The Greenville Avenue sushi restaurant features omakase meals of 16 courses. But it’s not as intimidating as it sounds.
By Brian Reinhart THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS March 10, 2022
Many of the most exclusive, hard-to-obtain things in the world are serious, formal and intimidating. But some of them are relaxed, comfortable luxuries. That is, they’re not exclusive so much as they are scarce.
Take the challenge of securing reservations at two of Dallas’ most coveted restaurants. Lucia often books up a month in advance, but it’s a friendly neighborhood Italian spot filled with a whole lot of friends. And then there’s Shoyo, which arrived on Greenville Avenue in fall 2021. It’s an omakase sushi bar that serves 16 courses for $175, with just 12 seats and three Nobu veteran chefs. This makes dinner at Shoyo sound like a visit to a fine-dining temple.
It’s not. Instead, Shoyo mixes tradition with playfulness, craft with camaraderie. You can spend weeks fretting over securing a reservation, setting phone alarms before the next batch of tables is made available, keeping your weeknights free in case of a last-minute cancellation. Then, in the moment of the meal itself, all that hassle is forgotten.
The overall feeling of dining at Shoyo is joyous. First you get ushered in stages through the building, which has been remodeled into a striking piece of restaurant architecture. There is a jolt as employees suggest a series of upcharge options (say yes to the house-pickled ginger), but as the night progresses, the 12 guests get talking with their chefs and each other. Sake and Asahi flow, and first-timers relax into the unfussy atmosphere.
One of the simple pleasures of Shoyo is watching its chefs — Shinichiro Kondo, Jimmy Park, and William Yoon — at work as they assemble each piece of sushi. There’s an element of the magician’s craft in this work, and I don’t mean that as a cheesy metaphor about how sushi is magic or some such nonsense. I mean it literally.
Watch the dexterity of the chef’s fingers as he forms the rice, passing it back and forth between hands, rotating it in his palms, adding each topping in turn with an ease that comes only after years of practice. As the chef spins each bite of food out of those fingers, you half expect to see the ball of rice vanish and then reappear in someone’s pocket. It’s like watching a hustler shuffle playing cards, or Pedro Martinez change grips on a baseball.
The three sushi chefs each have different styles, both in their physical dexterity and in their banter with customers. Park and Yoon, who are longtime friends, trade jokes and trash-talk each other. Park dispenses helpful bits of wisdom. (Example: The later seating each night is louder and more outgoing.) Kondo, who as Park’s longtime mentor is the bar’s oldest chef and only native of Japan, keeps quieter, concentrating on his work. One night, a customer bought the sushi chefs a round of sake. Kondo tried a sip of his, nodded, and said quietly, to himself, “It’s good.” Then he set it down on an out-of-the-way shelf and went back to work.
Don’t ask if there is a “best chef” or best place to sit. Yes, Park, Kondo and Yoon are different, but they are differences to be savored. It’s like asking which is the best piece of sushi.
Another simple pleasure: Shoyo’s tasting menu never drags. There’s no need to commit three or four hours; indeed, each seating is carefully timed. You can count on attentive service. And, after dinner, you’ll still have time to walk around or drink a nightcap.
Across two meals and 32 courses, I’ve had maybe a couple bites that were merely fine or pleasant, but a dozen or more that were astonishing. From Mexico, Shoyo sources dazzling fatty tuna belly, marbled so delicately and thoroughly that it was a soft, blushing pink. Topped with a spritz of lemon and a tiny scoop of caviar, the tuna melts slowly into a gorgeous memory.
Toro also appeared one night as a tartare, mashed and served with a jalapeño dressing, lemon zest, rice crackers and a dab of Sichuan chili crisp, which added a peppery, savory tingle without fiery heat.
Although Shoyo is not doctrinaire about where its seafood comes from (they are willing to buy American or Mexican fish if it’s the best the restaurant can find), much of the stock comes from Tokyo’s legendary Toyosu Market. Several nigiri stick out in my memories: the firm, slightly nutty delight of house-cured mackerel; a Texanized piece of kampachi with cilantro leaf and pickled serrano pepper (not too spicy); two unforgettable bites of scallop, one dressed only with yuzu but the other smoked and plated with wasabi and edamame puree. There’s something delightful about rolling scallop around your tongue, trying to find the wasabi. It is, at the same time, both a powerful multi-sensory experience and the grown-up version of playing with your food.
One piece of sushi unexpectedly sent my taste buds rocketing across the world — not to Asia but to England. Tempura barracuda, it turns out, is a perfect stand-in for fish and chips, especially when topped with Shoyo’s spicy mustard aioli. In all the nights I spent in London-area chippies, I saw plenty of vinegar, but never a pot of Colman’s mustard. Pity the Brits. (Travel tip: Masters Superfish near Waterloo Station will fry cod in mustard batter.)
Park was also thinking of Europe when he folded New Zealand king salmon over rice and basil pesto, then topped the sushi with a little ball of fried mozzarella. The textures of raw fish and fried cheese together make for a moment of chewing, but the flavor combination is eye-opening and fun.
Last fall, Shoyo opened with two menu options, a more traditional tasting helmed by Kondo and an unconventional seating in which Park added little flourishes like those mozzarella balls. Now, to simplify prep work and make the chefs’ lives easier, they’ve combined the two offerings into one, which is mostly traditional with fewer surprises. I’ll admit I miss some of the flights of fancy.
But the experience is still memorable — and in high demand. Exclusivity is, of course, great advertising. Plenty of customers are coming to Shoyo because they know it’s hard to get in, without knowing what exactly it is. One night, I sat next to a couple who knew nothing about sushi. The husband, particularly, seemed genuinely fearful. He didn’t believe that raw fish was edible.
“It’s an experience,” his wife told him. “Just enjoy it.”
At the end, a waiter visited with each party to ask if they wanted second helpings of any of the courses, for an additional fee. Even the skeptic asked for more.
Price: $175 for a set, 16-course dinner. You won’t know what’s on the menu until it is served.
Service: Excellent, friendly, unobtrusive service from waitstaff, plus three sushi chefs preparing food for just 12 guests at a time.
Ambience: A modernist study in black and gold, with stylish architectural details in the lobby. The dining room is one long sushi bar.
Noise: Gentle background music and the conversations of the other 11 guests. It’s common to chat with your neighbors.
Drinks: Extensive sake choices, some wines and Asahi available on draft.
Recommended: The only choices you’ll get are add-ons; we recommend splurging $5 for house-pickled ginger.
Address: 1916 Greenville Ave., Dallas; email@example.com
Hours: Dinner seatings Tuesday through Saturday at either 5:45 p.m. or 8:15 p.m.
Reservations: Offered online through Resy at 9 a.m. on the first day of the month. To be sure of scoring a seat, set a phone alarm for 8:55 a.m. and make sure your credit card information is already saved on your Resy account.
Payment: All major credit cards. Dinner is paid in advance; only drinks, add-ons, tax and tip are paid after a meal.
Health department score: 100 (inspected in January)
Access: The entrance off Greenville Avenue and main dining area are wheelchair accessible, but narrow with tight turns.
Transit: Located on Lowest Greenville, Shoyo is easy to reach for pedestrians, bus passengers and drivers. The restaurant shares a small parking lot behind the building with other businesses.
Brian Reinhart, Special Contributor. Brian Reinhart has written about Dallas food and drink since 2015. He joined The Dallas Morning News as a contributing food columnist in firstname.lastname@example.org