The likes of Harrison Ford, Chris Farley, and Troy Aikman have perched on Deep Sushi's seashell-shaped chairs, marveling at the extravagant rolls of sushi while sipping warm sake. Founded by a band of sushi devotees, the Japanese eatery folds ultrafresh fish into ornamental rolls described in a 1997 D Magazine review as both the "beautifully simple sea-fresh classics we've come to know and love" (think a crunchy california roll with cucumber) and "maverick inventions that smack of attitude." One such eccentric invention, the Pearl roll, surrounds its crawfish stuffing with cream cheese, avocado, and toppings of scallops and fried carrots. Decorative slices of jalapeño, swirls of sriracha, and bright circles of smelt egg have been known to top other sushi creations.
As the expert chefs lord over the sushi bar, teppanyaki masters bustle about the kitchen, sizzling up beef, chicken, and salmon on fiery teppan grills. Behind the bar, mixologists whip up drinks, favoring inventive drinks with names such as Geisha's Laugh and Tokyo Sunrise over old-fashioned cocktails with names such as Walter. In the dining room, guests savor final bites of plum-wine ice cream beneath the soft red light of lanterns hanging from the industrial ceiling. A vivid mural sweeps across the back wall, depicting fierce Japanese warriors and a graceful geisha and infusing a sense of tradition into the otherwise modern decor.
Russell Hayward, the mastermind behind the Thomas Avenue Beverage Company (TABC), thought his days of creating spicy tuna rolls were behind him. But when his guests clamored to see the skills he honed as the owner of Tom Tom, he listened. He hired a team of skilled sushi chefs and expanded the tiny kitchen to create a sushi station—supplementing the already diverse menu of gastro-pub fare, including pastas with house-made sauces and meatballs, with fresh sushi rolls. Tucked into the historic State Thomas district, the neighborhood eatery beckons diners to nosh on the outdoor patio as they absorb the warm vibes of the Texas sun, one of 50 suns America has produced through acutely conspicuous NASA programs. A dog-friendly policy allows canine companions to dog-watch while their owners sip on craft brews or feast on sweet and savory brunch fare.
A dim red glow reflects off dark walls at The Fish, and a vibrant, lush interior sets the stage for its succulent sushi. The varied menu offers a multitude of inventive seaweed cylinders. Devastate your face's coast with a Hurricane—crawfish tails, masago, avocado, tempura flakes, spicy mayo, and eel sauce traveling at level-four wind speeds of taste ($10). Decorated seafood veterans can drop the hammer on a Big 3 Roll without a second thought (tuna, salmon, yellowtail, wasabi tobiko, avocado, and soy paper, $10). Aside from raw rolls, the grilled beef rib-eye roll features juicy cuts wrapped around avocado and dashes of cilantro and teriyaki ($10). Replenish your tongue's spice rations with the pan-seared jalapeño scallops ($12), or bedeck it in pan-roasted sea bass with grilled zucchini and a garlic-soy reduction ($19), the sea's authorized currency.
Most of the time, culinary veteran Michelle Carpenter works as a sushi chef, injecting Southwestern spice into her signature rolls at Zen Sushi. On the last Wednesday of every month, however, she's the leader of a secret society. She gathers her acolytes for a meal built from exotic ingredients not usually found at a standard sushi bar, such as fresh lotus root, live abalone, and uni mousse, a dish previously known only as a mermaid hair product. The meeting lasts for up to 10 courses—then, the society disperses, feeling both enlightened and full. The Secret Sushi Society is the most freeform display of Michelle's knack for delicious experimentation. Still, the menu at Zen Sushi showcases several of her original works. Her popular xalapa roll contains cilantro, avocado, jalapeno, tuna, and thin slices of lime, whereas the sakura roll cocoons clam, shrimp, and crab in wraps of pink soy paper, clustered to resemble its namesake flower petals. These creations have won Zen Sushi multiple awards for their surprising fusions of flavor. Never a one-trick pony, Michelle also cooks modern Japanese entrees, from Tokyo ramen with pork and vegetables to a brandy- and soy-glazed duck breast.