The sky’s the limit, we always say. But executive chef Junnajet Hurapan, of the new “Euro-Asian” eatery called Blu in Sugar Land’s Town Square, likes to insist there is no limit to the sky. Thus the blue skies high above Texas have inspired the place’s name, while the Thai-born culinarian’s years of cooking as many as 15 different cuisines in New York City have inspired the menu.
Chef Jett, as he’s invariably called, became known to many around Houston when he opened Gigi’s Asian Bistro, a see-and-be-seen upscale dumpling-with-your-martini joint in the Galleria. Now, having made the move, he insists that Gigi’s was “too limited” – being only Asian. His new home, a former effort at a sophisticated sports bar that still wonders exactly what to do with large white screens, ceiling projectors and TVs everywhere, suffers from no such limits.
The food at Blu will come as a surprise to almost anybody who doesn’t live in Fort Bend County, to those who no doubt picture a whitebread suburban sprawl filled with inoffensive chain eateries. Those it has. But according to Amy Karnani, who grew up in her family’s catering business and now owns Blu with her husband, the days of all that one-way traffic on the Southwest Freeway are ending. “We drive to Houston to try all the great new restaurants there,” Amy tells me. “It’s time for Houstonians to come try ours.” She smiles, knowing what has to come next. “And we’re only about 15 minutes from the Heights.”
With a multi-talented chef like Jett in the kitchen, there can be no such thing as too many tastes. The menu reflects this truth, with plenty of European and Asian items listed under “Tapas – Dumplings – small plates,” and then still more under “STARTER: soups – apps – salads.” Despite the assault of uncertain punctuation, there’s absolutely nothing uncertain about the shrimp with Spanish romesco sauce at the top, or about the authentically Indian lamb samosas. Or, just above, about the shu-mai shrimp with ponzu dipping sauce alongside the Singapore satay.
For the most part, as both Chef Jett and Amy walk miles to underline, Blu is a “No Fusion Zone.” In its vision of Euro-Asian Cuisine, the Euro stays Euro and the Asian stays Asian – each, as it were, sleeping on its own side of the bed. Yet a stellar example of when these two are “protesting too much” is the Meatball Lollipops. Jett, after all, learned to make meatballs in a New York Italian restaurant. But it’s a safe bet nobody there taught him how to pull off this oh-so-Asian sweet chili glaze.
While we’re talking Italian food that’s near and dear to Texans’ hearts, how about fried calamari? At Blu, however, fried calamari aren’t just the batter-fried app with the standard (or in some cases, sub-standard) bowl of marinara for dipping. They turn up in a salad – which has to make the whole affair healthy, right? With the tossed greens and creamy dressing, it’s a winner, no matter how good for us it is or isn’t.
Knowing that Chef Jett hails from Thailand – despite his attitude and even his accent of a New Yorker – I had to try his Tom-Yum Soup. It is on Blu’s menu, after all. And while the meaning of Tom-Yum in Thai is totally lost upon me, it’s closeness to “Yum-Yum” has been clear since my first taste many years ago. It’s kind of a Thai spin on hot and sour, though Jett might argue that the Chinese learned it from them – rather spicy, rather sweet, and suffused with the intense citrus notes of lemongrass.
By the time all these variations on starters have been dutifully and carefully sampled (so, that’s the process that always leaves me with clean plates!), there’s really no need or room for a main course. We are intrigued by dozens on things on the menu, though, like the category called “GOURMET SANDWICHES – TACOS,” in addition to the one dubbed “WOK off the street…” (the punctuation festival continues). But we closed with the terrific Crispy Fish, fried whole in a circle-the-wagons position with tamarind, chili and basin. As it might (or might not) be said in Thai: Yum-Yum!