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Chef's Corner: Horiuchi “Hori” Manabu

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Horiuchi Manabu

Kata Robata’s Horiuchi "Hori" Manabu is among the few chefs in Houston certified to serve poisonous blowfish at his restaurant. (Photo: Nick de la Torre)

Find out where the experts eat, with our Chef’s Corner column. This month, restaurant writer Dai Huynh interviewed chef Horiuchi Manabu.

Two out of three chefs we've interviewed over the years declared Kata Robata (3600 Kirby Drive) as their favorite sushi joint. From Charivari chef-owner Johann Schuster to Fluff Bake Bar owner Rebecca Masson, toques praised the freshness of Kata's fish and executive chef Horiuchi "Hori" Manabu, a James Beard Award finalist who started his career at age 16 cooking with his mom in a retirement home in Japan.

Later, Hori attended Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, Japan, where he earned a certificate to prepare blowfish. No, not every sushi chef is allowed to serve the lethal, poisonous blowfish. The chef must be licensed, after three years or more of rigorous training. But even then, passing isn't a sure thing. About 70 percent of applicants fail the exam. Hori, graduating with honors, went to work at the prestigious Sushi-Ko Honten and Ichimura Kansai Kappou restaurants in Tokyo. Eventually, he arrived in Houston as the Japan consulate general's personal chef, followed by a stint at the now-shuttered Kubo's Sushi Bar and Grill and, then, Kata. We caught up with the 42 year old to talk about his favorite restaurants.

Kata is a big draw for chefs who are fans of sushi. Where do you go for sushi?

I really don't eat sushi in Houston, but when I'm in New York, I like to go to Sushi of Gari (402 E. 78th Street). In Seattle, they use a lot of local fish, and there, a good place is Nishino (3130 E. Madison Street). In October, I'm going back to Japan. My friend and I always go to the fish market there. Have you heard of it? It's amazing – the biggest in the world. We would get there right when it opens: 5 a.m. We go there for the freshest sushi imaginable. We stuff ourselves with sushi, and afterward, we would go home to sleep it off.

What about in Houston? What are some favorite places?

I love Vietnamese food. I go to Huynh Restaurant (912 Saint Emanuel Street) almost every week. I live near there, but don't ask me the name of the dishes I eat. I go by the numbers. My favorites are No.  94 and No. 99. Ninety-four is a noodle soup with pork, shrimp and fish cake. Ninety-nine is thin, steamed rice cakes with shrimp. It's so good. In Chinatown, I go to Mala Sichuan (9348 Bellaire Boulevard). I'll try different things when I go, but I always get the mapo tofu – it is so spicy, but good. I used to go to Fu Fu Cafe (9889 Bellaire Boulevard) a lot for the clear noodles with soy sauce and garlic. And for Indian, I like Pondicheri (2800 Kirby), just down the street, and for steak, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse (5839 Westheimer).


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