IIt feels like a week old at home for restaurateurs (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 School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. The duo are back home once again, along with fellow co-founders Nick Hogan and Tom Alisma, to open a new Blue Sushi Sake Grill in the MKT Heights mixed-use development.
The 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 new Houston Blue Sushi, which opened Wednesday, is its 19th in the US (and 5th in Texas).
A little background on the hometown of two Texans who did good – really good. After graduating from college in 2000, Hitchcock and Gentile were both named to the inaugural staff of Houston’s Central Market in Houston. Gentiles worked hard on his way from assistant chef to executive chef, while Hitchcock became the market’s seafood manager, and later opened three more grocery stores within the company.
Two years later, armed with a wealth of knowledge of fish and connections with some of the best seafood suppliers anywhere, Hitchcock and Gentile moved to Nebraska to join Hitchcock’s cousin Nick Hogan and Tom Alisma to conjure up a new sushi restaurant – Blue Sushi Sake Grill. What started as an independent sushi restaurant in Omaha led to the creation of the Flagship Restaurant Group and the partnership of the four co-owners that is still thriving today.
Where fresh seafood reigns
What sets this Japanese-inspired newcomer to the Houston restaurant scene? (Besides excellent service.) Without a doubt, their commitment is to serve up sustainably sourced seafood. It’s not just a promise to be better and to do better.
Blue Sushi—recognized as the largest sushi chain in the country—runs the Conscious Earth mission in partnership with the prestigious Monterrey Aquarium Seafood Watch, undertaking to either fish or farm in a way that has little or no impact on ocean ecosystems. With full transparency mandated, if you log into the Blue Sushi website or browse the menus, you’ll discover the fine details of how and where to source each menu item around the world.
This means that unagi eels are caught off the coast of Maine in a wild aquaculture system that is raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones, wild salmon caught in Washington state with lift nets during early summer and skipjack tuna caught at each pole in Japan. . The mission is to educate diners about the quality of the food Blue Sushi offers.
Houston Blue Sushi Look
The new Houston Blue Sushi restaurant was designed by Avant Architects in collaboration with architect (and co-owner of Flagship Restaurant Group) Tom Allisma and group art director Haylie Rousek. Inside the dining room, bright red lanterns hang from above, while under oversized booths they are pulled up to handcrafted tables.
The look is inspired by the push carts found in the bustling fish markets in Tokyo, each specially drawn with kanji characters. For those who want to watch the work of sushi chefs, simply sit on one of the 12 seats in the sushi bar.
Whether you’re for lunch, happy hour, or dinner, there’s an extensive menu, including options for those on vegetarian and gluten-free diets. In the Small, Medium, and Large Platters section, you’ll find dishes like coconut crab soup made with roasted corn, sweet potatoes, yellow curry, and coconut milk drizzled with chili oil. River rock beef arrives at the table with thinly sliced nap-cut beef with jalapeno ponzu sizzling over hot river stones.
The nigiri and sashimi specials include the Dutch Yellowtail, caught in the Netherlands in a recycled aquaculture system, and Madai chimichurri, made with red bream topped with cucumber, cherry tomatoes, maracon almonds, and Maldon sea salt with chino chimichurri sauce. The Maki menu is divided into specialty, classic and vegan categories and includes both raw and cooked rolls, such as godzilla bomb, green egg, Hama, snow white roll, vegetarian “cowgirl” roll made with pickles, vegan tempura, sriracha fried onion rings, BBQ leaves, vegan mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce. Blue Sushi’s vegetarian menu includes over 18 maki rolls and a selection of nigiri specialties, including seaweed caviar and grilled eggplant eel.
For those who are interested in drinking (or not) cocktails, mocktails and beer, as the name of the restaurant suggests, sake is served. Mystifying tinctures include the Far Eastern Mari, made with onions, peppers, herbal-infused vodka, sriracha, ponzu, and tomato juice. Then there’s Naked and Famous, a cocktail featuring Sombra mezcal, Aperol, Yellow chartreuse, and lemon. Desserts include refreshing mochi pieces in flavors like strawberry, mango and black sesame, as well as fried egg rolls 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 MKT Heights development. It is open Monday through Thursday from 11 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 11 pm, and Sunday from 12 pm to 9 pm.