Eschewing sushi-dining etiquette (yes, it exists), my dining companions ordered a bonanza of nigiri and fancy rolls at the outset. I hung my head and went with the flow, for fear there would be none left once the ravenous birds I call my friends and family had had their fill at Genroku Sushi & Grill.
First thing first: for sushi, sit at the bar for a personal experience. Servers might not know what's available, as we learned all too well during our initial visit. Several times we placed an order and got the nod from our waitress, who scurried away only to return a few minutes later with bad news. (I was looking forward to the live scallop). Why we ordered from the server to begin with was something I can only explain as force of habit, even though I have dined at myriad sushi joints. We quickly put the kibosh on that ritual. Turning to the itamae (sushi chef), we began our astounding first visit at Genroku under the blank stare of a fiberglass swordfish and a tree bursting from the middle of the dining room at our backs.
Genroku is named for an era in Japanese history that saw the blooming of popular culture remarkable for the development of Kabuki theater and ukiyo-e, the woodblock art that idealized sumo wrestlers, beautiful women, kabuki actors and landscapes. Genroku was the golden age during the middle Edo period and translates to Original Happiness, something that, for the diner willing to expand his or her palate, rings true for this establishment.
The restaurant is tucked into the DFW China Town strip mall in Richardson. The servers' accents were thick and at times difficult to understand, but the flavors and our meals were just as thick and delectable—things worthy of navigating a labyrinth of language. Again, if your plan is to eat sushi, sit at the bar, where the itamae will kindly guide you to the freshest catch. That night it was yellowtail. The mellow white fish was ordered several times throughout our dinner, proving that deferring to the one in the know is essential to any pleasant dining experience.
The red snapper sashimi was rubbery but left a bright aftertaste that made the texture excusable. The mackerel sashimi was briny and flakey, melting on the tongue and lining the mouth with ocean spray. The unagi, fresh-water eel brushed with teriyaki sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds, illustrated once again that it's difficult to fail at eating sushi when eel is on the roster. Unagi is dependably enjoyable and a gateway nigiri.
Emboldened by the freshness of the fish and the amicable gentlemen behind the bar, including the owner, I ordered the sea urchin. The dish came on a simple white saucer and with the approval of the chef. The nori was wrapped around the light caramel-colored selection, which at first bite had the velvety texture of peanut butter. However, it had an aroma akin to a dirty diaper. It coated my teeth as if I hadn't brushed or flossed for days. The consistency morphed into pasty, leaving a metallic aftertaste. The roe was an unfortunate sensory kaleidoscope.
Thankfully, the wasabi flying fish roe came to the rescue. The eggs bound by the nori were vibrant, sinus-clearing jewels that burst in the mouth. While there wasn't much flavor, the crunchy balls were a treat, if only because they saved me from suffering the sea urchin roe for the remainder of the evening.
Genroku also tips its hat to the Lone Star palate with the presence of jalapeño in many of the offerings. The specials one night included fried maki country roll of yellowtail, cream cheese, jalapeño and avocado and the matrix roll of crab, cucumber, guacamole and jalapeño drizzled with hot sauce. Other hits were the triple-whammy hot and sweet roll of tempura shrimp, crab, avocado and cucumber topped with spicy tuna followed by the calamari roll with fried calamari, smelt egg, avocado, cucumber and teriyaki sauce.
On Sundays and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Genroku offers dollar sushi. The 10 items on the Sunday menu fall into the predictable category—tuna, yellowtail, eel, salmon, etc. If you're going to order from the dollar menu, it should be noted that there is a minimum order of five pieces, and on Sundays a restaurant's seafood is at its least fresh, which is why we avoided sushi, regardless of the attractive price point. A cursory inspection of the dining room showed many non-Asian customers were taking advantage of the discount. On that particular Sunday, we were there for myriad small plates of Taiwanese eats. My wife and I were seated next to a Chinese family of four agog over a platter of whole sea bass surrounded by blocks of tofu and resting in a spicy orange sauce. After perusing a menu as long as Chinese history and listing many bento, udon and soba options, we interrupted the family for suggestions.
The first suggestion was the toothsome beef and scallion. The sea clam soup comprised a handful of small mollusks in a miso broth. On a cool day, the warming bowl for two is the perfect starter. One dish absent from the family's recommendations was the cold duck palm, a salad of thin cucumber slices and duck skin dressed with rice wine vinegar. The dressing negated whatever flavor the chewy skin contained.
A child, bored waiting for his group's feast to arrive, spun the large Lazy Susan at the center of one of the large round tables. He didn't have to wait long, though. Meat and seafood dishes soon obscured the table's surface. His eyes were as big as the ornate platter bearing whole fish. The boy wielded his chopsticks quickly, but not fast enough to save him from his mother's gentle scolding. It is this familiarity that makes Genroku comfortable and the extensive menu tempting.
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Take the sweet basil and periwinkle meat dish or the adventurous pig tripe and pickled mustard green soup. At this restaurant, these exotic choices seem almost de rigueur.
For those interested in the "safer options" like the beef and scallion, the premiere dish at Genroku is the basil chicken, a national dish. It is the one item that should be ordered by all who come to the restaurant. Served in the wok it was cooked in, the basil chicken offered a little of everything—crunchy basil, hints of sweetness after the forward savory, tender bone-in poultry, piquancy from the chopped ginger and pronounced star anise flavor. The mixture of soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil binds the food into a confederation of grub, one that typifies Genroku.
This should not be surprising. Taiwan was under Japanese rule in the early 20th century. While that time was by no means a happy one, your experience at Genroku, whether thematically Japanese, Taiwanese or an amalgamation of the two, will be.
Genroku Sushi & Grill 400 N. Greenville Ave., Richardson, 972-783-8688. www.genrokusushi.com. Open 11 a.m.-9:45 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-10:15 p.m. Friday-Sunday. $-$$