PaperCity Magazine

July 2014 - Houston

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JULY | PAGE 14 | 2014 Lei Low Rum Lounge, 6412-C N. Main St., 713.380.2968, Fish & the Knife, 7801 Westheimer Road, 713.677.0220 IN THE THROES OF DEEPEST SUMMER, WE ARE LYING LOW AT It's been three years in the making (and we're talking construction alone), but the hybrid sushi and fine-dining restaurant Fish & the Knife has debuted. Hong Kong-born owner Tony Zheng spared little expense in creating the 10,000-square-foot azure-walled space, which is rumored to have cost $4 to $6 million to build out. Zheng operates several successful concepts in New Orleans, including the Sake Café NOLA. Yearning to outdo them all, he headed to Houston and staked out a rather unlikely spot on Westheimer, well past the loop. He even convinced lauded chef Bob Iavocone of the shuttered New Orleans eatery Cuvée to come out of retirement and helm his newest concept. Iron Chef contestant Iavocone enlisted the help of chef Kuan Loong, an alum of Sake Café for more than a decade, to develop cold sushi dishes (the Fish side), while Iavocone himself mans the range of the hot kitchen (The Knife), blending the spices of New Orleans cuisine with influences from the East. Loong's sushi and sashimi are pristine, beautifully crafted at the sushi bar in the center of the restaurant, where a glass case displays a massive array of fresh fish on ice. Iavocone's dishes are equally compelling: His Asian barbecue ribs appetizer ($8.50) and grouper entrée built upon a crab cake ($19) are deftly spiced, balancing the East-West nuances. Lunch and dinner are served, and after 11 pm, the management seals off the dining room with soundproof doors and transforms the neighboring lounge into a nightclub. Laurann Claridge LOWDOWN ON LEI LOW It was a dark day in Houston when Glenn McCarthy's Shamrock Hilton was demolished in 1987. Within the Shamrock was Trader Vic's Houston outpost — the tiki bar to end all tiki bars. No more were couples on prom night able to sample the flaming pu-pu platters. Nor did gentleman of petroleum sip Suffering Bastards from novelty moai mugs. Fortunately, Russell and Elizabeth Thoede have come along to set things right. The Heights couple recently opened Lei Low Rum Lounge, a cozy spot decorated with their own collection of tiki-themed objets d'bar collected over several years of attending Heights yard sales and visiting secondhand shops. Walls are covered in dark-stained bamboo canes, the bar itself is made of bamboo laminate, and the sound system runs heavily to vintage Gabby Pahinui recordings curated by Elizabeth, while vintage barware of the moai and shrunken-head varieties screams "Tiny Bubbles." Russell, whose CV includes a number of Houston bars, has collected a shelfful of vintage cocktail books, and their influence can be seen in careful notations on the drinks menu, such as the Ambassador of Rum tiki bowl for eight or more, crafted according to the recipe used by Don the Beachcomber restaurants in 1965, and, for paleo-conservatives, the Trader Vic recipe of 1946 (nearly the dawn of time in tiki-bar history). Drinks are fashioned with fresh ingredients and garnished to a fare-thee-well — the mai tai's crowning glory includes a flaming lump of sugar fueled with lemon extract and an orchid. Other classics: the Suffering Moai, Singapore Sling and the Zombie. There's also a nod to more local traditions in the naming of the Balinese Room #2 and the Zazerac. This is the place to wear your wildest Tommy Bahama shirt and your best Panama hat. George Alexander Songkran Thai Kitchen, 1108 Uptown Park Blvd. in Uptown Park, 713.993.9096, SINGING A NEW SONG[KRAN] T hey've dazzled us with their inventive take on Asian fusion cuisine. Now Thailand-born chef Junnajet (Jett) Hurapan and his pastry- chef wife Jira are back, creating a mixture of Royal Thai cuisine and the street food of Bangkok at Songkran Thai Kitchen in Uptown Park. You might recall they opened Blu in Sugar Land not too long ago with owners Amy and Jitten Karnani. Now the foursome debuts Songkran, a cozy 2,300-square-foot concept named for the Buddhist water festival that marks the beginning of the Thai New Year. If you crave Thai fare elevated far beyond the ordinary pad Thai and chicken satay, scan the menu closely, as asterisks mark clever chef-tinkered dishes. Cooking permeates the branches of Jett Hurpan's family tree; his father, for example, was an acclaimed chef in Manhattan. Jett's menu for Songkran pulls together his relations' best-loved dishes and makes them his own, such as pad Thai measured out half noodles and half vegetables, as opposed to most restaurants' noodle-heavy versions ($15). Remarkably soulful curries include Kang Khew Waan, a green curry with chicken and Thai basil ($18), and Kang Kari, a yellow curry made with free-range chicken with a sweet- sour cucumber ($17). Fans of Gigi's will be elated to find the familiar Pla Sam Ros, a crispy whole red snapper with a sticky sweet-and-spicy sauce coating its shimmering fried skin ($28). Carnivores, don't miss the Neua Siam, an unctuous braised Waygu short rib with a Thai herb sauce ($23). Vegetarians and vegans need not feel excluded, however, as every dish is built upon a base of coconut milk and/ or vegetable stock, and meatless requests are easily accommodated. Laurann Claridge PHOTOS DEBORA SMAIL FISH FIND CURRIES, TEXAS WAYGU AND ASIAN BARBECUE RIBS. AT SONGKRAN, KUU AND THE LONG-AWAITED FISH & THE KNIFE, LEI LOW AND SLIDING INTO COOL, DARK BANQUETTES DANIEL ORTIZ PHOTOS JENNY ANTILL Chefs Jira and Junnajet (Jett) Hurapan Kang Phet Ped Yang (clay-pot crispy duck with red curry and pineapple) T he sleek new office- and-shopping development Gateway Memorial City, located way past the loop off I-10, is luring big-name chefs such as Michael Cordúa, Bradley Ogden and Tony Vallone to set up shop. Joining them is Adison Lee, executive chef of Kuu Restaurant. You may not know his name, but this baby-faced protégé of sushi great Nobu Matsuhisa has two decades of restaurant experience, including six years working with Matsuhisa in both New York and London. Kuu (which is pronounced "coo" and translates as the art of eating) inhabits a sophisticated, dark space designed by architect Si Dang with natural woods such as yakisugi or charred-wood tables and a roaring fire behind a glass façade; there's more seating outdoors under two arbors set with resin wicker furnishings. Relax with a crafted cocktail, such as a real-deal Hemingway daiquiri, before pondering tapas-size plates both hot and cool. Lee's menu reflects his extraordinary experience; technique and judicious work show through his harmonious flavor pairings. We loved the citrus-cured fluke (little rolls of flounder "cooked" in a combination of citrus juices plated with an edamame purée and crisp kale chips, $15), as well as the Kanpaccio (spirals of kanpachi with orange segment and an inventive yuzu garlic soy sauce solidified into small gelee cubes that burst with flavor on your tongue, $16). Don't miss the Texas Waygu and Unagi (freshwater eel) pairing, seared briefly and served with a fruit-infused kimchi purée ($19). Lee's sushi and sashimi offerings include Sake Toro (fresh salmon belly as sushi for $4, sashimi for $15.50), while makimono rolls such as Hama Yuzu (king crab, yellowtail, scallion, onions and yuzu garlic soy) and Truffle Suzuki (striped bass, yellow tail and jalapeño) are positively swoon-worthy. Kuu is open seven days a week for lunch, dinner and happy hour. If you harbor the notion that sushi can't be fresh on a Sunday, fear not: Lee personally makes the pilgrimage to catch his fresh- fish cargo shipments at IAH every Sunday, insuring he has fresh fish every day of the week. Laurann Claridge Kuu Restaurant, 947 Gessner Road in Gateway Memorial City, 713.461.1688, COOING OVER KUU Songkran Thai Kitchen Adison Le, Kuu Restaurant Madai Usuzukuri (madai, yuzu tomato powder, olive oil, yuzu ponzu and golden raisins) Fish & the Knife Russell and Elizabeth Thoede Bar garb at Lei Low WHERE WE LOSE OURSELVES IN SOULFUL PHOTOS KIMBERLY PARK

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