Houston offers any number of Japanese restaurants, but for the most part they can be grouped into either sushi spots (of wildly varying quality) or ramen joints (of wildly varying quality). One chef wants to bring something new to the city.
Meet Naoki Yoshida. A native Texan, Yoshida grew up in the restaurant business courtesy of his family’s ownership of popular Montrose sushi restaurant Nippon. Now, he’s going off on his own to open Shun Japanese Kitchen, which will offer a fresh perspective on the country’s cuisine when it opens on Tuesday, October 16.
“A lot of Japanese restaurants are not owned by Japanese people. They’re not properly executed Japanese food from my perspective,” Yoshida tells CultureMap. “I want to educate Houston on what Japanese cuisine can and should be.”
Early media reports touted Shun as an izakaya, and Yoshia boasted that he wanted to open Houston’s first proper version of the Japanese pub — which would come as news to anyone who’s eaten at Tiger Den.
“When I officially signed a contract, my concept was going to be izakaya,” Yoshida explains. “As I’ve been building my team, I realized I wanted to do something different. I saw the second generation aspect as a way to reintroduce Japanese cuisine.”
At Shun, “second generation” means that Yoshida’s cuisine takes its inspiration from both his work at Nippon and his time cooking at restaurants in Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Dishes utilize ingredients that are either from Texas or from Japan. In addition, the restaurant will make all of its own sauces, even sriracha.
“I’ve also learned a lot of authentic recipes from working in Japan,” Yoshida says. “I’m using those techniques and methods and flavors to add a little more flavor.”
For example, instead of standard gyoza, the chef has created dumplings filled with carnitas. Sea urchin gets a whiff of pecan smoke. Tako dogs feature freshly made octopus sausage.
One particularly intriguing dish is the Samurai Platter. Designed to feed four people, allows diners to make their own handrolls from a selection of salmon, yellowtail, and tuna plus vegetables and sauces.
“In Japan, we do a lot of things that are more hands on where people make it themselves,” Yoshida says. “I wanted to implement that for Houston. I thought it would be fun where people get an assortment of fish and vegetables. They interact with the food and all the ingredients are right in front of them.”
For now, the restaurant will be BYOB. Once it receives a liquor license, Shun will unleash a full menu of cocktails created by consultant Aki Hagio (Sanctuari Bar at Triniti, Bad News Bar). Look for a large sake selection along with a strong range of Japanese beer and whisky.
Shun’s space at 2802 S. Shepherd Dr. has been home to any number of failed concepts over the years. Whether this one sticks remains to be seen, but Yoshida’s experience, passion, and quality of ingredients should help. Hopefully, Houston is ready for a fresh take on Japanese fare.
Shun Japanese Kitchen; 2802 S. Shepherd Dr.; 832-409-5888; Dinner Tuesday-Saturday from 4 pm to 10 pm and Sunday from 4 pm to 9 pm; brunch Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 2 pm.