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Fearless in Mesquite

Forget the spicy wings and breadsticks next door. Kamikaze's sushi is an escape from the chain gang.
Tom Jenkins

Sushi in Mesquite shouldn't be an oddity. Raw fish on rice billets is as mainstream as Vatican smoke gazing. Yet it is. What's the best-selling entrée at Kamikaze? "Grilled chicken teriyaki," says manager Shell Stafford.

This explains why Isaac, a Kamikaze sushi chef, fawns when you sit down at the bar and ask after uni. "Not good," he says, "you wouldn't like it."

But he quickly perks up. "You really like sushi, yeah?" Not many people come in for the hard stuff, he says. They're content with the rolls, perhaps. They roll off the tongue with musical monotony: California, Philly, rock 'n' roll. Bar traffic like this generally means the sushi is substandard. Not enough turnover. The stuff sits, and you usually get the fish just before it's sent to the minors, to do time in some teriyaki flotsam with a garnish held together with a cocktail sword. Strange, then, how it turns out.

Isaac talks up the mackerel, the red snapper, the ankimo. The latter is cold slices of monkfish liver, arrayed like cocktail crackers across the plate and littered with black tobiko. It has a gentle metallic bite and rich round flavors. The sushi? The plate is arranged like a garden, festooned with greens and dead fish. The pieces pose chaise-longue-like, leaning forward a little at the top. A bite disproves the turnover rule. They're cool. The meat is smooth and tender, flaunting its sassy marine musk. Only the yellowtail disappointed mildly, not as rich as some you can find across this landlocked rainbow of clays. The fact that no hot towels are offered to clean the digits disappoints, too.

Isaac evangelizes for the toro (fatty tuna belly), almost demanding a try. It glistens pale yellow orange macramé, not the typical marbled rosy strip of tuna belly, but in the mouth it behaves like nothing we've sampled in ages: clean, creamy and rich. Expensive, too.

Tobiko comes in a variety of colors: sunset red, black, yellow. So how do you choose? "With a quail egg," Isaac says. Sushi chefs don't push quail eggs much anymore in this age of sushi as commodity. Truth be told, ubiquity droops the dick of daring. Years ago raw quail egg crowns were belt notches in the serial sushi eater's campaign of conquests. Those belts are notchless now. How much fortitude does it take to down a spider roll?

One black and one red-orange piece of tobiko arrive, a raw quail egg dropped on top of the roe fluff. Greens surround them. Nestled among this nest, as if they are taking a break from incubation, is a pair of speckled quail egg shells--whole, save for the tapered end that is clipped off to serve as a raw egg spout. The roe grains are separate and cleanly salty. The egg yields a clingy clean richness.

Here's the context for all of this refined mayhem: Kamikaze is in a space that has gone through a number of concepts, the latest being a Chinese buffet called P.F. 1. "People say the building is cursed," Stafford says. For this reason, the dining room is thin. On a Friday evening, it is barely 20 percent full. Why? Kamikaze is flanked by Hooters on one side and Olive Garden on the other. Tony Roma's, Steak & Ale, Sports City Café and Razzoo's Cajun Café are propped nearby.

The second definition of the adjective Kamikaze is this: "having or showing reckless disregard for safety or personal welfare." It would be hard to disagree in this context. How many Hooters fans do you think would make their way over to Kamikaze to trim their hot wings with sea urchin gonads? Look at the sign. There is some Japanese script over the word "Kaze." Apparently, there's some fear over what the full name might provoke among the chain gang swarming this strip. Heck, broadcast the name with brash abandon. You're living the very essence of the word. Your explosives are raw fish and assorted fishy accessories that in these parts are known as chum. Your Zero is a ginger-fringed plate maneuvered by chopsticks. Damn the squid enchilada roll, full speed ahead.

Some things blow up. Peppered calamari is pieces of calamari steak that are breaded, fried and covered with a chili pepper sauce. Bits of red and green bell pepper reinforce the moniker nicely, but they don't do much for the dish. That's because those pieces of calamari, tender though they are, are covered in a soggy loose sheath that slips off the meat as soon as chopsticks approach. The fry oil is either too cool, too dirty or both.

Scroll down the appetizer column on the right and you find this: farm-raised quail (superior to the city kind) rubbed with crushed peppers, impaled on skewers and fired before they're brushed with a teriyaki glaze. Presentation is dazzling. In the center of a long rectangular plate are two pieces of bird, each pierced from stem to stern with a stick. The sticks intersect near the points, where they rest on a thick slice of cucumber with a notch carved out of it. In a corner is a fan of three baby carrots framed by two ears of baby corn. If it is better to look good than to taste good, then this is a successful dish. Better still, it tastes great. It's smeared with a sauce that is masterfully restrained (not cloying or overly viscous) and has flesh that is chewy and charred to lend bitter counterpoint.

Move to the left appetizer column and you'll find this piece of hemispheric rattling: tuna ceviche. Obviously, this fish has not been simmered long-term in a citrus acid bath. Tapered at both ends, the thin pieces of tuna are faded rose and glistening, instead of grayish white and matte. The fish is meticulously layered over a bed of slivered cucumber and sliced scallions soaking in a pool of citrus yuzu sauce. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit with a flavor profile resembling grapefruit meshed with mandarin orange. The fish is cool and delicate. The fibers yield easily, dispersing the tuna piece in the mouth almost on contact. The yuzu flavors are delicate as well, gently cutting through fat without smothering the richness.

Seaweed and squid salads are the standard boilerplate found in most sushi restaurants. No odd sea foliage in Jimmy Choo hues. Except for this: Jicama, carrot and red cabbage slivers are bundled like a hay sheaf and planted off to the side of the seaweed and squid heaps.

The Kamikaze menu is restrained. Here's an example: sea scallops and shiitake on a skewer and grilled with oyster sauce. Here's what you'd expect: mushy or hard and overcooked scallops along with shriveled mushrooms choking in an oyster sauce that seems better served with a banana. Here's what you get: moist, sweet pearly white scallops with clean supple mushroom, barely brushed with sauce. The sauce serves to frame--and mostly to tease out--the flavors of the mushroom, which was among the best we've tasted of this kind. The sauce is barely perceptible on the scallops, where it would do indelible interference in volume.

Kamikaze serves collars--a king salmon and a yellowtail. Collars are the meat around the fish head. This meat is spongy and dry, the skin charred into ash. Better to go for the birds: Nagano duck breast. The meat is marinated in cognac, grilled and brushed with soy sauce. Pieces are crisp along the edges, even as they blush rose in the center. It's chewy flesh, with smoky clean flavors un-razzed by a clingy sauce.

In Mesquite, Kamikaze is a graceful piece of tight-rope-walking tension, one that slips delicious slices of monkfish liver between Hooters' 50-wing tailgate bucket and Olive Garden spaghetti and meatballs. What could be more reckless than that? Or more exhilarating? 3820 Towne Crossing Blvd., Mesquite. Open 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. $$-$$$


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