The departure of a high-profile chef can leave even the most renowned kitchens without a clear direction or focus—often an omen of impending doom. This is especially true of chef-owners, who weave their individual style and personality into their establishments. When partner and executive chef Mike Lim left Tobiuo Sushi Bar last fall to open Kanau Sushi inside the Loop, regulars of the celebrated Katy sushi restaurant could have feared as much. Then came Sherman Yeung.
Tobiuo’s new owner since Lim’s departure, Yeung is an Uchi Houston alum who also cut his teeth at the well-loved Memorial gastro-pub Izakaya Wa. Part of his plan for the high-end sushi concept has been to keep its distinct identity and culinary aesthetic. The mostly retooled menu retains some of its staples, like oysters two ways—raw East Coast oysters with Japanese tabasco and cucumber champagne—but inspired and technically complex new dishes suggest Tobiuo remains in qualified hands with Yeung behind the counter.
We headed over to Tobiuo to try the new menu. Our experience began with a simple but addictive small plate of Brussels sprouts, cooked in a sweet ginger soy reduction and lightly seasoned with furikake. Next, a creative cold dish coined sake chicharron, a crudo of pink peppercorn salmon plus golden kiwi, smoked ponzu, and bits of dehydrated and lightly torched salmon skin, mirroring the mouth feel and flavor of pork chicharron. A heavier dish of Tako Verde, char-grilled Spanish octopus served with fried fingerling potatoes over a bed of earthy salsa puree, followed.
Naturally, Yeung and company have kept sushi the focus of Tobiuo’s menu. An order of four hand-pressed and beautifully plated nigiri were a display of incredible creativity. While the chūtoro (medium fatty tuna), kinmedai (goldeneye snapper) and shima-aji (striped jack mackerel) were predictably delightful, it was the ora king (New Zealand salmon) glazed in a maple-soy reduction that made the most lasting impression.
The new menu features two distinct beef dishes, each representing contrasting approaches to Japanese cuisine. The first, a 72-hour sous vide short rib, is a refined and highly technical expression, served with mashed avocado over a sweet and mildly citric yuzu gastrique. The second, gyu nabe, is a hot bowl of crispy rice, thinly sliced barbecue-style ribeye, maitake mushrooms, egg yolk, and garlic tentsuyu sauce. The steaming bowl of Japanese comfort food is mixed tableside, emanating pure umami joy.
Dessert has likewise been revitalized under Yeung’s leadership. Our evening concluded with a café su da brownie, a devilish Valrhona chocolate brownie drizzled in miso caramel, served with brûléed banana, Café du Monde coffee mousse and a small scoop of vanilla ice-cream.
In a way, the new Tobiuo offers more of the same. That is, the sushi bar remains a tour de force of worldly flavor and highly creative Euro-inspired-Japanese cuisine. In the development of his adventurous sushi program, Yeung blends an izakaya background with the fine dining chops so many former Uchi chefs have carried into future projects.