Inside the splashy interiors of the new Blue Sushi Sake Grill restaurant located in the M-K-T development at the edge of the Houston Heights. (Courtesy of Flagship Restaurant Group)
The ceviche-style Hirame is made with olive flounder topped with cucumber, pickled shallots, cilantro, aji limo, merquén, lime juice and black pepper. (Courtesy of Flagship Restaurant Group)
The 12 seat sushi bar poised inside the new Blue Sushi Sake Grill in the Houston Heights. (Courtesy of Flagship Restaurant Group)
The mixology program at the Blue Sushi Sake Grill include the delicious the "Naked and Famous," cocktail mixed with Sombra mezcal, Aperol, yellow chartreuse and lime. (Courtesy of Flagship Restaurant Group)
This specialty nigiri section of the menu features this baked Atlantic salmon atop a spicy crab mix, topped with ponzu sauce. (Courtesy of Flagship Restaurant Group)
Impress your party, order several styles of sushi rolls and request they arrive tableside on this charming replica of a fishing boat. (Courtesy of Flagship Restaurant Group)
It looks like old home week for restauranteurs (and Texans) Anthony Hitchcock and chef Tony Gentile, who met as students more than two decades ago at the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. The duo is coming home again, along with their colleagues and co-founders Nick Hogan and Tom Allisma, to open a new Blue Sushi Sake Grill in the M-K-T Heights mixed-use development.
The foursome’s Omaha-based Flagship Restaurant Group operates more than 30 restaurants nationwide (with 10 more in development), including Blue Sushi Sake Grills, their signature concept. This is new Houston Blue Sushi, which opened Wednesday, is the 19th in the United States (and the fifth in Texas).
A little hometown background on the two Texans who have made good — very good indeed. Following their college graduation in 2000, Hitchcock and Gentile were both hired onto the opening crew of H-E-B’s Central Market in Houston. Gentile diligently worked his way up from sous chef to executive sous chef, while Hitchock became the market’s seafood manager, subsequently opening three more grocery stores within the company.
Two years later, armed with a plethora of fish knowledge and contacts with some of the best seafood suppliers anywhere, Hitchcock and Gentile moved to Nebraska to join Hitchcock’s cousin Nick Hogan and Tom Allisma to conjure a new sushi restaurant — Blue Sushi Sake Grill. What started as an independent sushi restaurant in Omaha led to the creation of Flagship Restaurant Group and a partnership among the four co-owners that is still thriving today.
Where Fresh Seafood Reigns
What differentiates this Japanese-inspired entrant into the Houston restaurant scene? (Besides the stellar service.) Without a doubt, it’s their commitment to serving sustainably sourced seafood. It’s not just a hand-over-heart promise to be better and do better.
Blue Sushi — reputed to be the country’s largest sushi chain– is running its Conscious Earth Mission in partnership with the prestigious Monterrey Aquarium Seafood Watch, pledging to either fish or farm in such a manner as to have a minimal or no effect on the ocean’s ecosystems. With a mandate to be fully transparent, if you log onto the Blue Sushi website or browse through the menus, you’ll discover the precise details about how and where each menu item around the globe is sourced.
That means Unagi eels fished off the coast of Maine in a land-based aquaculture system raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones, wild sockeye salmon caught in Washington state with lift nets during their early summer run and skipjack tuna that’s each pole caught in Japan. The mission is to educate diners about the quality of food that Blue Sushi serves.
Blue Sushi’s Houston Look
The new Houston Blue Sushi is designed by Avant Architects in collaboration with architect (and Flagship Restaurant Group co-owner) Tom Allisma and the group’s art director Haylie Rousek. Inside the dining room, bright red lanterns dangling from above, while beneath generously sized booths are pulled up to hand-wrought tables.
The look is inspired by the push-carts found in the bustling Tokyo fish markets, each custom painted with Kanji characters. For those who want to witness the sushi chefs work, simply sit at one of 12 seats at the sushi bar.
Whether one drops in for lunch, happy hour, or dinner, there is an expansive menu, including options for those on gluten-free and vegan regimes. On the small, medium, and large plates section, you will find dishes such as coconut crab soup made with roasted corn, sweet potatoes, yellow curry and coconut milk dressed with chili oil. The river rock beef arrives tableside with thinly sliced beef tenderloin napped with a jalapeno ponzu sizzling atop hot river stones.
Specialty nigiri and sashimi dishes include Dutch yellowtail, fished in the Netherlands in a recirculating aquaculture system, and madai chimichurri, made with red sea bream topped with cucumber, cherry tomato, Marcona almonds and Maldon sea salt with a chino chimichurri sauce. The Maki menu is divided into specialty, classic and vegan categories and includes raw and cooked rolls, like the Godzilla Bomb, Green Eggs & Hama, the Snow White and the Vegan “Cowgirl” roll made with pickles, vegan tempura, sriracha-fried onion rings, BBQ paper, vegan mayo and tonkatsu sauce. Blue Sushi’s vegan menu includes more than 18 maki rolls and a selection of specialty nigiri, including seaweed caviar and unami BBQ eggplant eel.
For those who care to imbibe (or not) cocktails and mocktails, beer, and as the restaurant’s name suggests, sake are offered. Tantalizing tinctures include the Far East Mary, made with onion, pepper, and herb-infused vodka, sriracha, ponzu and tomato juice. Then there’s the Naked and Famous, a cocktail featuring Sombra mezcal, Aperol, yellow chartreuse and lime. Desserts include refreshing mochi bites in flavors like strawberry, mango and black sesame, as well as a fried egg roll oozing with melted chocolate and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce.
Blue Sushi Sake Grill is located at 600 South Shepherd Drive, Suite 500 in the M-K-T Heights development. It’s open Mondays through Thursdays from 11 am to 10 pm, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am to 11 pm, and Sundays from 12 pm to 9 pm.