Some of Tokyo’s best sushi bars feel like secrets. They’re hidden away down alleys, inside multistory buildings or in bustling shopping centers. A few don’t have formal names. Only the most devoted sushi lovers know where to find them.
It’s hard to get away with a nameless restaurant in the United States. But Edoko Omakase, which opened in Irving in May, is about as close to secret as an American sushi bar can get. The building dramatically turns its back to the main road. The view from the highway below is blocked by a bank branch. Before I visited the first time, I had to look at satellite imagery to figure out directions.
Edoko Omakase is the newest addition to a local mini-chain in which each location preserves remarkable independence. The menu in Irving is completely different from those in Frisco and Richardson, and it’s the product of the Irving spot’s chef, Keunsik Lee, with the blessing of owner Sara Nam.
Lee is a longtime veteran of the Nobu restaurant group. He’s also lived in Texas for over a decade, during which time he’s fallen in love with the state’s Mexican food scene. In subtle ways, the chef’s Korean heritage and love of Texas create a sushi experience unlike any other in town.
For one thing, most sushi bars don’t serve tacos. But Lee creates tacos and tostadas here, most of which were originally available by request but landed on the main menu after being featured in Texas Monthly.
Lee’s tacos combine tortillas charred over open flame with sashimi and spicy garnishes. My favorite has fatty salmon belly stacked in cubes and topped with impossibly tiny slivers of radish ($5). To contrast with all the fat of the salmon and sliced avocado, Lee adds a spicy aioli made with Asian peppers. It’s hot, and it might rankle raw-fish purists. They can get regular sashimi instead.
The “tuna Korean” taco features wasabi aioli, crumbled cotija and “kimchee de gallo,” a dice that also includes peppers and sweet pineapple ($5). Lee says he’s long loved the idea of substituting white kimchi, which isn’t as spicy as the ubiquitous red, for the onions in Mexican pico, since they have similar sharpness. It works remarkably well.
There’s also a tuna tostada ($10 for two), which Lee calls “tuna pizza,” and which surprisingly proves that black olives and serrano peppers go well together. The serrano peppers help tone down the tostada’s weak point, a syrupy sweet sauce hidden under the fish.
My favorite bit of cultural fusion was a sushi roll Lee calls his signature: the spicy tuna roll. Everybody from Nobu to Kroger has a spicy tuna roll, but only Lee will top it with guacamole, chimichurri and thin-shaved yucca chips. The spice in the roll contrasts wonderfully with the avocado, just as the softness of rice is balanced by the crisp yucca on top.
That sushi roll arrived as the very last course in Edoko Omakase’s most famous and best offering, which is — surprise — omakase. Call ahead to reserve seats at the sushi bar (or patio, if desired) and ask for the omakase tasting, during which, for $100, Lee’s team will prepare seven dishes of their choosing.
Edoko Omakase began its soft opening in March, and was just days away from officially opening to the public when Texas restaurants shut down. The big debut ultimately came in mid-May.
That’s the context in which Lee is finally getting to serve his tasting menu — and, despite the conditions, he’s doing it with joy. This isn’t a stern, serious experience with an unsmiling chef. It’s a conversation. Lee likes to call it “almost private dining.” During our meal, he asked if he could “challenge” us with unusual ingredients. Or he boasted, “I’m going to surprise you.”
About those conditions: We sat at the corner end of a very wide bar and spoke softly; Lee wore a mask and so did we any time employees came near. Lee spent most of his time farther away, constructing elaborate takeout platters of sushi rolls arranged in circles around each other. (There’s a dinner-at-home idea.)
It was my first, and almost certainly last, truly indulgent restaurant meal during the pandemic. In the weeks that followed, cases ticked upward again, customers grew more concerned and experts renewed the debate about restaurant safety. I’ve been sheltering at home since March except for takeout, picnics and essential errands, but do not wish to create risk for workers, and do not plan to dine in again soon.
Take the following description in that context, but please remember this review when dining in is safer, because the staff at Edoko have earned the praise.
My tasting started with sunomono, the lightly pickled cucumber salad, here with added beets, a pickled ginger flower and tender grilled eel. I’d never had ginger flower before; it tastes like, well, ginger, but with a celery-type vegetal crunch.
After that, Lee “challenged” us with salty sawagani — tiny river crabs, deep-fried whole. Their claws could double as toothpicks. Then came chawanmushi, the traditional savory egg custard, topped with crabmeat and salmon roe; thinly-sliced raw shima aji garnished with a combination of grated radishes and chile peppers; and a whole fish collar, grilled over charcoal and so delicious I picked the bones clean.
By this point, I was full, but Lee was only beginning to prepare sushi and nigiri pieces, ranging from very-recently-alive slices of octopus to a cut of tuna, which he smoked with a blowtorch. One favorite: mackerel slices he had gently cured during the afternoon.
Having such an indulgent, attentive meal in a restaurant felt like a vacation, or a denial of reality. Reality was still there, of course; the masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and wide distances were proof. But, after all the medical and economic stress that has been placed on business owners and customers by the politicians who refuse to support us, we may someday want to again enjoy the kind of experience that comes from a thoughtful, delightful meal at a restaurant.
I hope we all get that chance — and that restaurants like Edoko Omakase will still be here to meet us.
Edoko Omakase, 1030 W. John Carpenter Freeway, No. 100, Irving. 972-600-8626. Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; noon to 10 p.m. Saturday; and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.