The Search for Takoyaki (Sushi Yama)

21 Jan

I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations series, though I was late in discovering this show and didn’t become a devout viewer until two seasons ago.  Now, life just doesn’t seem right without an hour of glorious televised food porn every week.  A rerun of the Osaka episode where Bourdain nearly ate himself to death triggered my curiosity about Japanese street food, specifically, those round octopus dumplings called takoyaki.

I wasn’t a complete stranger to takoyaki when I saw the Osaka No Reservations episode.  I had them once at the Dallas Japanese Association’s Akimatsuri, or Fall Festival.  But there must be some way to satisfy this craving in between the once-a-year festivals?  While picking up a takeout order at my favorite cheap sushi joint, Seabose, I asked the clerk if she knew of a restaurant in the Dallas area that served takoyaki.  The answer was really no surprise.  Sushi Yama, she said, was the only restaurant in the DFW area that serves takoyaki. 

Sushi Yama has long been a favorite of Dallas foodies, former expats, and local Japanese with its authentic menu of noodle dishes, yakitori, sushi, and other specialties scribbled on taped-to-the-wall pieces of paper with a Sharpie.  Budget-minded diners love Sushi Yama for $1 sushi nights (Tuesdays and Saturdays, $10 minimum) and half price bento box Wednesdays ($11 buys a feast).  With late hours (open until 2:00 am), it is also rumored to be the place where local sushi chefs eat after their shifts are over. 

The restaurant is tucked away in a nondescript strip mall on Forest Lane just west of Greenville Avenue.  Sushi Yama’s sign is not visible from Forest Lane and can be tricky to find.

sushiyama1.jpg 

At 9:30pm on a Saturday, Sushi Yama’s small dining room is still more than half full. 

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Unfortunately for us, this translated into some long delays in service.  Since it was $1 sushi night, we started off with some sushi.

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From top to bottom, left to right: spicy tuna, wasabi flying fish roe, flying fish roe, and eel.

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Salmon.

The sushi was all average and forgettable with the exception of the delightfully fun wasabi flying fish roe, spicy crunchy bubbles that burst with each bite.  Of course, it was my first time with wasabi flying fish roe so that added to the fascination.  I don’t usually obsess over portion size, but it’s worth noting that the sushi pieces were all small.  Perhaps, for $1/piece, you do get what you pay for.

Next up, the reason for my visit to Sushi Yama, takoyaki.

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It’s amazing how cheap street food sold in masses can translate into a dainty dish of 4 octopus dumplings in a restaurant setting.  Although I’ve never been to Japan, these dumplings fit all the descriptions of takoyaki from friends, online resources, and of course, the No Reservations episode.  The spherical dumplings have a soft, somewhat spongy, mild flavored batter surrounding chewey chunks of octopus and are topped with okonomiyaki sauce, aonori (green seaweed powder), and dried fish shavings.  Pickled ginger and mayonnaise are served on the side.  It’s a mess, but a delicious mess.

Speaking of messy, we also opted for an order of okonomiyaki, or Japanese pancake.sushiyama4.jpg

Okonomiyaki roughly tranlates into “cooked as you like it” or “what you like, the way you like.”  In Japan, this messy pancake is a creation with customized ingredients that you pick out.  At Sushi Yama, the choice is limited to the meat in the pancake, for which we chose beef.  The griddle fried meat and batter pancake is topped with okonomiyaki sauce, nori, dried fish flakes, and pickled ginger.  The dried fish flakes, being ever so airy and light, move in the heat/steam from the pancake, giving the illusion that they are alive.  Creepy.  Having never been to Japan, I can’t judge if the okonomiyaki is authentic at Sushi Yama but thought that the abundance of the okonomiyaki sauce really overpowered the dish.  I couldn’t taste anything but the sauce.

Overall, I enjoyed my budget feast ($27 including tax and tip for two) at Sushi Yama.  The slow service at this late hour was frustrating as my starved self was in no mood to wait 45 minutes for the first plate to show up on the table.  But service issues aside, Sushi Yama is the quintessential cozy, hole-in-the-wall, authentic Japanese eatery in Dallas.  There’s definitely a reason for the loyal following, and I suspect it isn’t the $1 sushi. 

I’ll be back to explore other items on the menu, or rather, the wall, especially the ones written only in Japanese.  Anyone else up for an adventure?

Rating: 3 / 5

Sushi Yama
8989 Forest Lane
Dallas, TX 75243

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7 Responses to “The Search for Takoyaki (Sushi Yama)”

  1. luniz 01/21/2008 at 2:13 pm #

    that okonomiyaki looks good, i want to have it but i want to do it myself like you’re supposed to 😀 as far as being up for an adventure…you know i am!

  2. kuidaore 01/21/2008 at 9:59 pm #

    luniz, hold on for a few weeks. I’ll throw an Okonomiyaki (+mochi or oden) party. Then you’ll taste authentic homemade Osakan Okonomiyaki!

    $27 at Sushi Yama isn’t bad at all. Sushi Yama is an Izakaya where drinks are the main and you order those little a-la-carte dishes that go with the drinks. It costs $$$ to fill up a big eater (and non-drinker) like myself! (That’s why I never go to a Yakitori place, either. I’ll have to order 100 pieces to fill me up!)

    Donna, have you ever tried their bento box? Webra1 didn’t like it at all.

  3. donnaaries 01/21/2008 at 10:24 pm #

    No, I’ve never had the bento box at Sushi Yama. I think most people get that on Wednesdays when it’s deeply discounted because it’s such a good deal.

  4. FatCap 01/22/2008 at 1:45 am #

    …will be in Osaka on 2/25-26. I’ll send photos for comparison when I get a chance.

  5. donnaaries 02/06/2008 at 12:13 am #

    Here are some photos of takoyaki from FatCap’s trip to Osaka’s Dotonbori, a popular restaurant/shopping street:

    A photo of the takoyaki in its pan.

    When split open, these takoyaki dumplings look much creamier inside than mine at Sushi Yama did. Photo of the takoyaki interior.

  6. FatCap 02/07/2008 at 12:10 am #

    Hey Donna: those pics you posted are actually from Osaka restaurant Takojaya, a quaint and beautiful, upscale restaurant which specializes in octopus. There’s a big tank of live baby octopus in full view of customers. The tako that went into these balls were stuck to the glass just minutes before they went in the batter. The other pic in the set I sent you, of mass-produced takoyaki, was from a Dotonbori stand. Takojaya served its takoyaki without sauce (a la some Texas BBQ shrines). Texture and taste of both dough and tako were terrific. Dotonbori stands slathers theirs generously with sauce.

    Next time you see me, remind me to show you video from Takojaya!

  7. donnaaries 02/07/2008 at 7:31 am #

    Oops, I stand corrected. Here is the photo from the Dotonbori.

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