Katsuya by Starck is known in Los Angeles and beyond for its stunning design and celebrity clientele. But it's also the brainchild of of master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi, who opened his first Katsu-ya restaurant in 1997.
As the first Katsuya by Starck outside of California prepares to open at West Ave in February, chef Uechi made a quick appearance in Houston to sample the local competition and scout the fish markets. But he wasn't entirely impressed by what he found.
"Honestly, Los Angeles fish is better," Uechi tells CultureMap. "In Los Angeles there are more people who eat sushi, more consumers and it's closer to Japan."
Uechi says he will continue his practice of sourcing fish globally, bringing in specialties from as far as New Zealand, Spain, Hawaii and Ecuador. The Houston menu will be similar to his California restaurants, divided between composed seafood and Kobe beef plates prepared in the large kitchen and an array of sushi and robata creations prepared in the middle of the dining room. But that doesn't mean he's completely excluding Texas flavors.
"Honestly, Los Angeles fish is better," Uechi says. "In Los Angeles there are more people who eat sushi, more consumers and it's closer to Japan."
"I had El Tiempo last night and I liked it," Uechi says. "Tex-Mex, that was good. So if I can, I'm not sure, but if I can I might twist it a little bit and try to use those ingredients for two or three dishes."
Uechi attributes his success to his passion for the craft as well as his ability to read the American consumer at a time when sushi was exploding in popularity.
"Before I open up Katsu-ya, I worked at different places. I was always taking care of customers, and I learned from customers — they like it this way, they like it that way. So when I opened up my first place 15 years ago I used what I learned, so I changed, twisted it a little bit to American tastes, and then I got so busy," he says.
But what about the diversity of style represented by the two nearby sushi restaurants that Uechi visited on his trip — Kata Robata and Sushi King?
"(Celebrity chef and NY favorite) Nobu [Matsuhisa] was the one who got attention for sushi tastes," Uechi says. "He's great, to do that, anybody couldn't do that.
"But since then we've changed little by little to more traditional, that's how I feel."