By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
Puffs of acrid smoke plume from Teppo's yakatori grill, a narrow metal cookery box covered with a bent and loose mesh grate. If you're seated at the sushi bar near the grill, you get to watch the chef brush a diverse assortment of skewered animal parts with sauce and turn the skewers as they cook. You also get a blast of smoke every now and again, leaving you smelling like you have smoked bacon curing under your arms, which might be better than smelling like you have sushi under your arms when you think about it. Under the grill grate smolder chunks of sumi, a Japanese oak charcoal that is prized for the flavor it imparts on grilled foods. The various meats impaled upon those skewers are cut into gem-sized nuggets. And they are varied.
In its purest form, yakatori is chicken threaded onto skewers and cooked over a grateless grill. The flesh is held over the fire by the skewer ends. At Teppo, chicken is offered in serval forms, none of them resembling the McNugget variety. In fact, the list is a veritable last-minute science fair project. There's dark and white meat chicken, sure. But there are also chicken strips, chicken wings, chicken liver, chicken gizzard, chicken heart, chicken meatballs with quail egg and...beef tongue.
Tongue is a delicacy I've never tried before. I don't know why. Maybe it's where it comes from. I don't much relish the thought of French-kissing a cow, but is eating a steer's flanks any less intimate? Or maybe it was once catching a glimpse of a tongue, roots and all, stretched out in a market meat case with its thick base narrowing into a tip with pronounced taste buds popping from the surface in all of their cud-rejuvenating glory.
2014 Greenville Ave.
Dallas, TX 75206
Region: East Dallas & Lakewood
Tako (octopus): $4
Uni (sea urchin): $8.75
Teppo roll: $8.75
Flying fish roe: $4
Hamachi (yellow tail): $5.75
Chicken gizzard: $3.50
Beef tongue: $3.50
Fried snow crab legs with tartar sauce: $7.50
Cook-your-way Kobe beef and veggies: $14
Pan-braised duck breast: $7
Baby squid and beef tripe: $4.50
Bonita salad: $10
This experience morphed into a full-blown phobia, one I intended to lick, so to speak. The tongue appeared on a rippled, rectangular plate on a pair of skewers. The tongue meat was indistinguishable from the bunched pieces of chicken gizzard I had ordered with it for comparison. But on closer inspection, there was a striking difference. The tongue was cut into tiny cubes, resembling miniature versions of stew meat. The gizzard nuggets were cut into little globes.
After wrestling a tongue cube from the skewer with chopsticks, I noticed that the interior of the flesh was bright red, like a rare steak, whereas the chicken gizzard was a dusty gray with touches of brown. In the mouth, each exhibited a similar rubbery, gristly sort of texture, with flavors coming almost exclusively from the sauce. It's a sad day of dining when a tongue is indistinguishable from a gullet.
When first confronted with the stuff, it's hard to imagine a food more frightening than sushi, at least before you get accustomed to it, and popping flying fish eggs in your molars and slurping ochre blobs of sea urchin become commonplace. But Teppo has one dish where terrestrial terrors mingle with marine frights. It's the baby squid and beef tripe in shiso tomato sauce. (A typo on the menu read "beef trite," which a server assured me was also a component of the cattle's digestive system. And when you think about it, it makes sense that an animal with five stomachs would have a part that's trite.) This was a difficult dish. The plate held a half dozen or so sauced baby squid arranged in a semicircle around the plate's southern edge. Near the plate's north quadrant was a clump of tripe strips bathed in a pinkish residue. Both tripe and squid were chilled, and the sauce leaned a little on the sweet side. Texturally, both were gelatinous and a little chewy--not anything like the fried calamari or steak gristle a Texan might encounter as distant cousins to this dish. This most certainly is an acquired taste.
It took me a few times to get the hang of uni, too, though it was impeccable. Teppo's uni (sea urchin) is earthy, cool, firm and moist. Hamachi (yellow tail) was like cold, damp silk while the tako (octopus) was soft and resilient with not a hint of rubbery flaccidity.
The Teppo roll is a glorious thing. The core is a rich rose of salmon mingled with cucumber and carrot threads. The exterior is draped with sheets of yellow tail and sections of avocado with the edges dotted with sesame seeds. It's a sensory assault of balanced flavors and textural elegance.
Teppo, which means iron cuisine, according to owner Teiichi Sakurai, is a strikingly minimal but elegant space, littered with just a few tables opposite a sushi bar of polished honey-toned wood that matches the wall paneling. The wall across from the sushi bar has bright nooks sponged in cream-sicle orange and swimming-pool blue that hold bottles, pottery and vases of flowers with wilted greenery. At each table setting are little stones called hashioki upon which you prop your chopsticks when not pinching bits of gizzard or tongue with them. The sound system, emanating from a stack of components in a disheveled corner of the sushi back bar, pipes music from electronic-dance dilettante Moby and other techno jitters. We even heard the theme from Bagdad Café, remixed, it seemed, with some techno anxiety for hipness.