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Grilled wagyu and cod in magnolia leaves

Image: Alice Levitt

Kukuri appeared on Houston's culinary horizon quietly, with a Facebook page low on information beyond some photos of renovations to its space, including giant sumi-e (Japanese brush painting) scrolls that would hang over the sushi bar. The restaurant began its soft opening late last week, finally presenting to the public its ace-in-the-hole, chef Shimao Ishikawa, who earned a Michelin star for New York City restaurant Jewel Bako. Chefs do not carry the Michelin designation, restaurants do, so without a Michelin guide in Houston, Kukuri will unfortunately never earn the stamp of approval.

He leads a team of seasoned chefs, serving a refined omakase menu that combines cooked dishes with sushi and sashimi (it's what the Michelin guide recommends you do when dining with Ishikawa), as well as a small roster of à la carte offerings that include basics like vegetables tempura, but also A5 wagyu in preparations that use myriad techniques in a single elegant dish. Drinks are limited to beer, wine and plum wine with fruit for now. A manager told me that the soft opening phase, which she admitted might mean some growing pains like slower service than can be expected later on, will likely last about a month.

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A selection of sashimi

Image: Alice Levitt

The August omakase menu is $150 and begins with an amuse-bouche of sesame-flavored tofu topped with uni and salmon roe. Other highlights include sashimi and sushi plates, marinated wagyu beef with cod wrapped in magnolia leaves with pickled carrot and lotus.

The $120 sushi and sashimi combo contains a scope of fish flown in from Tsukiji Market in Tokyo and not often seen in the United States. Many, like high-quality toro (fatty tuna) are presented on perfectly cooked, seasoned rice with wasabi. Others are marinated or lightly sauced. Zen Japanese Izakaya and Kata Robata have some new competition.

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