Subtle and chic, yet completely accessible and casual, Temaki Sushi just may set a new standard for Japanese cuisine in Fort Worth.
The cozy, handsomely appointed space sits just across from Ellerbe Fine Foods, the dazzling, locavore-inclined eatery hailed by food writers from coast to coast. Temaki Sushi is a much smaller, more humble but no less forceful dining experience.
Part of the boomlet of Japanese restaurants along rapidly revitalizing West Magnolia Avenue, Temaki Sushi has been open just more than two months. (Shinjuku Station, an upscale-dining concept from the folks behind the rightly revered sushi institution Tokyo Cafe, opened just two weeks ago at the other end of Magnolia.) The setup here is elegant in its simplicity. A carefully curated menu is split between three affordable price points ($3, $5 and $9, whether you come for lunch or dinner) and features a total of 29 items.
It's an expansive selection without feeling overwhelming. The very accommodating staff is more than happy to explain the difference between sashimi and nigiri or to extol the virtues of a particular sushi roll -- after all, "temaki" literally translates from the Japanese as "hand-rolled sushi" -- and then deliver the goods to your table in carefully timed waves.
One quirk: Unlike most other sushi-oriented restaurants, you can't sit at the sushi bar. Here it's located behind the counter where you place your order, visible but not a place to linger.
On a recent visit, my wife and I simply plucked one of nearly everything from the menu -- it's hard to resist the urge to splurge. The finest item may actually have been the first we ordered: the spicy tuna endive appetizer ($3), a miracle of Asian fusion. Finely chopped spicy tuna rests comfortably in an endive leaf, the vegetable's faintly bitter crispness contrasting perfectly with the spicy tuna's prickly heat.
But there are numerous other highlights, from the addictive, nongreasy pot-stickers ($3) to the array of temaki, including the spicy white tuna brown rice roll ($5) and the more elaborate "signature" rolls, like the gorgeous white dragon roll (shrimp tempura, asparagus, avocado and topped with white tuna, $9). The "white dragon," while a sizable mouthful, blends the sharp crackle of tempura with the intoxicating creaminess of the avocado chunks and finishes nicely with the flavorful pieces of white tuna.
The rice used for the nigiri and the hand rolls provides superb texture, the very definition of what to expect from sushi rice. Too often, sushi restaurants can cut corners on the rice preparation, which only serves to undermine their rolls and nigiri -- not so at Temaki. (Offering versions of white and brown rice for the hand rolls is also a nice touch.)
The plates at Temaki are as pleasing to the eye as the palate; it's edible art that, remarkably, never feels the least bit fussy. (The spicy tuna endive appetizer, especially, was dazzlingly simple, laid upon a small bed of alfalfa sprouts.) The setting, meanwhile, is as striking as the food, with modern furniture (banquettes run the length of the two exterior walls, with funky metal chairs and blond wood-topped tables filling in the center) and subdued lighting filling the dining room.
There's no beer or wine at Temaki yet, but you will find a variety of teas, as well as soft drinks. As cohesive and appealing as the full menu is, dessert -- at least during our visit -- felt weirdly like an afterthought: There were prepackaged cheesecakes, or you could sample a trio of mochi ice cream pucks ("mochi" is basically pounded sticky rice, and these treats were filled with flavored ice cream).
But these are minor issues that can easily be resolved. Temaki Sushi is, on the whole, off to an excellent start. It is the sort of casual neighborhood place where you could squeeze in a low-key date night, or study for a final, or get caught up with friends. It's also the kind of place that you would really like to keep secret and have only for yourself -- but good luck resisting that urge.