The destination-worthy Japanese restaurant Bellaire has been craving will make its debut this week. Aya Sushi opens for dinner service this Thursday, September 1.
Kau Ba Saigon Kitchen partners Bruce Kish and Minette Corpuz teamed up with chef Pak Tsui, a partner in Kau Ba as well as Fat Bao and Heights favorite Ka Sushi, to open Aya in the former Bernie’s Burger Bus space at 5407A Bellaire Blvd. They’ve enlisted chef Yoshi Katsuyama as chef and partner where he’ll work alongside beverage director Chris Morris, a cocktail veteran whose resume includes Hunky Dory, MAD, and Kau Ba.
The Tokyo-trained chef brings experiences from restaurants such as Uchi, Aqui, and Soto Sushi to his role. He’s best known for his outgoing personality — note the pink apron — and elaborate omakase meals, which will be a centerpiece of Aya’s offerings. Diners will be able to order the chef’s $135, 19-course omakase, which will incorporate ingredients flown in from Japan, from anywhere in the restaurant — not just the sushi counter. Eventually, customers will have the option to sit at the sushi counter for either the standard omakase or a more premium progression. Morris will offer beverage pairings designed to compliment that day’s menu.
Diners who prefer an a la carte experience will find a range of hot and cold preparations such as nigiri, maki, and sashimi. Highlights include Kanpaccio (amberjack with green apple, seasonal caviar, and shoyu vinegar), the Hamachili (yellowtail, ponzu, garlic, and birdseye chili) and the signature 401 roll, named for Bellaire’s zip code, a tempura fried roll made with tuna, salmon, avocado, and squid ink-dyed miso vinegar. On the hot side, look for dishes such as miso sea bass and hot stone A5 wagyu.
Asked about their ambitions for the restaurant, Morris acknowledges that they’re commensurate with Katsuyama’s experience and reputation.
“We want to be in the same venerated space as Uchi/MF/Kata/et. al,” he writes in an email. “The space was designed with Yoshi-san’s skill and personality in mind, which is the focal point of the restaurant. We’re definitely striving for a more elevated experience, which is why we went the extra mile of making sure we had an incredible beverage program and curated pairings available as well.”
That beverage program starts with an inventory of more than 200 wines, 50 sakes, and 80 Japanese whiskies that Morris has selected to pair with the menu. In addition, he’s created cocktails such as a nitro Midori Sour and the Fiona Graham, a negroni variation made with sake.
“We spend all this energy selecting this amazing fish, flying it halfway around the world, and having it prepared by a phenomenal chef, so I knew that we had be more thoughtful about how we constructed our beverage program,” Morris adds. “Every single sake, wine, and cocktail has been designed with the overall experience in mind.”
Overall, the restaurant will seat approximately 45 people in its main dining room, nine at the sushi bar, 10 at the cocktail bar, and 50 on its patio. It opens for dinner nightly at 5 pm. Reservations are available via OpenTable.