Kokoro is all about sushi, sashimi and yakitori.
Uchi veterans Daniel Lee and Patrick Pham are taking Houston's restaurant scene by storm with two new concepts and a roving pop-up supper series. (All photos courtesy of Secret Taste)
Kokoro will open in Bravery Chef Hall.
Bravery Chef Hall is taking over a huge space on the ground floor of Hines' Aris Market Square high-rise.
Bravery aims to be the first chef hall in Houston. This is no traditional food hall.
Bravery Chef Hall removes the front of the house and the overhead for up-and-coming chefs. It's attempting to be the rare truly chef-driven concept.
Chef Christine Ha is opening a Vietnamese Gastropub in Bravery Chef Hall. (Photo by Varner Productions Ltd.)
When it comes to Uchi veterans Daniel Lee and Patrick Pham, it’s a case of he said, sushi said. The former chefs at one of Houston’s most respected sushi havens have struck out on their own, bringing their A-game to two new restaurants and a series of mysterious, exclusive pop-up dinners.
The biggest news? Kokoro — a new East Asian, Japanese restaurant from the chef duo — is headed into the forthcoming Bravery Chef Hall, which is opening on the ground floor of Hines’ Aris Market Square Tower at 409 Travis Street.
“This is our first restaurant, and Downtown is one of the best locations,” Lee tells PaperCity. “We’re like this is the best location for our first restaurant, let’s do it,”
You can expect this duo, with their impressive sushi pedigree, to bring sushi, sashimi, nigiri and yakitori skewers. Their seafood will come fresh from local waters and be sourced internationally. The chefs plan to keep it interesting with seasonal menus and specialty dishes.
The proprietor/chefs were drawn to the food hall concept, but not just any cafeteria-style setting would do — and it’s not like The Bayou City is hurting for options.
“Bravery Chef Hall is different from Conservatory, from Finn Hall. It’s like a higher-end food hall,” Lee notes.
Lee and Pham dubbed their restaurant Kokoro for a simple reason. “Kokoro is ‘heart’ in Japanese. So our food is coming from the heart. I know it’s a little cheesy. But we are so passionate about food,” Lee says.
Double the chefs, double the passion. Pham was Uchi’s head sushi chef and Lee was his right-hand man.
“We worked together for three years. We know each other really well,” Lee says.
Before they joined forces, Lee cut his teeth in the raw seafood business in Los Angeles, Washington, Virginia and San Francisco, for a bit. Pham was trained at The Art Institute of Houston culinary school before his stint at Uchi.
They’ve had fun playing around with Kokoro’s menu.
“The yakitori is going to be really good, the chicken skewer especially — negima, chicken plus green onion. That’s my favorite so far,” Lee says.
The pair’s taking a different, still tasty, tack with their 0ther restaurant, Handies Douzo. The hand rolls- and omakase-only dining destination is taking on the trend that sparked on the West Coast and traveled to the East, but kind of bypassed the Lone Star State in the process, according to Lee.
“In Texas, I don’t see that on the menu in restaurants, especially in Houston. It’s a trend we should do,” he says.
Handies Douzo’s opening date and location are TBD.
Secret Mansion Dinners
Rounding out the trio of palatable pursuits, Lee and Pham kicked off their Secret Taste pop-up dinner series last November. For the surprise higher-end tasting menus, Lee and Pham take over multi-million-dollar mansions and prepare course after tantalizing course.
Invitations to test out these experimental eats aren’t so easy to get. “Secret Taste — I mean, it’s secret,” Lee laughs. If you want to be part of this roaming foodie experience, you have to keep a close eye for clues on their Instagram page.
“We run the @secreettastehtx Instagram. That’s the only way you can actually get in. There’s no website, nothing else,” Lee says.
It may be shrouded in mystery, but that’s not deterring dedicated Houston foodies. The account boasts more than 3,000 followers. You can try your luck signing up for the wait list.
The twosome have a lot on their plate, prepping to plate up their delicacies in three different ways for Houston foodies. But they wouldn’t have it any other way.
When he’s not turning Houston’s restaurant scene into a three-part collage of Japanese cuisine, Lee can be found chowing down at his favorite haunts. “Nancy’s Hustle is my favorite right now. And Nancy’s Cakes is my favorite item right there,” Lee says.
So, will his negima rise to the status of Nancy’s Hustle’s cakes? “Hopefully,” he chuckles.
Kokoro joins the ranks of previously revealed Bravery Hall restaurants that includes BOH Pasta from Chef Ben McPherson; The Blind Goat from MasterChef champ Christine Ha; Cherry Block Craft Butcher + Kitchen, an ode to traditional cherry wood butcher blocks; Peruvian-Japanese fusion spot Nuna Nikkei Bar and Atlas, which brings elevated diner food.
There’ll be plenty of booze at Bravery, with a trio of bar concepts. Think Secret Garden, courtesy of Prohibition’s Jonathan Gallardo, a wine bar and a bar with a competitive, rotating selection of managers.
And now sushi with some serious chef cred.