A Reality TV Restaurant
New over-the-top sushi restaurant opens in grand style: Top reality TV chef is betting on its staying power
After three years of construction, Japanese-inspired restaurant Fish and the Knife has finally opened on Westheimer. Sitting just west of Hillcroft, the location seems like an unlikely one for a high-profile, high-dollar sushi restaurant and nightclub, but that didn't dissuade a large group of diners from checking it out Saturday night.
The restaurant feels huge, because it is: 13,000 square-feet, with a 4,000 square-foot kitchen and 4,000 square-foot lounge. All told, the restaurant can seat 350 people.
A representative for Fish & the Knife told CultureMap that interior designer Tony Chi designed the space. An attorney for Chi strongly denies that Chi designed it and has threatened to file a lawsuit "against the restaurant owners who he claims manufactured the association in an apparent plan to 'palm off' Tony Chi's impeccable, international reputation." All references to Chi have been rmoved from the restaurant's Facebook page.
That drama aside, when entering the dining room, one is immediately struck by the design. The room is decorated in red and brown tones, because Chi believes those colors stimulate appetites. Wood reclaimed from a Pennsylvania barn has been used to create a stage-like setting for a large, round table that looks over the dining room. A raw bar set between the twin sushi bars displays fresh fish for the day's dishes.
Custom plates from Frances, designer furniture and made-from-silver silverware complete the experience. Clearly, the owner spent a lot of money.
Behind the sushi bar, a glass display case holds alternating bottles of Asahi, Heineken and Corona in a size that's only sold in Louisiana. The beer display isn't storage. It's strictly decorative.
The lounge area is similarly over the top with a 16-foot long fireplace, a massive skylight and an aquarium to improve the room's feng shui. An adjacent outdoor patio sports a large fountain, which also enhances feng shui.
Custom plates from Frances, designer furniture and made-from-silver silverware complete the experience. Clearly, the owner spent a lot of money on the build out.
Fish & Knife First Taste
Turning to the food, the menu is divided into two sections. Peter Vang, who the restaurant describes as a sushi chef with 40 years of experience, directs the raw side of the menu, which is divided into appetizers, conventional rolls and special rolls. Iron Chef Americacontestant Bob Iacovone directs the grill side. He's returned to the kitchen after taking a four-year hiatus to start his family.
The menu reflects his Louisiana influences with dishes that include chicken and andouille pot pie, barbecue shrimp and duck confit alongside more traditional, Asian-influenced fare like shrimp tempura and pork spare ribs.
My friends and I decided to start with the hot side, since we were intensely interested in sampling Iacovone's widely celebrated food. As one might expect, we found the kitchen is still finding its footing in the first week. Some of the rock shrimp tempura were crispy and delicious, but a few specimens hadn't been cooked all the way through. Barbecue shrimp lacked the over the top buttery flavor we were expecting.
As the restaurant winds down, diners move to the lounge where a DJ begins spinning a bass heavy mix.
Cream cheese stuffed crab cake, which sounds a little silly, actually tasted great. The cream cheese keeps everything moist, and the crab cake featured large pieces of crab and a minimum amount of filler.
Whereas the hot side still seems to be finding its stride, the sushi side is already on pace. In particular, two yellowtail dishes, one that used parmesan cheese and another with a yuzu sauce, both pleased. Unlike sushi, the fish for both appetizers was cut thickly enough to save the fish's texture as well as its flavor. We also enjoyed "never bored tuna," which takes its name from its spicy kick.
The po' boy roll, a mix of shrimp tempura, crawfish and soft shell crab, sounds like it should be a muddled mess, but, true to its name, the flavors come together just as they would in a combination po' boy. The Houston roll brings together snow crab and salmon with a slightly sweet accent courtesy of fresh mango.
Since the more unusual offerings were so compelling, we skipped trying the nigiri. Frankly, people in search of a traditional sushi experience are probably better off at nearby Teppay.
Of course, Teppay isn't this much fun. As the restaurant winds down, diners move to the lounge where a DJ begins spinning a bass heavy mix of club favorites. Sake bombs show up. Beautiful people fill the space.
Will it work? My friends in the industry are already predicting doom. They cite the failure of similar high-style sushi restaurants like Raku and Katsuya as support for that contention.
After all, the argument goes, if the celebrated SBE Group couldn't make a Philippe Starck designed interior work in West Ave and a Michael Hsu designed space failed in Midtown, what chance does a New Orleans-based restaurant owner have in the west side no man's land between The Galleria and Westchase?
Maybe they're right, but the fact that the restaurant owns the land it sits on suggests that it intends to stick around for the long haul, as does luring the talented Iacovone out of the retirement. Once he finds command of his fastball, Fish and the Knife could become a food destination.
Even the location, which might as well be Katy to Montrose and Heights denizens, could help draw some of the crowds that keep things going in Chinatown until well after midnight.
Predicting doom is easy. Lots of restaurants fail, but Fish and the Knife, like fellow February newcomerKUU, feels poised to stick around for awhile.