Review: Genki Sushi & Steak

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In Japanese, it is written, genki means energy, vigor or spirit. To this the Genki Sushi & Steak menu adds: "It is our hope and commitment to restore your full energy with our dishes."

Genki strives to live up to such boldness. Lined up on the mantel above the sushi bar is a neat row of beer bottles: Sapporo, Asahi, Kirin Light and the more voluminous Kirin Ichiban. Insinuated into that row of beer is a Zipang sparkling sake, "naturally carbonated," its bottle sleeved in silver and sealed with an imposing cap shackled down to confine its explosive vigor. It opens with a thud-ish poof. A coil of sake fog exits the bottle's mouth. It froths like a Bud when poured, almost forming a full head in the tiny sake glass. Zipang is slightly sweet, with a soapy taste that invigorates the tongue with carbonation.

Energy drinks—a hulking can of Monster next to a diminutive slender silo of Red Bull—are precisely arranged next to a bottle of Japanese soda just up the sushi bar from the beer and Zipang.

The sushi bar backdrop: White boards scrawled in colored marker calling out appetizer specials (grilled squid, fried soft-shell crab) and roll compositions (dragons, spiders and cherry blossoms). A chef, dressed in a gray judo jacket with red trim and a white headband to keep perspiration from adding to the mackerel's natural sheen, is frenetic with his blade and fingertips as he rolls and cuts, cuts and rolls.

There is a beast at Genki—an insatiable one filled with the same verve and vigor that puts the genki in Genki. It coils around the sushi bar like an anaconda. This beast must be fed in perpetuity.

"Come and enjoy sushi on the rotating conveyor," the menu says with exclamation points. The conveyor spins, its vertebrae swiveling at turns and locking stiff on the straightaways, all at a good clip. It carries plates rimmed in red and blue and yellow holding thin strips of yellow tail, red snapper shifting from red to orange to pink to beige, and sometimes salmon. They hold thick slices of rainbow roll that loop around in different guises—tuna and yellow tail, salmon and avocado—depending on where on the roll the slices were severed.

There's the volcano roll, a tasty mesh of baked scallop, crawfish and masago (smelt roe) bound in rice snorting a spicy corn mushroom relish in clear Southwestern dialect. Jars of wasabi spool around at regular intervals between the long increments of rolls and sushi strips. Boxes of gari, or pickled ginger, are posted on the sushi bar.

The plates are topped with thick, clear glass bowls to cage the freshness and temperature of the sushi and rolls. Plates and bowls stack into towers as you consume, one right after the other, the bowls leaning more into potential disaster than the plates. You can have all you can eat from this conveyor snake for $15.95 at dinner, $13.95 at lunch. Have a yen for something not lapping the bar? Voice it and the chef will oblige—fluffy tobiko; warm but smooth, rich yellow tail; sweet and firm surf clam. There is a fried roll—tempura batter-coated seaweed binding rice wrapping cream cheese and crab.

There are other things. Miso soup is weak, insipid with tiny cubes of tofu and minuscule scraps of seaweed whirling through the dingy clouds billowing in the broth.

Genki's atmosphere is part coffee house disparity (random chair selection, from ornate faux early American dining room to contemporary casual fine dining austerity), part casual diner (soft drink machines, black and white tiles surfacing the sushi bar), part Japanese artifact flea-market jumble. Two sets of wooden wings spread above the dry boards. Airy basketball-like paper lanterns dangle above the tables.

Hot towels are delivered neither to table nor to sushi bar to cleanly begin your Genki vigor experience—a grievous oversight. Service is slow. It's hard to snare the attention of servers for drink orders or another round of tobiko. Yell at the chef. Get your sake. Hot or cold or with sparkles.

Or skip the sushi entirely and sit at a table and peruse the dinner menu. Try the superior-grade steak grilled "Genki style," which means a steak that arrives bedded on a snarl of grilled onions over a hot metal plate interlocked in a slotted wooden platter. Grill marks web across the meat surface in a pattern of interlaced diamonds. It's much better than you'd expect. It's juicy and rich—if only in the slightest—with scarce pockets of fat. It's a little tough around the edges, with tiny nodes of gristle to remind you this ain't Pappas or III Forks, but Dallas has far more miserable steak examples for much more than Genki's $19.95. We've all had them. The memories are hard to rinse off. The strange thing is that for a restaurant where steak gets second billing, this is the only steak example. Throw in a flank or a flat iron, I say, just for moniker integrity.

You can dine from a bento box, pockets filled with California rolls in all of their glorious monotony, deep red strips of tuna sashimi daring you with their thickness, flaky segments of salmon teriyaki, wedges of orange, plus a supple goyza (Japanese dumplings filled with pork, cabbage, scallion, garlic, soy and sesame among other flavorings).

Chicken udon is a deep, hearty bowl of mild soy-mirin-infused broth snaked with thick strands of sticky udon noodles with scallions floating amongst the strips of moist chicken breast.

Maybe skip the chicken don buri, a stiff pasty bowl of rice with overcooked scrambled egg and strips of dried chicken breast welded into a casserole-like mass of mortar.

The antidote is on the dry board. Grilled ika—a smooth squid steak resting on a fluffy bed of romaine with the same steak-perfect grill marks, this time rendered in bronze—is a little cool, but it's buttery lush and so tender it dissolves across the tongue with just a slight piercing of lemon to foil and enliven the fabric.

Soft-shell crab, overwhelmed with a thick coat of panko crusting, is nevertheless greaseless, crisp and sweet without the mushiness that so often claims your pleasure.

Amongst the varied rabble of sushi outlets spreading across North Texas, Genki is not among the best. Service is shoddy. Décor is a jarring stew of tangents. And the conveyor belt buffet is a weird gimmick.

But at Genki it works. This is probably the best conveyor belt sushi I've ever sampled (no hard dried rice or fish with wilting, shriveled edges). Yet despite the energy implicit in the name, you'll find that staring at the conveyor with a little Zipang on board will make you very sleepy.

14902 Preston Road, Suite 5128, 972-788-2629. Open 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. $$-$$$

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