Roll Riddles

The Dallas Stars roll can be formed into a hockey stick shape. But how do you make sushi taste like Addison?
Peter Calvin

There has never been a more cumbersome union than the matrimony between municipalities and sushi rolls. Yet the latter spread with bunny-like vigor, despite the mismatches. Sushi Boom in San Francisco has its San Francisco roll (spicy tuna and avocado). SuShi Ya in Chicago has its Chicago roll (shrimp tempura, eel, avocado, cucumber). Ken's Sushi in Nashville has the Nashville roll (shrimp, smelt roe, avocado, tempura and mayo).

Notice these rolls have almost nothing to do with the cities for which they are named (at least Philadelphia rolls have cream cheese). For instance, the Chicago roll should be made of nothing but onions and pocket change, the former symbolizing the name, which means stinking onion in the language of the Pottawatomie Indians, and the former representing its rise to greatness via machine politics (loose change being its primary lubricant).

But what could you possibly do with a Plano roll, an Addison roll or a Dallas roll? This is the dilemma at Café Miso & Sushi. There's only so much asphalt and cucumber to go around, after all, which is why they've deployed spicy scallop (Plano), tomato (Addison) and salmon and asparagus (Dallas). To add to this conundrum, Café Miso offers a Dallas Stars roll, a Mavericks roll, a Cowboys roll and a Dallas "Burms" roll, which is a typo, I think. What can be done with these short of securing a fish that smells like a locker room?

Perhaps it's best to skirt these roll riddles and contemplate the other parts of the menu that don't invite nomenclature confusion--the restaurant's namesake, for instance. Miso comes in a brown pot with a matching brown spoon. This is important. Miso should always arrive in special hardware and be slurped through special implements that you would never use for chunky minestrone or Velveeta porridge. Miso has mystery. Churn it up, and in the stirred whorls, twisted into milky, fermented soy mist, you'll notice wide scraps of deep green wakame seaweed and creamy beige cubes of tofu. The broth is soft and untrammeled by salt. It gently releases the appetite.

Sushi is fine: cool and smooth--from albacore tuna, to hamachi (yellowtail), to mackerel, to halibut with a tiny sliced grape tomato and a sprig of daikon sprout resting on the surface like a loafer tassel. The toro aroused suspicions, though, even before teeth were driven into its ruddy fibers. Toro can be tricky. It is a delicacy, yes--rare, pricey and often a no-show on menus, popping up mostly as a chalkboard special. Miso's version had the typical purplish pink sown with a few white fat veins that were anemic in their reach. Biting into it was wrought with treachery--the heinous kind, where tough sinew threads show no give, leaving you incapable of completing the bite without coming off like a beastly rube. Those threads snag between the teeth, tangle the tongue and stubbornly refuse to snap.

Café Miso is curvaceous and brooding with dark red woods, earthen, orange-textured walls and plastic place mats and posters chronicling the sushi selections. Televisions are posted throughout, and one of the sushi chefs has spiky hair. Plus there's live jazz on Saturday nights.

But this is the thing: The restaurant seems thinly spread and blurred, despite the tight spatial relationships between bar, hibachi quarters and sushi bar. The details don't fray precipitously, though. Tataki beef (a kind of sashimi where the meat surface is seared and sliced while the inside is still raw) arrived on a plate layered with greens overlaid with parchment-thin lemon slices. The rosy beef ovals, freckled with sesame seeds, are tiled over the lemon in perfect symmetry. The meat is savory, rich and juicy. But as the slices are peeled away in a flurry of chopstick pinches, the miserable condition of those lemon slices comes into view: They're riddled with seeds and mottled with tiny brown moles.

Riskier forays prove better. Now, it makes little sense to subject uni to the hell's bowels of frying in hot oil. The exercise is like trying to deep-fry a scoop of pudding. But if you do it quick...The uni tempura resembles little purses, with deep green mint leaves scaled with crisp tempura crust. Inside, the roe is supple and firm instead of fluid and runny. The pouches rest on a bed of spindly seaweed threads; deep green and a weak purplish rose, looking like a tangle of centipedes. Magnificent.

So is the salmon skin salad: Thin fish slivers, the charcoal gray folds of skin loosely clinging to the pink flesh, are stacked like bonfire kindling against a core of seaweed and slices of octopus charged with a splash of racy dressing.

You would expect hibachi to ring with the same tasty timber. There is, after all, a small hibachi theater tucked aft in the restaurant dedicated to the process. But you'd be wrong.

It's a raw setting with the thick blue gas line, shuttlecocks and joints visible, snaking in front of the flattop grill in full view of the dining voyeurs, who are arranged in a semi-circle in front of it. Without spectacle, hibachi has no purpose; no reason to bring the mundane and pragmatic rituals of tossing food onto a flattop. How scintillating is it, after all, to watch steam licks curl and liquids from a squeeze bottle splatter, sizzle and hiss?

Miso's spectacle lasted just more than a second and a half. It starts with squirts of oil from a plastic bottle followed by a lighter flick. This sends sheets of flame high up into the exhaust hood, forcing the chef to brace against heat that would have singed arm and eyebrow hair at the dining horseshoe had the flames been fueled a couple of seconds longer.

But this is the extent of the spectacle; the chef shot his wad on the flattop in less than two seconds. Egg breaking is rudimentary; the spatula work primitive. Yet what is interesting is how he manipulates lemons. With the cutting edge of a large knife, he halves them. Resting the halves in his palm, he slits them just shy of cleaving them; just shy of creasing his palm in a bloody ribbon. He takes the lemon half, forces the slit over the blunt edge of the knife and squeezes, directing the juice stream with the knife tip--here over cluster of scallops, there on cut lobster tail meat.

Beef tenderloins were used in the clumsiest hibachi work. A pair of them, logs of rose-veined pink, are slowly rotated and pressed into the flattop, searing the surface in increments. He flips them vertically to sear the stump surfaces. In time, he trims the meat down, endlessly sectioning it until it is reduced to manageable chunks that can be operated easily with chopsticks. It's stringy and loose, and despite repeated requests for medium rare, it arrives medium well.

Lobster tail, undoubtedly frozen and perhaps tortured in other ways, is tough and gritty with little flavor save for a distressing fishiness. Scallops are tough, too, though the meat was sown with a burly, briny sweetness offset by a pleasant bitterness. Vegetables--onion, red cabbage, broccoli, carrot, zucchini--were the real hit here: warm, crisp and deliciously seasoned.

Café Miso could use some whittling and focus. Some items shine while others crash in a trail of flame. And while urban locales may make for clever roll call when ingredients relate to civic trivia, naming sushi creations after jocks is way too creepy without a chaser.

5100 Belt Line Road, Addison, 972-960-6476. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Open for dinner 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday; noon-midnight Saturday. $$$

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