It seems in the Dallas restaurant scene there’s a never-ending pursuit to be the next name in raw fish. If it’s not a poke joint, it’s a sushi bar, and if it’s not a sushi bar, it’s a place like Namo.
The new West Village fixture, which opens tonight, wants to nudge conventional Dallas sushi eaters out of their comfort zones by taking sushi Frankensteins like aioli-drizzled jalapeño shrimp tempura dragon rolls off the menu and serving simple, undressed hand rolls, or temaki, instead.
“I wanted to create a concept around that one dish because it’s such a special dish,” says owner Brandon Cohanim. “It’s so perfect because the seaweed is crunchy, the rice is warm and the seafood is fresh.”
The temaki consists of only three ingredients: crisp seaweed, roasted specially for Namo, bouqueted around warm rice, and fresh seafood flown in from all around the world every day — salmon from New Zealand, tuna from Hawaii, sea bream from Japan.
“The food is pretty traditional,” Cohanim says. “We’re not putting too many ingredients with the fish, because it’s really fresh. And it’s important that it’s fresh because you’re just tasting the fish. There's no sauce, nothing covering it up.”
At Namo, customers will be able to choose from 11 different varieties of hand rolls (plus a special), which they can order à la carte or as part of a prix fixe configuration. There’s the usual selection of beer, wine and sake, but Cohanim hopes it’s the nitro tea that jolts diners off their bar stools. Nitro tea is tea that’s been infused with nitrogen to give it a smoother, creamier consistency. If you’re already a fan of nitro cold brew, this should be an easy caffeinated crossover.
Inside, diners will sit around a high-top U-shaped bar beneath basket-woven chandeliers, flanked by wood paneling and deep olive walls. The restaurant looks and feels earthy yet modern and luxe. The bar setup, while spatially efficient for the square footage, was designed with a loftier purpose, Cohanim says.
“It creates a sense of intimacy," he says. "It’s so special to be sitting at a bar where you can see everyone and you can feel like you’re all together. It makes the experience what it is.”
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Namo is Cohanim’s second brainchild, born from his travels in Japan, where he says the commitment to perfecting culinary craft inspired him. Cohanim, who is entering his senior year at Southern Methodist University, spent the early half of undergrad co-founding and launching Pok the Raw Bar next door, whose Hawaiian poke bowls and ceremonial-grade matcha drinks have delighted Dallas gourmands since January 2017.
Namo, though, is surely a risk — hinging on a single dish, which hasn’t enjoyed quite the same reputation, fandom or even availability in Dallas as poke or heinously garnished maki. Conceptually, there’s very little room — or desire — to venture far off from the temaki path, but that’s how Cohanim intends it to be: a showcase of dedication.
“It’s just one dish," he says. "We’re putting everything, all of our time and all of our energy into making this one dish the best that it can be.”
Namo, 3699 McKinney Ave. (Uptown)