You've seen one sushi place, you've seen them all, right?
North of Keller to south of Fort Worth, we've nearly saturated our Western tongues with the Eastern fare. From counter-service sushi joints to elevated sushi in near-fine-dining environments -- let's face it, it has become hard to see the nigiri through the flat-screen TVs.
Ahoyama Sushi, an eclectic spot in Hurst, however, offers an innovative take on the standard sushi experience with fresh fish and a friendly vibe.
The 5-year-old establishment, located off Grapevine Highway in a nondescript strip center, is attractively decorated with dark ceramic tile and bright, quirky paintings of sushi. If the art on the wall doesn't tempt you, the restaurant wisely features another enticing visual: The menu is full of pictures of its wide-ranging food.
The unintentional result of this is slightly overwhelming: How can you not order too much here, when everything looks so attractive?
After we settled in at the sushi bar, the onslaught of food began to arrive. First, our server delivered a nice Japanese riff on the amuse bouche: a small bowlful of sliced cucumber with bits of shredded crab. A tangy lemony dressing complemented the salad nicely. Speaking of salad, we then segued to the salmon skin salad ($5.95), a generous portion of greens topped with rectangular pieces of seared salmon skin. An antioxidant overload, it was original in its mix of textures; the crispy fish skin was deliciously earthy and, when mixed with the vegetables and ponzu sauce, surprisingly light.
Another more pointed sushi-dining question: How do you ensure that your food arrives at a nice, leisurely pace? Full of unique flavors, sushi is meant to be savored, and like any obsessive-compulsive foodie, I employ a certain sequence to enjoying the food. (I usually save my precious eel roll for last.) But in our experience at Ahoyama, the food came quickly and we had no choice but to take a deep breath and try not to inhale it just as fast.
That was the only hiccup to our meal, since the rest of the food we tried was first-rate. The Caribbean roll ($14.95) featured tuna, salmon, scallops, crab meat, mango and a spring mix. Wrapped in rice paper, the roll was not bogged down by the traditional rice, and the mango gave it a subtle sweetness.
Fried shrimp, avocado, cucumber, spicy tuna and "crunch powder" constituted the spicy crunch roll ($11.95), a rich tempura-and-mayo creation. The crunch powder is akin to an exceptionally crispy bread crumb, and it was addictive. Covering the entire plate (not to mention the roll), the powder had me scooping it up with my hands like a veteran fried tempura powder junkie. Not a pretty sight.
We also enjoyed our a la carte orders of fresh-water eel ($2.50 a piece), and albacore tuna and regular tuna ($2.25). The fish was flavorful and fresh, all you can ask for in a landlocked city such as Hurst.
Ahoyama offers the requisite green-tea ice creams for dessert, but we're not big fans, so we passed. We were rewarded with two half-oranges, expertly segmented -- a sweet end-note to the meal.
As customers enter the restaurant, employees happily bang the giant gong behind the sushi bar. On our Friday visit during peak lunch hour, that gong got a workout. The wait staff seemed to get a kick out of the whole charade. You could say the same about our experience at Ahoyama.