A taste of authentic Japanese cuisine, flavors in Houston

HOUSTON – While the world’s biggest sporting event is taking place thousands of miles away, many Houstonians can appreciate Japanese cuisine in the heart of Houston, in fact, right in River Oaks.

Shun Japanese Kitchen is home to many authentic Japanese flavors and values. The chef, Naoki Yoshida or Nao-san, said his goal with his restaurant is to highlight the beauty and flavors of Japanese cuisine. From the design of the restaurant to the ways he innovates the menu, Shun Japanese Kitchen is as fresh as it gets!

Touches of Tokyo line the walls and ceiling of Shun, a restaurant at the edge of River Oaks that captures the eye of any guest walking in. From the wooden sake barrels that greet you when you walk in, to the kimono fabric décor to the solid wood sushi bar Yoshida built and sanded himself, Shun is a sight to see and a place to try Japanese food.

“Japanese is in my bloodline, and I feel like it’s been misrepresented for many years. It’s time for me or a Japanese chef to come in and kind of change the game to really show was Japanese cuisine is really about,” Yoshida said.

Yoshida has more than 20 years of experience in Japanese cuisine. He has trained in virtually every area of the business.

“One of my biggest things is seasonality. I called the restaurant, ‘Shun,’ which means, ‘Peak of seasons,’” Yoshida said.

Yoshida said in Japan, the four seasons are a huge part of the culture with flavors, décor and lifestyles catered to the appropriate season. Food is no different; seasonal ingredients and the freshness of what is in season rules the menu. Freshness is another quality.

“Everything in Japan is usually made from scratch,” Yoshida said.

At Shun, almost everything is made from scratch, even the sauces, which Yoshida said are carefully crafted and thought out. Some signature dishes include Yoshida’s yellow-tail Crudo, a beautiful dish made with the freshest yellowtail and seasonal herbs. Another Japanese cuisine priority? -- Beauty. The yellowtail crudo is carefully placed in the shape of a circle in a special sauce with the herbs are sprinkled on top.

“It’s as if to resemble a pond and water,” Yoshida said. “(The sauce is) dashi infused with tomato and then we filter it out six times to make sure it’s clear.”

Of course, Shun offers fresh sushi, which Yoshida said he gets the freshest available or from Japan. Quality and careful preparation is the name of Shun’s game and there are no “busy” topping on the maki.

“Japanese cuisine is about simplicity and the quality of the ingredients,” Yoshida said. “You don’t want anything to take away from the quality of the fish’s flavor.”

The specially glazed candied bacon-wrapped mochi is also eye-catching. The candied bacon and mochi are also made in-house, which is quite the process of hammering the rice into a soft consistency.

“We’re one of the only restaurants in Houston that actually make their own mochi in-house,” Yoshida said.

The food is also meaningful and symbolic.

“Rice is the number one item in Japan that shows everything from beginning to end. From a sustainability (standpoint), it takes a year for rice to grow,” Yoshida said.

Yoshida also plays with innovation. A popular appetizer is the chiashu gyoza. Chiashu is a meat commonly use to top ramen, another popular Japanese dish. However, Yoshida wanted to make that the meat of the gyoza, which are popular Japanese dumplings that are usually made with another meat. The gyoza is also garnished with black truffle and served with a house-made dipping sauce. The entire restaurant is carefully crafted and thought out.

Even his sushi bar is made from scratch!

“I bought the wood slabs. I put it on and it took me 32 hours to wet sand it down,” Yoshida said.

Yoshida and his wife, Renee, work in the restaurant together. Yoshida built many portions of the restaurant décor himself. His wife makes all of the desserts.

“We put our blood sweat and tears into this business,” Yoshida said.

Yoshida also owns a Japanese snack box company called Nako Bento Box Company, which is run out of Shun.

For more information: www.nakobentobox.com.

It’s their love for Japanese culture that keeps the seasonal menu changing and guests coming in.