San Antonio might not come to mind as a sushi destination, and yet Sushi Zushi, an Alamo City export, has established a reliable reputation, with four branches around town. The chain has two outlets in Austin, and another in Dallas' Oak Lawn neighborhood. Now Dallas has a cousin that opened in Southlake Town Square in late August.
The Dallas Sushi Zushi initially seemed focused on happy-hour specials, but has stepped up its sushi game in recent years. The Southlake branch follows suit. It boasts a large menu with creative rolls and lots of sushi alternatives, and most of what we sampled was well executed. There was an equally broad selection of sakes, upscale atmosphere and tip-top service. Sushi Zushi wouldn't rank as a foodie find, but its friendly attitude makes it easy to recommend.
The menu is so big, it feels like a book. You almost wish it would edit down the choices, but after a few visits, it gets easier to find what you want.
The menu offers Japanese standards such as edamame (boiled soybeans in salted pods), fried tofu and steamed dumplings. There's also sushi rolls, tempura vegetables (fried in a lacy batter), teppan yaki (meats and vegetables cooked on a Benihana-type grill) and yakitori (cooked on skewers over a flame).
We tried a little raw, a little cooked and a lot of rice, as the place has some rice dishes not seen at other sushi spots. The tuna tower ($15) is a signature, and that's no surprise, with its statuesque presentation and complexity. A cylinder of rice formed a base, topped by spicy raw tuna, sliced avocado, creamy wasabi sauce and colorful tobiko (roe). This was fun to share and deconstruct, feeling almost like sushi in a bowl.
The Oak Lawn roll ($18) is one of three dozen signature rolls, many named for local cities, sports teams and the like. The Oak Lawn had crunchy fried crawfish topped with tuna, avocado and more colorful tobiko. Fried crawfish is a crowd-pleaser, and the roll had interesting textures, with the crunchy crawfish and tobiko contrasting with the soft avocado and slightly chewy rice.
But we also liked the simplicity of the futo maki roll ($5), with shiitake mushroom, cucumber, tamago (egg), kampyo (dried gourd) and sakura denbu (fish flakes, used for flavor). The muted flavors let us appreciate the moist chew of the rice and the subtle give of the nori (sheets of seaweed), just on the verge of wilting so that it tore in the mouth easily, but not so wilted that it became gummy -- a confirmation of the skills in the kitchen.
The only dish that was a bit off was the Tampa Bay musubi ($4). Also known as onigiri, musubi consists of compressed rice wrapped around a preserved item. The Tampa Bay contained Sushi Zushi's signature crab salad, but the firm rice shell didn't work well with the mayonnaisey filling. You're probably better off going with a more traditional musubi combo, such as pickled vegetables or sour plum.
One of our favorite picks was vegetable yakimeshi rice ($4) -- stir-fried rice with vegetables, but with a refined combination of flavors and wonderfully soft texture that set it apart from typical fast-food fried rice. Medium-grain rice was combined with diced carrots, bell pepper, onion and bits of scrambled egg and drizzled with sweet, mellow tamari, deeper and richer than regular soy sauce, for the ultimate comfort dish.
The sake menu was equally expansive, with dozens of choices served in a user-friendly variety of options: by the glass, small carafe or bottle. There was even Kirin beer on tap ($4.25 for a pint).
Service was sharp, from the sweet-natured hostess to the attentive server to the conscientious manager who checked every table to make sure all was well. It's a beautiful space with nifty mirror-flecked terrazzo sinks in the bathroom and eye-catching lighting installations that slowly morph through the colors of the rainbow.