This Victory Park restaurant is capable of greatness. So how, on a recent visit, did they mess up the simplest stuff?
Back in May, we held a SideDish Supper Club event at Kenichi. I admit it was my first time dining there, and oh what a treat it was. I can honestly say—and many who attended agreed—that it was one of the most remarkable meals I’ve had in Dallas. The chefs, together with chef Hung Nguyen, one of only 40 Level II sake sommeliers in the world, created a modern take on the Kaiseki, the traditional, regimented, and highly ritualized formal meal served to nobles, emperors, and wealthy elite.
The nine-course meal contrasted traditional and nouvelle Japanese cuisine—fillet of sole with squash blossom tempura and shiso gremolata; braised lamb shoulder and crispy soft-shell crab with watercress and karashi, a spicy Japanese mustard; Alaskan Copper River wild salmon nigiri with ramps; strawberry with sansho (poached pepper) and watermelon granita—and each course was paired with rare and exotic sake handpicked by expert Hung. I had no idea that a Dallas restaurant could produce such a meal. Also noteworthy: Kenichi has the largest sake list in the state and one of the largest in the nation.
Ever since that night, I had been looking forward to another meal at Kenichi. I don’t go to Victory Park much, because it’s so, well, depressing down there. But off I went, my friend in tow, for some cocktails and a light meal.
We arrived about two minutes past 7, which means we were two minutes too late for the sushi and drink specials served between 5 and 7. Alas. We’ll remember that for next time. Unfortunately, we may also remember a few things the Kenichi staff wishes we would just forget.
For one, the table was dirty, which is unfortunate in any restaurant but inexcusable at a place where a tab for two runs about $100. The server noticed immediately and took care of it, but the impression had been made. We were offered edamame to start, and we accepted, but in retrospect we should have passed. The soybean pods were a bland, overcooked mess. They collapsed—rather than popped—in our mouths. However, our spirits lifted when our cocktails arrived: a Zodiac Cherry Blossom, with Zodiac vodka, lychee-infused sake, and strawberry, which tasted more floral than sweet, and a minty fresh mojito made with sake instead of rum.
Next up was ton gyoza, wild boar pot stickers with dried cherry nimono, which were a magical combination of savory, spicy, and sweet. But our high didn’t last, because our next course—sweet potato and broccoli tempura—was another mushy disappointment. The batter was crisp but gave way to overcooked vegetables underneath. How could something so simple be so poorly done?
But the chefs redeemed themselves yet again, with two excellent specialty rolls. The first, called Kamodo, held blackened tuna, mango, and avocado in edamame paper, rather than seaweed. The roll had a smokiness to it, which was tempered by the sweetness of the mango and the smooth creaminess of the avocado. Equally stunning was the Blake roll stuffed with shrimp tempura, cucumber, and avocado and topped with spicy tuna—the perfect foil to the crunchy tempura.
Would I give Kenichi another shot? I think so. Am I wondering what happened to the restaurant that served one of the most remarkable meals in Dallas? Definitely.
Get contact information for Kenichi.