Dish Sushi sashayed onto the scene last June like a Hollywood starlet, exuding vitality, striking good looks and impeccable taste. Accompanied by a sexy jingle and a fair amount of buzz, I needed to find out whether Dish was the whole package or merely mediocre with a great stylist.
The restaurant's decor gives only the subtlest of nods to its Asian influences. There are the red walls and a traditional Japanese archway, but absent are dragons and ornate wallpaper. The large space is filled with imposing tables, bold vases, crackled-glass screens and a baby grand piano, all bathed in a warm amber light.
If it was for rent, I would have moved in. Instead I took a spot at one of the tables and was met with prompt service. My companion was pleased to see that local beers were available, and I was blown away by the sake selection; asian pear, lychee, fuji apple, raspberry, plum (singles $18, bottles $29). They sounded tempting, but I was here for the food.
The dinner menu offers up everything from halibut teriyaki ($23) to squid salad ($7) and banana spring rolls ($8). Especially intriguing were the heart break jalapeno ($7) and monkey brain ($7) selections. The latter conjured up visions of Indiana Jones. Maybe next time.
We ordered the volcano roll ($14), tuna poki ($16), kalbi ribs ($23) and fresh oysters ($14 for six). The food didn't come out in courses; instead it was served as it was prepared. Although unorthodox to many people's restaurant thinking, it made sense. The food gets to diners as soon as it leaves the chef's hands, ensuring freshness and optimal temperature.
We received salads and miso soup, followed quickly by our food. My companion and I have been to Hawaii and are extremely picky about poki. The only version even approaching authenticity we've found locally was at Ronnie's Sushi in Jewel Lake, where the fish is fresh and the spice level delectably high.
The Dish's poki wowed us. Cubes of silky raw tuna dressed with tobiko eggs burst on the tongue, followed by an addictive heat. I could almost feel the warmth of a tropical sun on my face. Oh, wait. That was my plate of kalbi, sizzling away on a cast-iron dish, daring me to take a bite.
Kalbi is Korean but often seen on Thai and Japanese menus. The marinated meat is so delicious that it transcends borders and invites variations. My dish was especially good. Tender, smoky and accented with slices of onion, the juices and fats mingled together, and I didn't I care about the crazy hot plate. It was worth the singed fingertips. The cast-iron plates reminded me of something, as did the taste, and I realized that I'd had this dish before at Sushi Garden on Huffman. Dish owner Clyde Kim said he was influenced by the owner of Sushi Garden, his mother. She literally raised him in the restaurant business.
When Clyde and his wife, Esther, decided to open their own sushi bar, their vision was simple: modern and hip, with high standards and a clientele that becomes family. Esther told me that all of their sushi chefs have at least five to seven years of training each and each personally inspect all the fish, ensuring consistency and quality products.
The proof was in the oysters. Plump, briny and shucked with expertise, not even a hint of shell to mar the creamy texture and flavorful liquor. The volcano roll was served ring-like, a small flame "erupting" from its center. Spicy tuna, avocado, cream cheese and rice was topped with crab meat. It tasted of the ocean and was enhanced by the unagi and spicy mayo sauces.
The meal ended with a complimentary deep-fried Oreo, a parting note of decadence. It was dipped in tempura batter, topped with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The cookie was soft and creamy, a little too sweet for my taste but good in small doses. So far everything I had tried exceeded my expectations and left me yearning to try the rest of the menu.
I worked through two more of the items on my next visit. Gyoza ($7) and tuna sashimi ($13), enjoyed with a view of the skilled sushi chefs at the bar. Once again the fish was incredibly fresh and delicate-tasting. The gyoza were luscious. I inhaled five without even stopping.
Dish Sushi understands that dining out is a full sensory experience. It successfully takes on that challenge with wisdom from others and its own unique innovations and creativity. If this starlet had an agent, it would likely say, "Deep-fried Oreos are the new green tea ice cream."
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Dish Sushi Bar
Location: 639 West International Airport Road
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.- 11 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Options: Dine in, catering and takeout
Serving Asian delights