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Houston’s Katsuya Preps for its Big Opening Night

Tonight, something like 800 invited movers and shakers of Houston will descend upon the new Katsuya by Starck, an LA-based Japanese restaurant concept that chose us for its first foray outside the Golden State. The guys who brought Katsuya here, including VP of Restaurant Operations Matt Erickson and corporate chef Danny Elmaleh, say Texans have been so warm andc welcoming. I hope they think the same tomorrow, after dealing with 800 of us in our party outfits.

The full name of the restaurant – Katsuya being the inspirational chef, Starck being the inspirational designer – really does say a mouthful, even before any food arrives. I suppose in keeping with how most of us imagine LA, this is a large, noisy (they prefer the phrase “high energy”) restaurant that’s as much about how it looks and feels to be here as how it tastes. And even though that is seldom my personal mantra, a tasting last night has me convinced that Katsuya’s big, bold flavors are 100% real.

A perfect example is Katsuya’s version of Lobster Thermidor. No, they don’t call it that – but that’s what it surely is. Weaving Asian flavors throughout the topping spread across and around the tender lobster chunks before broiling, the chefs creating these recipes have managed to make a great dish even greater. They can name it whatever they want; it’s the best Lobster Thermidor I’ve ever tasted.

Not everything here is a wild and crazy spin on some classic. Sometimes it’s best to let a traditional and almost familiar item speak for itself. If you love (as I do) anything that’s equally spicy and sweet, then you will go nuts for this tempura rock shrimp appetizer. We actually had a small portion to taste and talk about on the radio show, and then we asked (make that, begged) for a full portion later on.

Though Katsuya hails from a part of the country with surely more vegans that any other, and then more folks who eat only seafood for protein, the place hasn’t breezed through location after location by scrimping on beef. Katsuya by Starck hardly bills itself as a steakhouse, Japanese or otherwise, but it does a bangup job with this particular spin on steak. Chef Danny says they ship some special wood in from Japan, a kind that burns extra fast and hot. As we all know, steak loves it that way.

And in this country, even in body-crazed southern California, you’d better not scrimp on dessert. Apparently all you need to do is make is sound healthy. This sweet finale, for instance, is billed as “Fuji apple.” Sounds healthy enough, yes? Yet it so obviously is not. It’s a kind of tart Tatin, really, except with the apples oh-so-attractively placed inside a nest of crisp, delicate phyllo. And yes, that is vanilla ice cream on top and plenty of caramel painted onto everything that sits still long enough.

And surely, Houston chocolate lovers will converge on this molten chocolate cake – even if, for my taste, that vanilla ice cream is sitting way too far from the warm chocolate it was intended to embrace. Besides, maybe I should say Texas chocolate lovers, since the company has every intention of expanding to Dallas, Austin and perhaps elsewhere in the state. They just don’t want such ambitious thoughts to get in the way of tonight’s 800 people. Like Scarlett O’Hara, they’ll think about that tomorrow.

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About John DeMers

I've been a journalist and author forever. My favorite single word in the English language is "foodandwine." This spirit drives my 45 published books and my weekly radio show heard in Houston, Dallas and Austin.

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