Here’s a confession about food writers: We often get caught in a bubble. With so many new restaurant openings and so many public relations teams clamoring for attention, food writers must exert effort to venture off the beaten path. It takes research and dedication to avoid the publicity frenzy and find great restaurants that don’t offer perks like a functioning website.
It takes even more dedication when the restaurant actively rejects the spotlight, preferring to remain a well-kept secret.
Sushi Yokohama, tucked into a north Dallas strip mall, is one such place. It won the Observer’s “Best Sushi” accolade all the way back in 2000, and since then the only media attention it has received is a blog post by a D Magazine intern. The restaurant likes it that way. A representative told the Observer over the phone that the restaurant does not want to be reviewed, does not want to be in the news and would not answer even basic fact-checking questions.
Quietly, with a force field of secrecy protecting itself from food writers, Sushi Yokohama is still the outstanding restaurant it was in 2000.
The chef, who declined to tell the Observer his name, shows his expertise in a list of specialty rolls that stretches over three pages, including a variety of baked sushi and rolls with tempura meats. After a bowl of miso soup — pleasant and mild-mannered, not too salty — it’s best to check the glowing multicolored board of specials for the chef’s freshest offerings.
On one recent visit, that meant Hawaiian big eye tuna sashimi ($15.95), six slices of melt-in-the-mouth fish with dazzling soft flesh and fresh flavor. Sushi Yokohama is one of the pitifully few restaurants in Dallas to serve freshly made wasabi with its sashimi, rather than the stuff from a tube that resembles green Play-Doh. Be careful with fresh wasabi; its flavor and texture are different, and its sinus-clearing potency is a level up from the norm.
Another reward for those brave enough to trust the chef’s specials: ankimo ($7.99), a wintertime treat in Japan and a relative rarity in Dallas. The list of restaurants making ankimo here is brief, and has much in common with a list of Dallas’ best Japanese spots, including Tei An, Tei Tei Robata, Mr Max and Fujiyama.
What is ankimo? Well, it’s monkfish liver, deveined, marinated in sake, rolled into a cylinder and cut. Monkfish livers are not insubstantial, since the fish can grow to over four feet in length, and the livers are only slightly less fatty than those used in foie gras. Not surprisingly, then, the result is a little like a lighter, more delicate foie. As prepared at Sushi Yokohama, it’s irresistible, and comes with a seaweed salad.
Freshwater eel sushi ($6.99 for two pieces) is another standout, and a good opportunity to ponder all that Sushi Yokohama gets right. Inferior Japanese restaurants can suffer from any number of flaws, like sushi rice that’s too cold or too hard and becomes cumbersome to eat, or a poor balance between rice and fish, so that one flavor dominates and the other disappears. There are no such difficulties here, and the salmon sushi ($5.50 for two pieces), with just enough interwoven fat, is yet more proof.
Salmon skin gets fried until very crispy indeed in its sushi roll, which has more than the usual dose of crunch and a topping of microgreens ($5.99). Among specialty offerings, the Yokohama roll is proof that you should always order a restaurant’s namesake item ($14.99). It features a variety of fresh sashimi, changing depending on what’s available, in a construction where rice makes up only the bottom and one side. The quite generous portion of fish gets held down by an avocado slice.
Indeed, Sushi Yokohama can go bolder. There’s an entire section of no-rice sushi rolls, which are constructed using fish, crabmeat and the chef’s impressive skill. Each piece of the Michelle roll ($15.99), for instance, looks comically oversized, with a piece of salmon wrapped around like a coat and a sliver of scallop on top. But the roll holds together until it hits the tongue.
The I Love You roll ($15.99), also rice-free, might have a groan-inducing name, but you might find yourself saying just that to the sushi itself. It’s a tuna and avocado roll with crabmeat instead of rice and a topping of salmon, but the roll is simply huge, and the seafood so fresh that their flavors are outsized.
Only one roll in two visits was at all disappointing, the Ichiban roll ($16.99), with tempura softshell crab inside and seared fish on top. The construction was once again admirable, but something within was giving off a “fishy” odor, and not the good kind. That came as a major surprise, since this restaurant’s biggest strength is the sheer freshness of its seafood; almost every meal here should end with a thanks not just to the chef but to the supplier as well.
Aside from a few eccentric touches, like the mouthwash and hair gel stocked at the bathroom sink, or the basket of suckers (yes, suckers) at the front door, Sushi Yokohama sticks to its central purpose with admirable dedication. A few TVs are lazily turned to the kind of sports channel that shows eccentric European track and field events rather than basketball. There is a buy-one-sake-get-one-for-a-penny special. But the focus here is on food, and the food is almost all sushi.
In the 17 years since the Observer last reviewed Sushi Yokohama, much has changed beyond the restaurant’s doors. Dallas has seen prominent restaurants rise and fall, trends come and go and perhaps even a food industry bubble grow and burst. But, in this Preston Road strip mall, a star sushi restaurant continues to shine even as it determinedly avoids the spotlight. With seafood this fresh and crowds this small, who needs hype?
Sushi Yokohama (19009 Preston Road, Suite 119) is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
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