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New Blockbuster Restaurant

Nipping at Uchi's heels? New Houston restaurant opens with grand ambitions and shows early promise

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2 Kuu tasting February 2014
Yellow pearl: salmon, smoked salmon, watermelon radish Photo by Eric Sandler
22 Kuu restaurant interior February 2014
The sleek design features a graphic that looks like a fish.  Photo by Eric Sandler
1 Kuu tasting February 2014
Citrus cured fluke with edamame puree Photo by Eric Sandler
25 Kuu restaurant interior bar February 2014
Behold the large bar.  Photo by Eric Sandler
5 Kuu tasting February 2014
Shishito peppers topped with bonito flakes Photo by Eric Sandler
6 Kuu tasting February 2014
Thinly sliced striped bass sits atop scallops.   Photo by Eric Sandler
7 Kuu tasting February 2014
Tuna and lobster are paired with lotus chips and guacamole.  Photo by Eric Sandler
8 Kuu tasting February 2014
Uni crusted crab was one of the highlights of the night.  Photo by Eric Sandler
15 Kuu tasting February 2014
This is the KUU roll with edamame puree.  Photo by Eric Sandler
21 Kuu tasting February 2014
Madai nigiri was the most traditional item on the tasting.  Photo by Eric Sandler
27 Kuu tasting February 2014
Soy milk cheesecake still had that dessert's signature creaminess. Photo by Eric Sandler
28 Kuu tasting February 2014
Don't miss the mint ginger cake with green tea sorbet.  Photo by Eric Sandler
2 Kuu tasting February 2014
22 Kuu restaurant interior February 2014
1 Kuu tasting February 2014
25 Kuu restaurant interior bar February 2014
5 Kuu tasting February 2014
6 Kuu tasting February 2014
7 Kuu tasting February 2014
8 Kuu tasting February 2014
15 Kuu tasting February 2014
21 Kuu tasting February 2014
27 Kuu tasting February 2014
28 Kuu tasting February 2014

KUU, a new Japanese restaurant in the Gateway Memorial City complex, is in its soft opening. At the helm, chef Adison Lee brings the training he received at top sushi restaurant Nobu to a menu that provides clever twists on familiar dishes.

In terms of design, KUU follows the standards set by fellow Gateway occupants Vallone's and Churrascos with an elegant, upscale dining room. The space feels very comfortable with wood and copper elements throughout. To the right, diners will find a large, horseshoe-shaped bar and lounge area. To the left, they'll see the dining room, sushi counter and private dining room. One of the signature elements is a light display in a hallway that's shaped like a fish.

While KUU offers plenty of traditional nigiri options, the menu focuses on Japanese-inspired hot and cold dishes along with a selection of creative rolls. At a tasting, Lee and his team highlighted some of the best items on the menu. The dishes demonstrate that the restaurant has a lot to offer diners.

 In a city that's embraced fusion preparations from Uchi and Kata Robata, KUU looks like a vibrant new option with a lot of potential. 

Among the cold dishes, three in particular stood out for the ways in which they distinguish Lee's cooking from other modern, Japanese-inspired restaurants. Citrus cured fluke balanced the fish's natural flavor with a spicy, wasabi-spiked edamame puree and crunchy, salty kale chip. A dish called "natural pearl" mixes smoked salmon with raw salmon, watermelon radish and basil oil. Another salmon dish incorporates heirloom tomatoes, which is a refreshing change from Japanese fruits such as yuzu or pear that are typically paired with fish at sushi restaurants.  

The dishes that followed included the meal's highlights. Bringing together uni and crab may be a new staple, but that's because it's delicious, and the presentation of the crab meat in the shell has a real wow factor. Another dish brings together Texas T Kobe beef and unagi for a meaty flavor with an almost creamy texture.

From there, the meal moved on to sushi dishes. The signature KUU roll features more of the edamame puree with Japanese pear. Madai and chopped scallop nigiri showed extremely fresh tasting fish, but the rice lacked the light vinegar tang that marks more traditional preparations.

Even the desserts, especially chef Lee's mint ginger cake with green tea sorbet, bring a fitting conclusion to the meal without being overly sweet. 

Dining in a mostly empty room when the restaurant knows it's preparing for a writer makes it difficult to evaluate service. With that caveat, the server did have a thorough knowledge of the menu and opinions about favorite dishes to recommend. Plus, director of operations Ricky Cheung had red wine suggestions that pleased the table for their flavor and ability to pair with the dishes. 

Those looking for the most traditional Japanese dining experience should probably head elsewhere, but, in a city that's embraced fusion preparations from Uchi, Kata Robata and others, KUU looks like a vibrant new option with a lot of potential.

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HTX Good Eats 2014