Sushi

Twenty three years ago one of my best friends in life Houstonian Judoka Jim Taylor took me to eat sushi. It was after a Judo match in Dallas. We went to the now closed Royal Tokyo on Royal Lane. My first experience was very exotic and far out. Everything was so different. I remember not liking everything but being intrigued enough to go again. When I went back I started to get into trying something new every time. Eventually the chef figured out I had an open mind and palette. Each subsequent visit opened another chapter and soon I was hooked. I started eating sushi everywhere. Surprisingly there were not that many places in Dallas at the time. LA and New York were much different, especially LA. Since I spend a lot of time there, I have found the West Coast to have some of the best sushi. In the last 20 years in the US sushi has gone fairly mainstream. They even have it in Kroger now.
However all throughout this country of ours there are some badass examples of how focused this culinary art can be. Here are some very notable sushi bistros that I have been lucky enough to find.

I want to point out that I feel like I am at home when I dine in each one of these places. Food is love and in that tradition I would like to share my love of these places with you. You will notice every chef on this list is Japanese. My taste is extremely traditional and I like simple food straight from the source. There are some up and coming chefs that are not Japanese like Tyson Cole. However Tyson put his time in and learned the art from the ground up. He learned Japanese and made sure to ground himself in the fundamentals. I don’t care for citrus and raisins in my sushi but I appreciate his moxie and courage to move the cuisine along in the states.
Here is my favorite story about Tyson. I started gigging with my band all over Austin in the early 90’s. Right above The Elephant Room in Austin there was a sushi bar named Kyoto. Tyson started off as a bus boy there cleaning tables. I remember him behind the bar preparing rice and such. I was delighted to go there for dinner one evening with saxophonist Jeff Viaclovsky and Thad Scott. There was Tyson behind the bar with a knife cutting fish. I asked him “Are you a chef now?” and he proudly related to me that the owner handed him a knife and said he was ready. It wasn’t much longer that I went to eat at Mushashino, another fine Japanese restaurant in Austin and there was Tyson again, holding court and sharpening his saw.
Once again I was there with Jeff V. I was telling Jeff, whose wife is Japanese, that when eating Japanese cuisine you must sit at the bar for this simple reason- one of the best treasures in eating Japanese food is the crispness of the nori. If you sit at a table and have a waitress, your food is expo’d. Which means it’s sitting there under a heat lamp until your server brings it to you. In just a few short minutes the nori absorbs the moisture of the rice and becomes soggy and that sucks. Tyson overheard our conversation and looked me right in the eye and pointed out that he agreed. I respect him for that and I can see why he has been so successful.
You may wonder why in the hell a musician is writing a blog about Japanese food. Japan is not known for its music, although I find the sound of the Japanese Koto to be sacred, but remember, how you do anything is how you do everything. Like W. Edwards Deming who invented Total Quality Management that the Japanese embraced, I do not separate my art from my life. Japanese food is a symphony. A symphony for your taste buds. A slacker, a beardo or a cheapo will say “Oh, its too expensive…” That is exactly my point, time is money. Total Quality Management is about managing your time. This is where slackers lose my respect. They are just hanging out wasting their time. No cover equals cheap. I understand if you don’t shave for religious reasons, more power to you. But if you are cheap send me an email, I will mail you a Bic razor. OK? All kidding aside, here we go, lets look at the mavens of Japanese cuisine.
When I did my blog “Top 12 Guitarist of All Time” I alluded to the absurdity of composing such a list. There are just too many relative factors that make doing such simply an opinion. However it is worth doing the research the food is so enjoyable. After 23 years of loving this cuisine I have decided to herald out some excellent examples of where this food can go.
1. Sushi Kimagure– Pasadena California
Ike-San
Check out this succinct statement by the cool blog Kevineats:
“Chef Ike San is considered one of the best Sushi chefs in Los Angeles, and has a band of devoted followers.”
I couldn’t agree more, this is where you go if you want the real deal. No bullshit in any form here. Just go “Omakase” and the sushi Gods will have an affinity for you. In the famous words of Kazunori Nozawa “Trust Me” on this one. Also being considered one of the top sushi chefs in Los Angeles is no small feat. Los Angeles is where it’s at on a grand scale.
The entertainment business is in L.A.. Do not kid yourself, Hollywood, the Los Angeles Lakers, The Dodgers, Sandy Koufax, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Jack Nicholson amongst all others reside there. Sushi Kimagure is the finest example of Japanese cuisine on the West Coast. Go there and you will see.
2. Sushi Nozawa– Studio City California
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Sushi Nozawa may be closed now, however it’s influence is so broad that it still lives on as legend. The Taj Majal of keeping it simple.
The best things in life are simple.
This is equally true in Italian food as well. Many do not know that Kazunori has his roots in Dallas and used to work here. He would always ask me about the Cowboys when I ate there. He has gone on and overseen the launch of Sugarfish. There are so many great stories about his place. I remember these 2 gorgeous models walking in at 1:50 and he said “closed.” He was always focused on the food. That’s the way it should be. Hats off to Nozawa.
My friend Jimmy Johnson the great bass player lives right by there as does Aloke Dutta the great Tabla player. What Nozawa nailed in the states before anyone is the temperature of the rice. That single handedly is the greatest example of Total Quality Management- T.Q.M.. In ngiri sushi, which means with rice, the rice is the cloud on which the protein sits. Nothing is more important than your foundation.
3. Teppo, Tei Tei, Tei An– Dallas Texas
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The number three is magical. It’s how we all got here. There was your Mom and then there was your Dad. They met and came together and made something greater than their individual selves. That was you. If you want I can even break it down simpler. There is first base, there is second base and then there is third base. After that nothing is left but home. My home is Texas and when it comes to Japanese food this MoFo does not fuck around. To make a long story short he started Teppo, which is still there on Lower Greenville. He did so with $30,000 and changed the landscape of Japanese food in Dallas forever. If that wasn’t ballsy enough he had the moxie and courage to walk away from Teppo at its epitome and develop a new concept- Tei Tei.
Tei Tei was a Robata Bar and further raised the bar of Japanese cuisine in Dallas. After years of success there he did it again and opened Tei An in One Arts Plaza and completed the trinity. I love his food, I love him and most of all I love his courage. Eat here and it will change your life.
3. Keiichi– Denton Texas
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This one is personal. Many people accuse me of “tooting my own horn” when I talk about his restaurant. I cant help but agree, its true. I love his food and it took a long time to get to know Kei. He was the chef at Hana which was on Inwood in Addison in the early 90’s. When I was training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Carlos Machado I would go there every day for lunch. Eventually it lead to us becoming friends and I hired Kei to cook for all my friends on my birthday April 8th every year. After 4 years of this he shared with me he wanted to move to Denton Texas and open a Japanese restaurant. I thought it was a great idea and welcomed him to live at my home while we developed the concept. We did it and the rest is history. His food is clean, focused and unique in the way that he incorporates Italian, Steak and just to be blunt he gets the big picture. You will not be disappointed.
4. Teppo– Dallas Texas
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Tommy Nishigaya is one bad ass chef. He is silent so many people do not know about him and Masa Otaka. There is not a finer Japanese restaurant in Dallas. As I mentioned earlier Teiichi started it, but these guys have not even remotely rested on their Laurels. Any time I bring in someone from out of town I bring them there. Never once have the guests been disappointed. Tommy has a sensitivity for local ingredients and Masa is a master of Yakatori. He also understands management and stays on his employees to be their best. I respect the fact that he has scolded employees in front of me. He is the nicest guy you will ever meet but he is not a nice guy. Just like me he is misunderstood. Everyone perceives me as a nice guy. I am a nice guy until you cross me. Here is the caveat though. To cross me you have to truly cross me, not something trivial, something malicious will raise my ire and then I will stand my ground. Teppo is not nice, its the real deal.
5. Teppo– Dallas Texas
Masa
Masa, Tommy and Teiichi all moved here to Texas. They are bad asses and look how many times I have mentioned them already. I rest my case, and you better get over there and order-
Toro Uni Style with Quail Egg.
Once again I rest my case.
6. Matsuhisa– Los Angeles California
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As I alluded to earlier, if you can hold court on the West Coast, you can hold court anywhere. While he is famous for Nobu, it all started at Matsuhisa, his flagship restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. Los Angeles may be interpreted by many people as Lost Angels, but like everything in life, as well as my song “Love Rules” the opposite is true. Nobu is not lost, he is found, grounded and one of the best chefs on the planet. This is the place where I first encountered the real deal. Complete lock down. No bull shit. You order Mirugai, they got it. Robert Deniro was a regular there and encouraged Nobu to open in New York which led to him building a global brand, but it all started on La Cienega Boulevard. When you are in L.A. go there and you will see what I mean.
7. Kata Robata– Houston Texas
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We mentioned sushi ninja Tommy Nishigaya and Keiichi Nagano earlier. Kei turned me on to Hori when Hori worked at Kubos in Houston. I was hanging out with Tommy and he also mentioned to me a memorable dining experience he had at Kata Robata so I went. My friends in Houston are cool because I grew up with them,but getting them to try something new is bluntly impossible. Because I love my Mom and Dad with all my heart and they still live there, when I visit the city we go to Kata Robata. Always remember there is a diamond in the rough and here it is, and I am so pleasantly surprised every time I dine at Kata. My assistant Melissa, who is typing this, just recently went there with my Mom and Dad and it was awesome. I met Dominick Walker who is part of our team for the release of our new video and album there. Isn’t it ironic? He knows how to live and went to the same high school as me. I couldn’t get my friends that went to high school with me to go there if I tried. Listen to The Whisper, to The Universe. It is your friend and you are being pushed in exactly the direction you need to be pushed in.
I know this is a blog about Japanese food but it is truly a blog about you. A blog about paying attention and a blog about staying true to yourself and ultimately about music, the soundtrack of our lives.
Listen and you shall be heard,
-Eric

1 thought on “Sushi

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