over what we'd experienced. "It reminded me a lot of that movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi," he remarked.

For me, there was no ambivalence. It was without a doubt one of the best sushi experiences I've had in Houston, and as testament to that fact, I'm going back tonight with a group of friends. We've reserved the sushi counter, and I have no doubt Kinjo will deliver. Because whatever you say or has been said about Kinjo, he can definitely make authentic, old-school, Japanese-style sushi. And I'll happily buy that any day.

Chris Kinjo
MF Sushi
5887 Westheimer Road
Tel: 832-530-4321
mfsushihouston.com



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Location Info

MF Sushi

5887 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Kata Robata Sushi & Grill

3600 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Kubo's Sushi Bar & Grill

2414 University Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
7 comments
dalton
dalton

Stunning pics and write-up. Only thing that leaves me scratching my head: why plate an orange piece of fish on a red plate, or a creamy colored fish on a white plate? Chris might need more sleep, rather than losing it, on his plating. However, his are the most beautiful vessels I've seen outside a museum.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham topcommenter

The minimum for an omakase is $75 per person. This spread cost about 125 per person. The cost varies with the price of the fish and keep in mind that we had the most expensive. You can set a limit in terms of budget if you don't want to go over a certain amount. I I'll let you know how much damage the five of us do tonight

Delucca
Delucca

I've heard someone I respect quip:  'Kinjo makes the crew at Uchi look like a bunch of sissified pirates'.

Really beautifully done stuff!

lesliemkn
lesliemkn

@dalton 

At first I wondered that too about plating... contrast is appealing to the eye initially but it too can get redundant if you have a lot of it.

When you put a pure white against an off white you can notice how they're subtly different and can harmonize without making you feel weary.
Wedding dresses and wedding invitations is what I thought about when I saw you write about a cream colored fish on white. It's romantic and charming, but not in your face.

Anyways I love MF... 


chatalain
chatalain

@Mai Pham  ....and don't forget you'll be drinking something. Still, a pretty good deal compared to other Houston high-end joints. Probably a lot fewer carbs as well, so you won't feel the Michelin man-bloat walking out of the place.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham topcommenter

@chatalain So tonight, we were a group of seven. we drank a bunch of beer and seven bottles of sake. We all had the omakase, comparable to what was detailed here. The bill came to roughly $1075 or about $154/pp (exclusive of tax and tip). Three in our party liked it so much, they made reservations to go back tomorrow.

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