January 31, 2010

Keiichi

I’m having a hard time writing about Keiichi, and I don’t know why. Located across from Charlie Beck’s Garage in the former Parkway Hair salon (you’d never know from the inside), it is, without question, the best place in Denton for sushi. In fact, it’s so good, it’s spawned rumors and legends. A girlfriend told me recently that on a plane ride back from Florida, a seat companion told her he'd heard about "... a sushi place in Denton where the Dallas sushi chefs go to eat.”

Well. If Dallas sushi chefs come here, it must be good, right? Sorry, does that sound a little like kid-sister aggravation, on behalf of my city? Maybe it is. Perhaps the point was: people are willing to make the drive north, all the way to Denton, to eat this sushi, and that I don’t doubt. It may be the best sushi in North Texas.

In fact, it’s already so well known, by word of mouth, its only Web presence is a plethora of reviews and a map - no Web site. And that doesn’t really matter, in this case, because the menu changes every day. The chef and owner, Keiichi Nagano, creates the daily menu based on the best of what fish he’s got and, weirdly enough, what few Italian dishes he feels like preparing. More on that later.

I read a few of these Web reviews and a couple stuck out for me, including the number of reviews from loyal regulars and the one review where the diner mentioned the chef never smiles. I wonder if that's what makes it hard for me to write about Keiichi? I have noticed that every time we’ve been, there are always some regulars who seem bent on letting everyone know (and reminding the chef) that they are regulars, and the chef rarely smiles at anyone who isn’t a regular. Perhaps it’s that in a place so small, you can’t help but interacting a little, and a friendly glance from the chef really goes so far in making you feel welcome and comfortable and relaxed, particularly about spending so much.
And you will spend a lot – Keiichi is not cheap.

Now, grimly focused chef or no, nothing can take away from the quality of this fish – that is something I DO know about.
On this, my third visit, the Significant Other (S.O.) and I enjoyed a repast of:

  • Spicy Tuna Roll – I know - kind of prosaic, right? What can I say? This is by far the S.O.’s favorite roll, and why wouldn’t we try it here? Not a disappointment. Noticeably better than even the good rolls we can get elsewhere.

  • Flounder and yellowfin sushi – I prefer the more tender tuna to the flounder, but grew up eating it (cooked) and just had to try it. When was the last time you saw fresh flounder in North Texas? Two pieces of sushi per each order.

  • Crab sushi – Nothing special really. Fresh, cold crab legs. I’d rather have them hot with butter. And in abundance. 2 pieces per order.

  • Grilled yellow tail collar – Listed as an appetizer, it was served last. The chef did explain that it took time to, you know, cook, whereas the sushi could be prepared more quickly. No matter, it was worth the wait. Wow. Yellow tail collar is just what it sounds like, the grilled collar bones of a yellow tail tuna. I have no idea what it was marinated in, and I don’t care. It was some of the best cooked fish I’ve ever eaten. It was perfectly tender too, so we were able to pick those bones clean, using just our chopsticks. I may not be elegant with chopsticks, but I am effective. It was so good the S.O. kept saying, “What do you want next? What’s next?!” Greedy. After he calmed down and we both enjoyed this, I was inclined to agreed we might try something else…


  • Beef tataki – Another wow. I’d never had this, nor even knew what it was (the menu is light on description), but we guessed it was something we saw the other folks at the bar order, so we rolled the bones and went for it. Turns out, it's ridiculously tender beef, seared on the outside, cool on the inside (like seared tuna), sliced and served up with sautéed spinach. I added a little of the fresh wasabi, rolled it up around some of that spinach and popped it in my mouth. Holy Moly. I had to throttle back so I didn’t scarf this all up in a minute.


  • Now, it’s a well known fact that the more you enjoy a meal as an experience, the more inclined you are to prolong it with dessert, coffee, drinks, etc. I love good coffee, but I’ve never been able to cap off a meal with it. I mean, I want dessert. The chef was offering some homemade sorbets that evening – orange, grapefruit, and pomegranate – and we were clever enough to ask for a sampler, which they delivered. Oh they were just ridiculously good.

    Ooh! Before I close out my description of this meal, I want to tell what I drank – the sake flight! How cool is that? A Sake Flight! Perhaps you know something about sake, my dears, but I know nothing, other than that I like it. I’ve never had a sake I hated, but I’ve never done any sort of real sake sampling and comparing, so I was really pleased with this. I should mention too, this is cold sake. I’ve been told that sake good enough to be served cold, is the better sake, whereas stuff served warm is warmed to maybe cover flaws in taste. Now, I have no idea if that’s true (and I’d love to hear from you, if you know - these folks have another take), but I do know that this sake was really good. I loved the little card that came with it, describing each of the 3 offerings, and loved how very different they did taste from each other. I think the middle offering was my favorite. The S.O. stuck to his usual – beer. In this case, a Sapporo.

    On this visit, we also enjoyed sitting near a large Japanese family. (It was us and them at the bar.) The matriarch of this family struck up a conversation with us, based largely on her appreciation of Chef Nagano’s talent. She told us she followed him from restaurant to restaurant, and had driven down to Denton from Dallas, with her visiting children and grandchild, just so they could all eat his sushi and, that night, mushroom pasta. She also assured us he uses the best seaweed (you know, for the rolls) and that even in Japan, you’d have a hard time finding sushi this good. I admit, my sushi palate is nowhere near refined enough to discern subtle differences in dried seaweed, but I bow to her appreciative knowledge. We, in turn, impressed her by ordering the yellow tail collar, “You really do like Japanese food.” Seriously though, y’all, if you like even cooked fish, you would have loved that dish. Sometimes I think Asians think round eyes are food weenies. Or very unadventurous. Whatever.

    Now I already mentioned that the chef prepares a daily menu of the finest and freshest. In addition to all the other touches of excellence, he uses real wasabi root. You'll know because he grates it right in front of you. In front of everyone, actually, Keiichi is a very small place.

    The sushi bar, which takes up more than most of the restaurant, seats 10 and that’s it. There’s a small table tucked in a nook behind the front door, which seats 6, maybe 8 if you push it, but that’s reserved, obviously, for parties. Occasionally singles (and maybe a double) can get a seat at the actual bar, bar. But I think that only seats 4 or 6, and is usually used for waiting for your reserved seats. If you’re going to eat here, you’ll most likely be at the sushi bar.

    All these qualifications and praise aside, if rolls are your thing, I would skip Keiichi. It is must be said, Keiichi is expensive. Not crazy so, but you know you have to order several things (and you’ll want to order plenty) to make a meal of sushi or sashimi. The meal I described above cost about $100, before tip. And, frankly, I think a meal of rolls might be a waste of this amazing quality fish. Of course, if you’ve toured all the roll joints in Denton, and you just have to come here for rolls, then do it. But never say I didn’t warn you.

    I almost forgot, I promised to talk more about the Italian food. OK. If you read a few reviews or stalk him online (feel free to read this patronizing article), you’ll find he started out in the US cooking in Italian restaurants. Yeah; go know. Apparently, he developed a taste and affection for it too, and continues to offer a few dishes each night. Well why not? So really, a meal at Keiichi should be able to please everyone.

    Tell me what you think.
    Keiichi on Urbanspoon

    6 comments:

    Krista said...

    I just started reading your blog in the last few months and I've been dying for you to write about this place! Thanks for the pictures. I can't wait to try it when my budget allows : )

    -Your Friendly Neighborhood Dentonista said...

    Thank you SO much for your comment and readership Krista. Any other place you'd like me to write about? (I'll tell you a secret - I'm planning a tour of Denton coffee houses soon...)

    Melissa said...

    I'll make a point to give the grilled yellow tail collar a try, sometime, since you and S.O. recommend it so highly. You are the ONLY person I'd allow to talk me into eating at a sushi restaurant, and your post illustrates the reason. Dentonista, you are thorough and personable -- the most important factors of credibility.

    Shannon said...

    Based on your blog and some friends recommendations, I decided to give Keichi's a try. WOW! The shushimi was out-of-this-world! I found Keichi to be very personable when I was there. Maybe because my wife and I were the only customers when we arrived. I would recommend this place to anyone who wants fantastic food and isn't afraid to pay a price for it. $$$$ (The sake tour was GREST too!)

    willmilne said...

    I love Keichii! When I went there he passed out a few free glasses of (apparently illegal) potato vodka from Japan. It (along with the rest of the meal) was tremendous.

    Sharon Lynn said...

    Like all other alcoholic beverages (think tequila), serving sake COLD will mask any impurities, etc. The good stuff can be drank warm / hot.