This is a place where every tiny detail deepens your gratification, adds to your respect. Tei-An is a restaurant where you can see that an owner and staff have thought carefully about every last moment.
The staff members keep trained, confident eyes on the dining room; they may remove your empty plate or refill your water glass so discreetly you don’t even notice. Tasting menus are served with perfect timing: Each dish follows the last after you’ve had enough time to feel satisfied but not enough time to get impatient.
Even the imported Japanese toilets, with their gently warmed seats, are thoughtful.
One of the joys of Tei-An is that it can be as fancy or as unpretentious as you like. The sashimi is certainly exceptional, and rarities such as ankimo (monkfish liver) and jellyfish abound, but the menu also boasts a treasury of tavern foods done right. The seafood okonomiyaki ($16) is a pancake stuffed with fresh shrimp and fried to the crispness of a Michelin-starred bar snack. (Alas, the Michelin guide has not yet learned that Texas exists.) The tempura sampler features excellent technique applied to purple potato slices, shiitake and enoki mushrooms, shrimp and seasonally appropriate produce ($15).
Tei-An is a soba house at heart, making its noodles from scratch. They’re unusually delicate noodles, wire thin but able to absorb and retain flavors of sauces. The soba “Bolognese” ($24) is a Sakurai invention that has become a Dallas classic despite looking like it arrived from outer space. The noodles are green — they’re made with green tea — and the sauce riffs on the flavors of spaghetti Bolognese without having much in common with the Italian original. Finely diced shiitake mushrooms help supply meaty depth. It’s a delight.
The omakase menus allow you to choose whether you wish to experience the classics that made Tei-An one of the best restaurants in Dallas, or the inventions that continue to push the restaurant forward. The more basic options are essentially a greatest-hits parade, and a $150 chef’s tasting or a seasonal menu (when available) offers a deeper look at what Sakurai’s team is doing now. On one recent visit, the first course of the chef’s tasting was a bowl of raw, lightly dressed jellyfish.
The classics may be familiar, but they are timeless. The chef’s choice sashimi platter, a mainstay of the tasting menu, is an eye-popping platter of fresh fish, ranging from salmon ribbed with delicate stripes of fat to rainbow trout served with the skin still on. Katsuo, or skipjack tuna, is quickly seared and topped with another tangle of thinly diced scallions. Waiters call amaebi “sweet shrimp,” which might not prepare you for just how sweet its flesh will be. If shrimp heads appear on your sashimi platter, expect them to return later, fried.
But Tei-An is the flagship, and it is hard to imagine this city without this restaurant. As Dallas looks to assert itself on the national dining scene, the rest of the local fine-dining market should see Tei-An as a model of consistency, professionalism, perfectionism and, perhaps most important, confidence.
In a tempest of a restaurant labor market, Tei-An keeps customers feeling as though every detail is cared for. That’s almost as impressive as its food. Nobody here will interrupt your first bite of food to ask, “How is everything tasting so far?” There’s no need. They know.
Tei-An, 1722 Routh St., No. 110. 214-220-2828. Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and for dinner 6-10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5:30-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.