By Mark Evangelista
When his mind is clear and he’s thousands of miles away on vacation from his Masa Sushi restaurants, Michael Zhou dreams of sushi – artful, precise cuts of the freshest fish atop aromatic rice with vinegar.
“I love to make sushi; I love to make sushi,” said Zhou, repeating for emphasis.
“If I go home and I don’t make sushi, in about a week, I dream about it,” said the sushi chef of 31 years.
“In my dream, I am behind the sushi bar, making sushi. Everyday it’s all about fish, fish and fish.”
For those passionate about Japanese food, Masa Sushi continues to craft a visual feast that satisfies the sushi devotee or newbie.
With his wife Chi, Zhou and Masa Sushi are veterans of the Bay Area dining landscape with locations in Webster, Dickinson and Friendswood.
Situated at 1780 S. Friendswood, the newest of the three locations has a laidback yet contemporary vibe. Dramatically dimmed lights and background music create a welcoming but cool environment. While the terminology may not be part of the vocabulary of the mix of married couples and families, the young professionals also dining on a recent holiday weekend might describe the scene as “very chill.”
For those looking to become heroes to their co-workers, a spacious party room is available at no charge at Friendswood. Sliding doors convert this room into a business luncheon for 40-50. A huge flat-screen television is available.
If presentations and spreadsheets are not on the agenda, the space is a perfect destination for holiday parties and large birthday and anniversary soirees.
One way to make a splash either professionally or personally is to order a boatload of sushi. While not for passage, these wooden ornamental vessels will transport attendees to a land of full flavor and the wow factor. The smaller boat serves four people and starts at $200. The large boat, similar to the one near the entrance, serves 30 people with an entry point of $1000. Just like any good voyage, be sure to book this one in advance.
Since opening in September of this year, Masa Sushi III has offered a full bar with an enticing selection of sake. The choices of the fermented rice wine of Japan is offered hot, cold, fruit-flavored and unfiltered.
For those who look for signature libations, head bartender Charne’ Smuts recommended the lychee martini and the Japanese sangria. The martini features Absolut vodka and the juice of the exotic lychee with its sweet and mild tartness. Garnished with three lychees on a bamboo skewer, this is one to order if you love martinis.
The young mixologist’s description of the Japanese sangria should get your mouth watering: A choice of apple or peach sake paired with plum wine and swirled with a medium of fresh fruit including orange, apple and cherry.
After you put your glass down, in front of you will be sushi selected by Zhou’s cousin and delivered fresh from Hawaii. Not to dismiss the rest of the shipment, but most restaurants in the area will not include live offerings such as sea urchin (uni) or scallops.
“First, I look at the skin and the eyes,” said Zhou. “Then I know it’s fresh.”
Those wanting cooked dishes will not be disappointed with the Kobe beef offered. Long before a basketball player named his future basketball player of a son as such, Kobe beef has been prized in Japan for its taste and tenderness. Fed beer as part of its diet and given massages, the source of Kobe beef lives a good life, and then allows us to have a good one as well. The steaks and beef dishes offering Kobe beef practically disappears in the diner’s mouth, leaving behind only satisfaction and intense pleasure.
The newly remodeled NASA location (977 E NASA Pkwy.) has expanded about 30 percent, growing from 3000 to 4500 square feet, said Zhou. Its party room can accommodate about 30 while the Dickinson restaurant (1804 FM 646 West, Suite R) has a private space that can fit in a cozy 25 diners.
By going into one of the Masa Sushi locations, you can see into the dreams of Michael Zhou. His dreams are so good, you can taste them.