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Masa Sushi Stands Strong for 13 Years

December 1st, 2018

By Xander Thomas

Within the last couple of years, sushi has grown immensely in popularity, it’s gone from having to make a drive out of your way for it, to being able to head down to your local grocery store if you just can’t live without it for the moment. Masa Sushi is considered a front runner in the market for the area.

“Sushi restaurants and Japanese restaurants in general didn’t have a large presence in the area in 2005 when this was opened” said Jason Ames, Masa Sushi general manager “Masa Sushi has stood the test of time, and we’re still the premiere restaurant in SE Houston area”

Owner Michael Zhou opened the first restaurant on El Dorado Blvd. in October 2005, and they just celebrated their 13-year anniversary on Thursday the 18th. So, what makes people choose Masa when there are more and more restaurants to grab the same grub popping up around town?

“As far as ambiance, décor, staff, portion sizes, pricing, originality of our menu, I think that takes the cake as far as our competition is concerned in the area”

There are three locations currently; the original store located in Webster, the second one is on 646 in Dickinson, and the one most recently opened is in the middle of Friendswood. Each restaurant has a unique floorplan and different luxuries to offer the guests.

“Masa 2, for example, the Dickinson location, has a loft, with couches and a lounge upstairs” Jason said, “the third location in Friendswood has a private sushi bar that customers can purchase so to speak, and Michael, the owner of the establishment, of all the restaurants, will actually prepare a meal for them.”

While the nice layout and these unique offerings are nice, the food is really what keeps anyone coming back into any eatery. Jason immediately came up with a list of dishes that would be a good start for anyone who has never eaten at any of the restaurants.

“Costa Rica beef, Costa Rica black pepper tuna, black pepper tuna sashimi, combination Costa Rica,” he said.

He says that when available, the menu features fish specials including blue fin tuna and the fatty belly of the same fish, called toro, and sometimes uni (sea urchin). He says the best part is where they get their blue fin from.

“The owner has a cousin that owns a fishing outfit in Hawaii and on occasion we will get fresh blue fin which is caught in Hawaii and packed with dry ice and expressed shipped to us” Jason said “Which puts us a leg up on other competition in the area given that we have that source.”

There are many places to get your sushi fix around the Clear Lake area, and more popping up every day, but there is a reason Masa has lasted 13 years in the same spot, and has since grown to have three locations, each of which brings people in the door. Jason says that Michael really has it figured out, where the market is concerned.

“We’ve stood the test of time,” he said “we’re still doing well, still making money, still get good crowds, still get good customers and happy employees.”

The Zen of Sushi

February 1st, 2015

masasushitunathingMasa Sushi’s Michael Zhou pours his heart and soul into every dish

By Rod Evans

It’s hard to imagine, but not too long ago, one of the Bay Area’s premier sushi chefs didn’t know a California roll from a dinner roll.

When Michael Zhou, owner and head chef of Masa Sushi, first came to the U.S. from his native China 30 years ago he was already an accomplished sushi chef, but he faced a steep learning curve in mastering how to prepare American style sushi.

“A Japanese restaurant opened in my hometown in 1985 and I became a chef there,” Zhou recalls. “They made traditional Japanese food and didn’t even have California rolls. When I came to the U.S., I didn’t speak English and didn’t know anything about American style Japanese food. I didn’t even know how to make a California roll, so I had to learn quickly how to make all of the rolls.”

Zhou’s on-the-job training paid dividends as he progressed quickly from being a chef to part-owner of a restaurant. Zhou came to the U.S. in 1994 and went to work at a Japanese restaurant in Tampa Bay, Fla. He moved to Houston in 1995 and went on to become head chef and part owner in the popular Mikado restaurant located on Woodway. After building a reputation as one of the area’s top sushi chefs, Zhou and his partners closed Mikado and Zhou opened Masa Sushi in Clear Lake in 2004.

With the original Masa Sushi, located at 977 NASA Parkway, and the Dickinson location, which opened in 2007, Zhou continues to dazzle diners with his creativity and passion for sushi. He has earned praise for his uncanny ability to make eating sushi and sashimi, an amazing experience by blending cultures to produce food that is a “fusion” of flavors and textures. Masa—which means “graceful” or “elegant”—is unique among sushi restaurants because it intertwines traditional Japanese recipes with dashes of French culinary flourishes.

“We combine traditional Japanese sashimi with Texas style sushi, and because my wife is a French chef, we also incorporate French cooking into many items. That’s why we call ours a fusion restaurant,” Zhou says.

The French influence can be experienced in several menu offerings, including the grilled lamb chops appetizer and numerous sushi and sashimi entrees featuring baked salmon. As for the “Texas style” of sushi, Zhou says the term refers to more than just the taste of the entrée.

“With some traditional Japanese items, Americans cannot eat them because they are not used to those tastes, so we try to change the taste a little bit, but the big difference from traditional Japanese sushi and Texas style is the portion size,” Zhou says. “In Japan, the portions are very small. If you go to Japan and eat sushi, you could put the whole thing in your mouth. But our sushi is cut into very big pieces because Texas style uses big fish.

Americans like center cut meats; big pieces of steak and big pieces of fish, so we give our customers big portions and charge reasonable prices. That’s our style.”

Of course, good tasting, fresh fish is the key ingredient to making good sushi, and a family connection helps Zhou secure some of the finest tuna. His cousin owns a fish company in Honolulu, Hawaii and provides Zhou with a steady stream of yellow fin and the rarer blue fin variety.

“Yellow fin tuna is very plentiful almost everywhere, but blue fin is not. The best blue fin comes from Hawaii and isn’t sold in very many restaurants in the U.S. In Japan, people pay high dollar for blue fin tuna. My cousin keeps one for me every week,” he says.

In addition to getting fish from Hawaii, Zhou sources seafood from a variety of locations. He gets salmon, snapper, flounder and sea urchins from California. Super white tuna from Australia and eel from Korea are menu favorites, while squid, octopus and yellow tail are shipped in from Japan.

Fish sometimes weighing in excess of 100 pounds are cut up fresh each day by Zhou and his team of chefs.

While sushi is the restaurant’s calling card, one look at the Masa Sushi menu reveals just how skilled Zhou is in creating delectable sashimi. The thinly sliced fish is served in a variety of fashions ranging from traditional Japanese to Texas and fusion style.

“We create lots of our sashimi fusion style. In the traditional Japanese style, sashimi is only fish, but an attractive presentation on the plate is very important, but I create fusion style with things like our black pepper sashimi and we add our special soy and wasabi sauce as well. We also have a Texas style jalapeno yellow tail sashimi and our Costa Rica style sashimi that’s lightly seared and includes garlic and green and white onions,” he said.
Zhou has not only taken extraordinary care to produce outstanding food, but he’s also put meticulous thought into the décor of both restaurants. Both locations feature expansive bar areas that are ideal for solo diners, along with warm, intimate booths and art and lighting fixtures that combine old world Japanese themes with modern touches.

“When we opened our restaurant, we wanted it to have an atmosphere that’s warm and welcoming to everyone,” Zhou says. “We thought about every detail, including even which direction the doors face and used feng shui concepts throughout.”

Zhou says he chose to open his restaurants in the Bay Area because of the diverse population that includes many people who know what good Japanese food tastes like.

“Lots of our customers have been to Japan and know Japanese food. When I first came here, there weren’t too many sushi restaurants. Now, they’re everywhere, but we keep getting more busy because people try other restaurants and the ones that know what good sushi is always come back,” he says.

One thing Zhou hasn’t had to be concerned about is hiring new chefs. He says many of the chefs at Masa Sushi’s original location have been there since it opened and the staff of the Dickinson restaurant has remained unchanged since it opened. Such stability, Zhou says, results in unmatched consistency in food preparation and service. Likewise, Zhou’s philosophy on the key to making great sushi hasn’t changed over the years.

“You have to put your heart inside the food,” he stresses. “It doesn’t matter what kind of restaurant it is, if you want to make good food, you have to use your heart.”