We've been covering it since March of 2015, salivating like a cartoon wolf over visions of endless Ramuné and walls of curry roux. And that's exactly what Space City got when Houston's first Seiwa Market began its soft opening at 1801 North Dairy Ashford Road on Friday, August 5.
And we're happy to report that our initial fears that Seiwa would be a Japanese Costco, all bulk with no room for adventure, were unfounded. Items are sold one by one, and much of the 11,000-square-foot space is given over to goods you won't see elsewhere in Houston. Need some abalone on the half shell? They've got that. Packs of four salmon kamas (collars) are in the $6 range, while trimmings, labeled ara, are closer to $2. High-quality pork and beef are nearby, much of it sliced for shabu shabu.
A small seating area allows shoppers to stop for a quick meal. When we were ready for lunch on Saturday, every table was taken, so we ate our sushi in the car, along with our new favorite watermelon-flavored soda. For now, we'll chalk up the gummy, almost mochi-like texture of the tightly packed rice to soft opening jitters. Both tuna and cucumber were extremely fresh. The next day, we heated up a teriyaki chicken bento box, which was also filled with slices of marinated kabocha squash, a thimble-sized scoop of potato salad, sweet butter beans, slices of pickled radish and a large helping of rice covered in black sesame seeds. An as-yet-unpopulated area with room for steam trays presages that hot food will be available soon.
Not surprisingly, the store excels most in the realm of kitchen basics: Looking for Anpanman-branded curry or Hello Kitty soy sauce? Seiwa is the place. Togarashi, pre-steamed rice bowls and sheets of nori are all available in near-endless iterations, despite the store's relatively small size. Those looking for confections are particularly blessed. Among classics like Milky, Pocky and Yan Yan, there are many less common treats, with a particular focus on matcha flavors. The Houstonia editorial team is now particularly taken with soft, matcha-filled Oreos.
For the soft opening, Seiwa is accepting only cash. That will eventually change, but what won't is the self-bagging policy. Our teenage check-out girl told us it's a Japanese tradition. We found it quick and efficient, though folks who can't handle the pressure are invited to ask for help. There are wood chopsticks waiting in the bagging area, because the folks at Seiwa are apparently well aware none of us are getting out of the parking lot without sneaking at least a bite.