Kenichi ups its game with sushi menu from former Uchi chef Sho Mochido
Last week, Kenichi — the workhorse of the Victory Park dining scene, the only original eatery to withstand the vagaries of that difficult-to-program development — revealed its full new sushi menu. In most contexts, the addition of a new roll here, a unique sashimi there, would be of no greater moment beyond a mention in Tasting Notes. What makes this release notable, however, is who is designing it: Sho Mochido. A gifted authentic Japanese chef with experience as head sushi chef both at Austin’s acclaimed Uchi (which opens a Dallas branch any moment now) and Las Vegas’ Kumi at Mandalay Bay, “Chef Sho” is a thoughtful and gifted manipulator of the sushi arts, a technician who understands the delicate nature of fish as few people can comprehend.
This is the thing about sushi: Anyone who dismissively calls it just raw fish misses the point — it is quite anything but. Sure, it’s often not cooked under a flame or on a griddle. That does not mean that the fish itself is doing all the work, with the chef merely plopping it in front of you on a dish with a side of rice. As anyone who seen the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi can attest, the craft of sushi preparation is more akin to an art than a craft, from the selection of perfect flesh to the subtleties of its cut to the compositional aspects of a dish, both visually and as a taste-sensory experience. Great sushi is so much better than good sushi it’s a shame to refer to them in the same paragraph.
While I was an early fan of Kenichi, I have not been back in a number of years; the Dallas food scene has been so vibrant (and not always around Victory Park) that there were, so to speak, other fish to fry. That includes Dallas’ near-countless sushi options.
The master of what Americans perceive as the mark of excellence in that field, of course, is Nobu Matsuhisa, whose Nobu, in the 1980s, first introduced the entire concept to American palates. Nobu’s skill was in giving traditional Japanese cuisine a modern and decidedly Western update. He didn’t cleave needlessly to old-school traditions where new-school could produce exquisite results.
The same is true of Sho. He understands the balance of flavors and style to create something refreshing. Among the items on his new menu, which joins some of the long-standing items from the grill side of the kitchen, are several standouts, though the one he calls “crispy rice sushi” ($18) delighted me the most: perfect little dice of rice, browned ever so slightly into firm cubes, provide a platform for slender slices of fish topped with the snappily-named “hot mess” sauce. I was enchanted by its depth and ingenuity from such sparse ingredients … which is, naturally, the great strength of most Japanese cuisine. (I asked Sho if he could share with me his technique for making that rice so goddamn good. He smiled, shook his head, and said in slightly broken English, “No. Secret.” Touché.)
Of course, anyone can stumble upon one workable recipe. But his work at Kenichi holds up on multiple dishes (sushi and grilled). Sho offers a selection of items, from the madai “carpaccio” (Sho’s twist on the Italian raw meat dish; thin crescents of snapper seasoned deftly with salt, pepper, yuzo and the much-discussed dashi broth, dabbed with EVOO and a sprinkle of microgreens — $22) to his exquisite buffet of a chef’s tasting (at $200, a sort of orgasmic omakase of raw bar delights, from Spanish red snapper to a fully baked fish skeleton which you are encouraged to consume fully — up to and including all the bones and the head, where all the meat is —as a kind of fishy “chip”) to an entire “hot mess” roll of snow crab and avocado ($19). All of them pair terrifically with the craft cocktails, high-end sakes (including the restaurant’s own proprietary brew) and traditional desserts (a selection of mochi ice creams, warm lava cake). Yes, Dallas is a beef town, but Chef Sho might convince you otherwise. Fish — it’s what’s for dinner.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 1, 2015.