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Houston sushi restaurants put to test

Restaurants change up menu after Channel 2 Investigates report

HOUSTON – Sushi tastes so good, but it can be so expensive. Perhaps you wait for a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary for the big splurge. Channel 2 investigates found first off that you may not be getting what you expect when you order at some Houston restaurants. But even worse, what you are getting could make you very sick.

Channel 2 investigates went undercover ordering popular fish from high-end sushi restaurants and inexpensive places.

We shipped them off for DNA bar coding.

We found that Kata Robata and Sushi King on Kirby, Aka on West Alabama and Express Rolls on Memorial all served us what we ordered.

But we discovered a different problem, one that could leave you feeling sick.

Scroll down to take our quiz: How well do you know your sushi?

Over at Oishii on Richmond and Japaneiro's in Sugar Land, we asked for "tuna," but the lab report says we got escolar.

On the menus -- escolar is described as "super white tuna."

"If you are ordering super white tuna, you're assuming there's some sort of clean bright-white tuna out there," said Carl Rosa, the founder of the Sushi Club of Houston, which has more than 17,000 members, and offers a guided tour to Japan, as well as sushi demonstrations and presentations across the United States. "Escolar is actually called an oilfish or a snake mackerel. It is not a tuna," he added.

Rosa explains that menu mislabeling is more than just confusing, "If you eat too much escolar you're going to spend some time in the bathroom."

The oil in escolar can act like a laxative.


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The Food and Drug Administration has this warning:

"Escolar or oilfish (i.e., Lepidocybium flavobrunneum or Ruvettus pretiosus) contains a strong purgative oil (wax ester), called gempylotoxin, that may cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, headache, and vomiting when consumed. FDA advises against importation and interstate marketing of these fish."

"You're going to be under the impression you ate bad fish, and you didn't at all. You just had a lot of wax from a snake mackerel," Rosa said.

We went over to Oishii to ask the management about the restaurant's menu.

KPRC 2 Investigator Bill Spencer asked the manager, "Would you be willing to change the menu?"

The Oishii manager replied, "Yes, of course, of course, absolutely."


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Japaneiro was receptive to answering our questions.

"We at Japaneiro's have always used the term Escolar for that type of fish. Because it is so commonly referred to as "super white tuna" we used that under Escolar only to make it easier for our patrons to recognize it, but at no point and under no menu printing have we ever tried to conceal it as butterfish or only super white tuna. I have included 2 examples below where it is clearly Escolar and anybody familiar with Escolar will understand the product they are ordering. Under the Viking roll, we list it as Escolar as well. In our industry, Escolar is referred to as super white tuna so commonly that we used it in the description so that when people order it as super white tuna, they are fully aware that it is Escolar they are ordering. I find our practices to be the exception as opposed to the norm, and that is part of the mistake other restaurants make, but we have been upfront in putting on print that it is Escolar and not a different sneaky word to conceal its true identity."

Sincerely,
Victor Litwinenko
co-owner

Japaneiro also agreed to change the description of escolar on its menu.

Aka also listed escolar on its menu, describing it as white tuna. It has also agreed to change its menu.

Bottom line, if you see super white tuna on a menu ask the chef what you're getting before your order it because super white tuna isn't a real thing.

Click here for more information: http://www.houston-sushi.com/sushichart.html

Channel 2 Investigates discovered a problem, one that could leave you feeling sick. Investigator Bill Spencer reveals the results and the menus that are changing after our report.

There are four things you can do at a sushi restaurant to have a good meal. We sat down with Chef Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata, who is a James Beard Foundation Awards nominee.

First -- Talk to the chef and ask for what's fresh. "If you're going to get the best fresh sushi, definitely you should talk to the sushi chef," Horiuchi said, adding, "The sushi chef is going to tell you what is the freshest fish today."

Second -- Don't eat more than 3-4 ounces of Escolar. "Escolar ... that fish is a very dangerous fish," Horiuchi said, explaining, "If you eat more than 3 ounces or 4 ounces, you get a digestion problem."

Third -- Make sure the rice is body temperature. "Fish is important but sushi rice is more important," Horiuchi said, adding, "Sushi rice has to be body temperature ... If too cold it's not a good sushi ... Sushi rice is a bit warmer body temperature and fish is colder so that's the best sushi."

Fourth -- "If it smells bad, it is a bad fish, of course," Horiuchi said.