Why would 25-year old sushi chef Jason Liao abandon a successful career as a sushi chef in Austin to open a 38-seat restaurant dubbed Preview: Modern Seafood in a Sugar Land strip center?
"No guts. No glory," the chef tells CultureMap.
Although he worked at Austin sushi restaurants like Umi Sushi Bar and Nanami Sushi Bar, Liao says he's tired of "unprofessional" practices like marking out the price of a menu item and replacing it with a handwritten one. "Burned out" by Austin, he decided there has to be a better way to serve seafood and he's returned home to Houston to start over.
"It's a transition time for Houston (restaurants)," Liao says. He cites restaurants like Oxheart and Underbelly as inspiration and the was drawn by the lure of being part of a "big movement. I want to be a part of it." But not with a sushi restaurant.
"Burned out" by Austin, Liao decided there has to be a better way to serve seafood and he's returned home to Houston to start over.
"Sushi bars are like Chinese restaurants now," Liao explains. "They have the same menu layout, the same items." Instead, Preview will feature a flexible, seasonal menu with items that change every couple of weeks. He's working with Ora King for salmon and will leverage his other connections to bring in fish from Japan and elsewhere.
In a style that sounds similar to Cove Cold Bar, dishes will be slightly larger than tasting menu portions.
"I'm against the traditional setup of appetizers, entrees, desserts," Liao says. He believes it doesn't make sense for diners to "spend $38 on salmon" when a more affordable, smaller portion delivers the same flavors and experience. He concedes that the small plates concept can "get a little expensive," but thinks Sugar Land diners, who are typically seen as gravitating towards more family-friendly fare, will embrace the restaurant.
"No one has done it yet," Liao says of this style of restaurant in the suburb, but he thinks it "will eventually catch on." A family friend owns the space, and former customers have become investors. Can a small, chef-driven, dinner-only restaurant succeed in the suburbs?
"It's only 38 seats," Liao says. "I'm not trying to turn tables."