Dojo is just far enough off the beaten path—slightly east of the Rio Grande on 300 South—that I worry it won’t get enough foot traffic to survive. And, I want Dojo to survive; I really like this place. Hopefully, patrons of the Homewood Suites and nearby office buildings will keep Dojo afloat until word gets out.
Walking into the restaurant, the earth-colored stone walls and black tables and chairs—the latter in contrast to crisp, white tablecloths and serving plates—serve to soothe. Calm comes over me when I enter Dojo. It’s a beautifully designed space and testament to co-owner Kelly Shiotani’s skill and eye for interior décor. To the left are private, curtained tatami booths; in the center of the restaurant are nicely spaced tables; in the rear is an inviting sushi bar. Lighting is subtle, and flat-screen TVs play visually stunning samurai films. Someone, I suspect, went out of their way to select these specific films; it’s hard to take your eyes off of them.
Still, Dojo’s design and ambiance serves mostly as a neutral backdrop for the food served there, wherein the real art lies. Overall, the menu is similar to lots of other places: Appetizers such as edamame, gyoza, agedashi tofu and miso lead into more substantial dishes like katsu curry, teriyaki offerings, donburi (rice bowls), bento boxes and sushi. But, there are some unique menu items as well. One that I would highly recommend to anyone who loves pig is the pork-belly ramen ($9.95). Talk about comfort food! This is a big soup bowl filled with a generous mound of perfectly cooked ramen noodles and topped with tantalizingly tender strips of pork belly, slivered scallions, hard-boiled egg and thin slices of pink kamaboko (Japanese fish cake) in an extraordinary homemade broth. The only thing that didn’t quite make sense was a small sheet of nori (seaweed) that came in the bowl and which I just set aside; I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. Nori or not, this is an outstanding, can’t-miss dish and a very hearty lunch—perfect for a blustery winter’s day.
An appetizer I found especially pleasing, and plentiful, was a big (more than enough for two to share) plate of calamari ($8.95), which is a combination of squid rings and tentacles marinated in sake and lemongrass then deep-fried in a light breading of pistachio-nut panko and served with ponzu and spicy aioli dipping sauces. I really liked this dish, though I have to say I couldn’t detect any lemongrass flavor. Another delightful entree is the broiled black cod ($12.95). A cod filet is marinated in miso and sake and then served, slightly charred and cooked to perfection, with a very delicate, not-too-sweet teriyaki sauce on a bed of sticky rice.
At Dojo, teriyaki, ponzu, uzu and other sauces are made from scratch. Even the soy sauce that adorns some of the sushi is first steeped in green tea and is more subtle than soy from a bottle. By the way, I really appreciate that each time we dined at Dojo, a server or sushi chef asked if we’d prefer low-sodium soy rather than regular. Thanks for asking.
Dojo picks up fresh fish almost daily at the airport from a supplier in San Francisco, so sushi specials change frequently. During our visits, we were lucky enough to be able to enjoy remarkably fresh ohyo (Pacific halibut), madai (red snapper), umi masu (ocean trout), bluefin tuna, sawara (king mackerel) and chu-toro. The last, chu-toro, refers to the fatty, belly area of the tuna, along the side of the fish (between the akami and otoro, if you want to get technical). It’s not as fatty as otoro, which many restaurants here serve, and is simply out of this world as nigiri or sashimi. At Dojo, it is presented with just a slight drizzle of house-made soy. One thing I like about the sushi here—especially nigiri and sashimi—is that it’s not usually served “naked,” as is the case with most places, but often comes with just a slight drop or two of, say, blood orange uzu, in the case of madai nigiri. It provides a very subtle acidic citrus note, much like squeezing lemon onto a piece of fish. During my visits, I rarely even used the soy sauce or wasabi supplied to me; I didn’t need it.
Co-owner Kirk Terashima is a humble, amusing and very talented sushi chef. He’s quick to give props to fellow chefs he respects around town, who, he says, have “mad skills.” Other Dojo chefs, like Cedric Woodward-Poor (who doesn’t even look old enough to drive) and Drew Kawaguchi will keep you entranced at the sushi bar with their own mad skills. Be sure they make you a Guchi roll ($13.95), which is simply awesome: spicy tuna, avocado and tempura green onion wrapped in rice and nori, then topped outside with slices of Wagyu beef, pomegranate-red colored tobiko and garlic ponzu. I suggest enjoying it with Oroya, a wine Dojo sells that was specially created to complement sushi.
DOJO ASIAN INSPIRED CUISINE & LOUNGE
423 W. 300 South