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From Gulf to global, Cove restaurant promises a Haven of raw sea wonders

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Cove, restaurant, October 2012
To create Cove, owner Randy Evans extended the bar along a second wall, changing the shape of the space without reducing seating. Photo by Sarah Rufca
Cove, restaurant, October 2012, food, fish
Hamachi carpaccio Photo by Sarah Rufca
Cove, Jean Philippe Gaston, chef, October 2012
Philippe Gaston at Cove Photo by Sarah Rufca
Cove, restaurant, October 2012, food
Hinava, a dish from Borneo featuring dehydrated radish and squash blossoms, fresh and dehydrated jalapeno, olive oil, lemon juice and brown sugar on horse mackerel. Photo by Sarah Rufca
Cove, restaurant, October 2012, food, fish
Special Patagonian salmon has the same bright flavor with less fat and grease. Photo by Sarah Rufca
Cove, restaurant, October 2012
Cove, restaurant, October 2012, food, fish
Cove, Jean Philippe Gaston, chef, October 2012
Cove, restaurant, October 2012, food
Cove, restaurant, October 2012, food, fish

According to Randy Evans and Philippe Gaston, the hardest part of creating Cove, the new raw bar inside Haven, was coming up with the name.

"We were asking, 'Who are the Greek gods of the ocean? Of the water? What's cold bar in French, in Italian, in German?'" says Evans. "But then someone said 'We need something that's like a haven on the water — like a cove.' "

 "But then someone said 'We need something that's like a haven on the water — like a cove.' " 

To create Cove, the original bar area has been partially enclosed to separate it from the restaurant lobby, and instead of the former dead-end layout, the bar has been expanded and turned into an L-shape, with the bartenders on one side, raw bar area on the other, and about 30 total seats.

Cove will operate is its own individual restaurant with Gaston at the helm. With stints at Kata Robata, Reef and Soma under his belt, Gaston is one of Houston's most talented chefs when it comes to seafood (watch him expertly slice up a fish for evidence).

With Cove, Gaston is aiming to expand the idea of raw food in Houston by taking a more global approach. The menu itself is divided geographically, featuring less familiar plates like Kilawin and Ika Mata from the Pacific region as well as European tartares and crudos and several iterations of ceviche from the Americas.

"Everybody's idea of raw food is always ceviche or sashimi and that's it," said Gaston. "I've had the pleasure to go and travel a lot to these places, like in Indonesia, where a lot of these are essential day-to-day preparations. It's part of their culture and no one knows about it. In Tahiti having poisson cru — if you've been there you know about it because they serve it on absolutely everything, like chips and salsa."

To that end Gaston is sourcing specialty fish from around the world — the first time non-Gulf seafood has been served at Haven. Certain fish, like hamachi (Japanese amberjack), will take on a universal role, fitting into different dishes and preparations, while special catches will be advertised on the hood on Gaston's ice-filled raw bar — his version of a chalkboard menu.

 While there's a strong focus on the various traditions around raw food, Gaston's versions have his own spin on them — with plenty of foams, emulsions, powders and dehydrated you-name-its popping up. 

Cove isn't strictly seafood though. A dessert menu will offer raw cheeses and the like, and there's even a few red meats on the menu, including kangaroo. (Gaston spent last summer in Australia, where the animal is considered a nuisance. He says it's a great lean meat.)

While there's a strong focus on the various traditions around raw food, Gaston's versions have his own spin on them — with plenty of foams, emulsions, powders and dehydrated you-name-its popping up.

A hamachi carpaccio included red onion, dehydrated green onion, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, olives, dehydrated caper berries, basil, some caper berry salt as well as sea salt and a few herbs from Haven's garden, making the fish nothing more than a clean, raw palate for an herbaceous and aromatic bite.

For a more palatable flavor, Gaston substituted horse mackerel for the traditional mackerel in his hinava, a small plate from Borneo, served with dehydrated radish and squash blossoms, fresh and dehydrated jalapeno, olive oil, lemon juice and brown sugar.

"You need to have that balance with the acid and the heat, you need to have that bitterness, that sweetness," says Gaston, who says the dish is one of his favorites.

The closest thing to an American take on raw food is Gaston's quick-cured salmon inspired by the Pacific Northwest, vacuum-sealed with orange zest, lemon-lime zest, brown sugar and sea salt and served with a chip of dehydrated hoja santa and a yogurt emulsion for a bright, citrusy flavor.

"I'm not usually a salmon fan but there's a company called Verlasso, they're farm-raising salmon off the coast of Patagonia in a very unique way. You get the cool protein of the fish but a fifth of the fat. It's so good," says Gaston.

Cove is serving a limited menu in soft opening until Thursday, when the restaurant-inside-a-restaurant officially opens.

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