How often do we get so set in our routines that we don’t, as the saying goes, see the forest for the trees?
Or in this case, see the sushi joint amid the shopping centers and construction zone that is southwest Fort Worth?
Because, for your consideration, I present Sushi Tao: a first-rate Japanese food destination hiding in plain sight.
While I have probably driven past it thousands of times, I had never before tried the 5-year-old restaurant. But after two visits, I’m convinced it ranks in the upper tier of sushi spots citywide, based on both the caliber of food and its sparkling service.
Don’t misunderstand the latter as an overstatement. At Sushi Tao, the servers, sushi chefs and even the barbacks show you that they are glad you are there. During our first meal, our lively waitress joshed, worrying like a helicopter parent: “You’re ordering too much food,” she basically said.
When I picked up food to go on another occasion, the cashier joked about how long it took me to get to the restaurant. All of this is hardly the stuff of most strip-center sushi joints, where you often feel like a number — just another chump paying a lot of money for all that food.
Inside the spare, clean dining room, red pendant lights and the usual contemporary restaurant warehouse fixtures serve as the innocuous background. Booths line the perimeter and small tables are granted much breathing room. A small sushi bar at the back was empty on our first visit, so we headed for a booth.
Sneaky Sushi Tao — even your menu seems deceptive … at first. There are all of the usual sushi suspects like special rolls (Can we get a moratorium on the TCU roll? It has become a standard menu item at every sushi joint within a 25-mile radius of Amon Carter Stadium.) and sashimi options. But look a little closer and you’ll see robata grill offerings, from calamari to miso cod to Japanese vegetables.
The grilled calamari ($7) looked enticing, and it delivered a smoky, intense flavor. Similarly, the Japanese eggplant and shitake mushrooms ($2 each) — we asked for an order of half and half — was a promising start to the meal. Nice chunks of eggplant were juicy and a little sweet, and the mushrooms were a good, savory complement.
The grilled miso black cod ($9) was a small plank of fish, perfectly cooked with crispy skin. The rendition felt indulgent, despite its reasonable cost ($9).
Moving on (yes, we did order too much), the requisite miso soup and small salad were assured iterations preceding the shrimp teriyaki ($14.95), a skillet piled high with a generous serving of shrimp and vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and mushrooms. A sweet almost ponzulike sauce pervaded the dish; mixed with a side of sushi rice, it was quite satisfying.
Our second experience was just as pleasant as the first. Errand-running and kid-wrangling will task the body (as we rationalized), so we picked up sushi the following weekend.
The hand roll combo ($14.95) was just the right balm. The large cone-shaped seaweed wrappers held four types (eel avocado, salmon skin, California and spicy yellowtail). The first two were a bit more successful, with bright flavors: The avocado tamped down the slightly acidic eel and the crispy fried salmon skin tasted better than the some of the best fried chicken skin we’ve had. The California’s pedestrian shredded crab was a bit boring and the yellowtail mixed with breadcrumbs was a little one-note and mushy.
If you order one thing at Sushi Tao, try the summer roll ($11.95) — appropriate, right? With a rice-paper exterior, the blast of fish (white fish, salmon, tuna and crab) mixed with asparagus, greens, mango and, interestingly, tomato is an utterly light and newfangled way to enjoy sushi.
Which sums up the food at Sushi Tao as well.