Bomb Shelter

You can have an Atomic time at this West End sushi joint

He pulls it out from a manila folder stuffed with other old photographs. "This is me," says sushi evangelist Scott Melton, pointing to one of three boys in short-sleeved white shirts with slivers of black ties slicing across their surfaces. "It's kind of Lee Harvey Oswaldish, isn't it?" It was.

The black-and-white photo is dated 1964. Melton was 18. In the background is a sheriff, his hat floating above the boys in eerie Jack Ruby reminiscence. "That's Brian Jones," Melton says, pointing to the blond-mopped boy in the center. Jones, of course, was the much-lauded founder of the Rolling Stones who was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool a mere five years after this photo was snapped. Melton says the pic is from "Teen Fair" at the Joe Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio. He played drums in one of the bands that played the same day as the Stones.

Melton pulls out another photo of him and his son with the late comedian Chris Farley, taken the year he died. One hopes this folder isn't a chronology of Melton posing with famous cadavers. His real life is more interesting than that. After all, he's a restaurateur with a history of modest successes, long failures, partnership squabbles, lawsuits and lots of wasabi to cauterize the wounds.

One sushi burger, hold the wasabi: Atomic Sushi operates in what was once a Johnny Rockets grill.
Karlisch
One sushi burger, hold the wasabi: Atomic Sushi operates in what was once a Johnny Rockets grill.

Location Info

Map

Atomic Sushi & Grill

1718 N. Market St.
Dallas, TX 75202

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Downtown & Deep Ellum

Details

Edamame $3
Miso soup $3
Smoked squid salad $6
Lettuce wraps $6.25
San Francisco seafood fusion $18.95
Bombay chicken $8.95
Sushi $3 to $7
1718 N. Market St., 214-651-9990, open for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; open for dinner 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday. $$

Melton says his sushi jones clipped him just after he was pried from a 20-something-year marriage. He used raw fish to remedy the disorienting life shift, which compulsively drove him to Yamaguchi's on Inwood Road. The stuff attracted Melton, and he figured he could take it to a different--perhaps hipper--level. "It's pretty to look at, but it's good for you to eat," Melton says. "And I find people who eat sushi--and really like it--are fun. They're interesting. They went out on a limb at one time in their life to try raw fish."

Thus Melton opened Deep Sushi in Deep Ellum in 1996. But not long after the restaurant got traction, Melton's limited partners voted him out of the restaurant.

In part to spite his former partners, Melton opened Sushi Nights just a few yards away from Deep Sushi in 1998. He did well for a while, feeding bootstrapping Internet upstarts as well as the bulging payrolls of Yahoo! But the bubble pop knocked him on his halibut. Melton walked away from Sushi Nights in May of last year and set about to scour the city for backers and real estate to continue his sushi quest.

The combination of backers and real estate (or paucity thereof) landed him in the West End, where he hoped to spice up the corporate restaurant contingency--T.G.I. Friday's, On the Border, Spaghetti Warehouse, Corner Bakery--that inhabits what was once a hot nightlife stretch.

Melton burrowed into the former Johnny Rockets space and opened Atomic Sushi & Grill. Johnny Rockets is a national 1950s-style diner/malt-shop chain, and to avoid a costly makeover, Melton craftily merged his raw fish into a 1950s nuclear-tipped Red scare. For him, Melton says, the '50s bring back memories of hiding under desks during nuclear-attack drills. So he splashed this restaurant (he's the developer and general manager) with fallout shelter signs designating rest rooms and filled the menu with dishes like meltdown special, beef fusion, atomic spicy chicken and San Francisco seafood fusion.

The latter is a collection of seafood confetti crowded with scraps of vegetation, most of them in brilliant shades of searing green in a potent brown sauce that is equally searing. Lobster tail segments dominate, a peculiar characteristic for a restaurant that sought to economize by incorporating Johnny Rockets duds rather than replace them. But all is good here. The tail hulls harbor creamy white meat loaded with bittersweet brine. And though it's more briny than sweet, more chewy than rich, it skirts the dry twine consistency that comes from frozen-then-heat-tortured tails that infest most moderately priced lobster dishes. Shrimp is plump and firm, too, though not bursting with compelling sea flavors that can make these creatures titillate beyond their means. Scallops were mushy, but the terrestrial flora--zucchini, broccoli, carrot, an asparagus stalk here and there--were impeccable.

Of course, this thermonuclear entrée isn't sushi. But it's perhaps difficult for an exclusively raw-fish diner to survive in an area within spitting range of Hooters. "There was no Asian place down here, period," Melton says. "That's why the menu went P.F. Chang-looking as well as sushi."

The P.F. Chang's wannabe dishes are under the heading China Syndrome. They include lettuce wraps, but instead of brilliantly green, crisp and dripping iceberg leaves the size of concert shells, you get slightly faded little runt cups. Instead of a potent little chicken mix stained with a peppy brown sauce, this iceberg stuffing is subdued, maybe even dull. And busy. The chicken was minced into obscurity and hidden behind a dust storm of scallions, crispy rice noodles, bell pepper specks, pulverized carrot, celery and egg (I liked the egg part). But there was nothing really compelling in the mix. It needs some kind of aromatic jazz punch: chilies, lemongrass and cilantro maybe. Why not give Chang's a Thai choker?

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