First bite: two veteran chefs open new restaurant in Houston tasting Omakase
Timely information prompted a Houston chef to open not one, but two new restaurants in the heights. “Luckily, I learned the [former] Location of the golden bagel. I took a look and it all made sense ”, said the chef Billy Kin. The recently closed bagel store, located at 3119 White Oak, is now the home of Kinokawa, a restaurant focused on omakase and the next Tesseract, izakaya-style restaurant and whiskey lounge.
Kin worked in Houston restaurants for several years, and in 2018 he was the chef of Merle Izakaya, a laid-back Japanese restaurant that focused on using a scorching Binchō-tan (a dense type of charcoal) grill to cook a variety of meat and vegetable kebabs. Blackbird also featured several other styles of Japanese cuisine, such as temaki sushi rolls, katsu curry, ramen, and the occasional omakase, but it unfortunately closed in July 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic. When it opens, Tesseract will resurrect many Blackbird Izakaya favorites, with an emphasis on the bincho grill and sushi rolls.
Then Kin partnered with a restaurateur Tuan tran to open Hidden omakase. It served the type of omakase menus Kin had previously created for his Blackbird regulars. Kin’s stint at the helm of Hidden Omakase was brief, and he ultimately left it in the capable hands of the Chief. Niki vongthong. Under his leadership, Hidden Omakase was named one of Houston Food Finders’ Best New Restaurants of 2021.
“I kind of want to do my own thing, and that’s not it [Hidden Omakase] wasn’t for me, but when I’m doing concepts I really like that everything revolves around a certain period in my life, ”Kin said.
With Kinokawa and Tesseract, Kin is clearly taking this opportunity to create something of his own, even in terms of design and decoration. A few days before opening Kinokawa, I saw Kim painting the exterior walls of the building. He even handcrafted most of the restaurant’s wood furniture, like the bar top and a large shelving unit. Kin also named Kinokawa after an upscale Japanese restaurant run by his father in Taiwan 30 years ago.
When it comes to food, however, Kin shares the spotlight. He brought in another highly regarded Houston chef, Brandon silva, to share his vision. Silva was the Opening Chef of Degust after spending five years with the Kirby Group, which operates Heights Bier Garden and Wooster’s Garden, among others. Although Degust was his idea, Silva left after less than a year due to creative differences.
“From a food standpoint for Kinokawa: you can call it omakase, or you can call it fixed price,” Kin said. “It’s a set price for the chef’s choice that is completely focused on what I can get my hands on. This is what we will serve to the guests. For the most part, around 90% of our ingredients will come directly from Japan. To do this, Kin draws on the connections he developed during his run to Omakase hidden. This is increasingly important, as supply chain issues made this feat difficult. “Now I have direct contact in Japan. Before the pandemic we used to send our orders to local sellers, but since COVID many of them have stopped wearing it [seafood from Japan] because it would go wrong quickly and not sell on time, ”he said.
I was invited to dinner at Kinokawa as a guest of the restaurant. During the meal, Silva said: “We do everything as we want. Freestyle! True omakase. My diners and I were treated to a meal based not only on what was available, but also on the whim of the chefs. Throughout the dinner, the duo alternated between preparing and presenting the dishes, giving everyone the opportunity to show off their style and personality. Kin prepared a combination of old restaurant favorites as well as classic omakase offerings, which still displayed a unique elegance. Silva took the opportunity to push the boundaries and in some cases created dishes on the fly.
From the start of the service, the chemistry between the chefs was evident and the duo created a cohesive menu while using their unique styles. As Kinokawa provides omakase, dishes may vary from dinner to dinner. On the night of our visit, even the first and second seats had different items. Our dinner opened with ceviche style pasta clams (which are softer and smaller than small necks) in a slightly spicy sauce – which is an unusual way to serve clams, as they usually require heat to open. The guests were then treated to two pieces of nigiri. The first was a slice of A5 Wagyu topped with flaked salt and lightly seared on binchō-tan. The other featured fresh Japanese university, one of Kin’s signature ingredients. The leader was eager to share his considerable knowledge on the subject, even outlining the differences between uni types and what influences his choices. Uni would make another appearance later in the meal when Kin picked up a Blackbird favorite Izakaya, Uni Carbonara.
Throughout the dinner, Kin and Silva served dishes ranging from the unusual to the daring. A less familiar but accessible dish was ankimo, or monkfish liver served as a pâté. It had a mild flavor and texture and was served with seaweed and pickled cucumber. Another interesting plaque featured both the shell and the meat of a shrimp – both intended to eat. The shrimp meat was served ceviche-style alongside its fried exoskeleton, offering diners both ends of the spectrum of textures.
Go all out in what did you say I just ate? category, Kin served the last dish he developed before leaving Hidden Omakase: shirako, Where potato starch crust, red snapper sperm. It was served lightly fried and dipped in a kind of tsuyu [sauce] similar to that served with aged tofu. The little swimmers had a texture and taste similar to tofu, but more like custard (think fried cheese curds) and had a distinct seafood aroma. Although the flavor was harmless in all respects, it ‘was certainly a daring choice that might surprise some customers.
At one point of the night, Silva came out of the kitchen and exclaimed enthusiastically that he was “freestyle” this lap. The result was a bowl of smoked trout roe and black trumpet mushrooms, garnished with aged Parmesan. It was an umami bomb, balanced by the salt and nutty cheese. A glance around the room showed that diners were finding creative ways to remove the last bits from their bowls using only chopsticks.
The ingenuity continued until dessert with a ice cream sandwich. Silva filled a Japanese milk bun intended for a bread dish with cà phê sữa đá ice cream topped with burnt sugar.
Even though the restaurant has just opened and is still growing, the team behind Kinokawa has managed to create a unique, fun and complete dining experience. The intimate setting worked well with Kin’s friendly demeanor, and he spoke frequently with the guests. Silva’s energy was clearly visible. At times he could be seen dancing in the kitchen. With their enthusiasm and the freedom to serve whatever they wanted, the chefs created a night to remember.
For now, Kinokawa is open Thursday through Sunday, and reservations from 6 p.m. are available on Resy. The price of the dinner is $ 150 per person and a deposit of $ 50 is required. Kinokawa is currently BYOB and does not have capping rights. Tesseract will hopefully debut in February, but the exact opening date will depend on when the liquor license arrives.