It's not a good sign when you leave dinner $50 lighter and immediately high-tail it to a Deep Ellum bar just to eat a decent meal.
Such was the case on a recent visit to Musume, the new "contemporary Asian fusion cuisine" restaurant that opened in the Arts District on Jan. 24.
A concept from creator Josh Babb and partner Sean Clavir of Rock Libations (Shooters in Victory Park, Prohibition Chicken in Lewisville, Chop Shop in Carrollton and Roanoke), Musume, which means "daughter" in Japanese, is in a sleek, expensive-looking space next to Dallas culinary heavy-hitter Flora Street Cafe. Despite the proximity, the two restaurants offer very different experiences.
On a dreary weeknight, the restaurant was less than half-full, but service was still brusque and woefully inattentive. A starter of miso soup tasted fairly standard but was cold when it arrived, and things only went downhill from there. The seaweed salad ($8) was bland but slathered in a surprisingly sweet sauce. An order of ton gyoza ($14), wild boar pot stickers, also came swimming in a too-sweet sauce, this time a dried cherry nimono sauce.
Although the menu spans everything from chickpea panisse ($14) to a 16-oz. bone-in ribeye ($40), much of it is devoted to sushi from executive chef Ken Lumpkin, described in Musume's press material as a "sushi master who also has extensive experience in classic French cooking." Despite his history running several Japanese restaurants, the sushi at Musume proved to be the most lackluster part of the meal.
Musume's sushi rolls aren't cheap — that's to be expected, considering its location in a neighborhood known for upscale, chicly styled restaurants like Flora Street Cafe — but for the price, the rolls are exceedingly basic, underwhelming and plated with little care or attention. A couple dishes sport immature names (Afternoon Delight, Hot Mess), which wouldn't stand out at other sushi spots but feel like a strange choice given the restaurant's location in the center of a fine arts district.
That said, the Hot Mess roll ($20) was exactly that — a mess of snow crab and avocado wrapped in soy paper and topped with yellowtail, tuna, salmon and spicy aioli yuzu seaweed that scattered messily over the plate. Its blandness certainly added to the dish's theme. A $20 rainbow roll, a fairly straightforward roll you'll find at just about any sushi restaurant, was equally unexciting.
The rest of Musume's sushi menu feels the same — immature, expensive and uninspired. The menu doesn't clearly distinguish between raw rolls and those that include cooked components, of which there are many. But more than anything, these rolls are pricey — even a vegan veggie roll will set you back $16, but most range from $18-$22.
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Social media posts and reviews from the restaurant show similarly haphazard attention to detail, noting sashimi that's "presented horribly and cut fairly sloppily." One post included a photo of the $220 chef's special sashimi platter that looked like a bizarre, sloppy hodgepodge of grocery store sushi.
And that is where Musume's greatest problem lies: The prices don't reflect the product. Slipshod sushi can't compete in a city with so many vibrant sushi options — some of which are an incredible bargain, at that.
In the end, Musume cost even more when our group left hungry and went to Shoals in Deep Ellum, where we dined on simple, greasy and satisfying bar food like bologna sandwiches and empanadas. Musume may look sleek, but at this Arts District restaurant, it's all looks and no substance.
Musume, 2330 Flora St.