The Trend-Monster is Swallowing Dallas’ Food Scene Whole
As you approach Nikkei, it almost feels like a secret – nothing but a blue door and a small neon sign alerting you to the entrance, which is next to Coal Vines in Uptown. As you walk up the stairs to the restaurant, your eyes follow colorful walls adorned with floor-to-ceiling Japanese-inspired artwork. When you step into the restaurant, you are greeted by low lighting, bright neon, and warm jewel tones.
Electronic music booms softly in the background, and friendly waiters cross the dark room explaining Nikkei’s concept: Japanese cuisine with Peruvian influences, a nod to the diaspora that led so many Japanese out of their homeland. In the back of the room, stairs lead to a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy cocktails while watching the sunset behind the crescent moon – a breathtaking view of Dallas, if ever there was one.
I kind of like hidden restaurants. I like walls full of art and glowing neon lights and bright, jewel-colored accent colors. I like electronic music and rooftop terraces with a cool view. I like fascinating concepts like Japanese-Peruvian fusion.
But Nikkei, like a growing number of Dallas concepts, doesn’t feel like a place to come back for more.
Once again, Dallas has launched another bar-restaurant concept where the food itself feels secondary, with selfie stations strategically positioned, and bottle service prices hitting thousands, but even after you’ve over 100 at dinner Lost dollars, you can talk about the mood, not the food. Of the dozen dishes and drinks tried one evening during Nikkei’s opening week, I can’t remember a taste that I really want to relive.
The Nikkei dining room is far better suited to a nightclub than a serious restaurant, but this isn’t the only restaurant that has succumbed to the nightclub dining trend.
To be fair, Nikkei is in its earliest stages, having just opened in February on a busy corner of Uptown. But like Quill in the Design District and Dos Jefes nearby, a beautiful space and great cocktails are tarnished by the aspirations of a high-end nightclub. Fortunately, unlike Quill and Dos Jefes, your waiters don’t carry your expensive food while swaying in skin-tight dresses and high heels. Even so, guests like me go away and know that this place, like so many other new places in Dallas, is not for me.
If you, too, are making less than $ 50,000 a year in a city like Dallas, it’s hard not to feel a little excluded from the current wave that is flooding the food and drink scene. There’s nothing wrong with expensive restaurants – not everything has to be for everyone – but it feels like a selfie-obsessed trend monster is swallowing up the entire Dallas food scene. The concepts get more and more complicated, the music louder and the lights darker, but while the food and drink get more expensive with each new opening, the flavors become less and less memorable. The rooftop terraces and ambiguous neon-lettered expressions just meant to seduce the Instagrammers feel more like the point than the convenience.
There is serious talent at the top of Nikkei. Milkshake Concepts, the group behind Stirr, describe themselves as an “experimental hospitality group” and that certainly seems to be correct. Much like Stirr, a see and be seen restaurant and rooftop bar that feels incredibly out of place on the corner of Deep Ellum, Nikkei’s experience is as overly trendy as it comes. But with chefs Ross Demers (formerly On the Lamb) and Nick Harrison in the kitchen – and with a concept as curious as Nikkei’s – our attention had been seriously drawn. A press release explaining Nikkei describes the food as “exotic yet accessible Japanese Peruvian cuisine”. After paying $ 17 for five oysters strewn with cactus pear jelly, I can’t help but oppose the use of “accessible”.
I tried five dishes at Nikkei, including Oyster’s Ponzu Buena ($ 17), Miso Black Cod ($ 18), and Texas Wagyu ($ 22). The oysters were beautiful – tiny, tender Beausoleil oysters sprinkled with cactus pear jelly – but at $ 17 for five, not tasty enough to warrant another order. The miso black cod with purple mashed potatoes and huancaina, a creamy, cheesy sauce, was fascinating in concept, but the taste was omnipresent. The starchy purple potatoes in combination with the misami umami and the almost cheddar-like cheese sauce combined with the freshness of the cod created such a complicated taste profile that my head ached.
The biggest bite came from the black garlic salmon ($ 16), made with marinated salmon roe, radishes, and sweet plum butter; It turned out to be the most memorable dish, combining creaminess and flavor with a nice piece of brine.
The Keep It Clean ($ 12), Nikkei’s version of a home-pickled vegetable martini served in glassware that is more confusing than useful.
But nothing on the menu made me want to spend the money Nikkei is asking for. There is something life-affirming about having a beautiful, delicate, expensive meal that consists of several thoughtful courses. But these meals are best served in a place where food is the raison d’etre. Nikkei is more about seeing and being seen – and losing serious money while chasing both.
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Matt Odam, food critic for Austin American-Statesman, may also have written about Dallas in his most recent review of Eberly.
… In recent years, as rents and taxes have skyrocketed and kitchen talent has waned, there has been a shift to restaurants opened by people with deep pockets who don’t think like chefs. They think like business people and club owners. They seem to care about aesthetics, design, attract a certain amount, and create spaces that look cool but feel empty.
We stumbled from cook-powered restaurants to vi-powered restaurants. Food is less about a shared appreciation of craft, taste and community than about a form of bubbly entertainment and stylized spectacle. These new places, which likely cost millions to build, appear to have been specially made to host glossy magazine parties and drive traffic to websites that ignore the “stunners” and unfounded new “classics”.
Nikkei even serves a shot of a martini in a cone-shaped glass, which is served in a spherical glass of ice – a clunky, inconvenient vessel that feels like a metaphor for the restaurant. It may look cool, but the substance just isn’t there.
As noted in Odam’s recent Statesman article, this problem is not Dallas specific – it is everywhere, and it gets worse every year. The Dallas hospitality industry has had a difficult few months with some high profile closings, and if there was any hesitation about the industry’s oversaturation, those fears seem to have been forgotten. My biggest fear is not that we will have too many restaurants; It so happens that as more $ 7,000-bottle restaurants turn Louie XII into dark caves, we forget the real reason our dining scene even exists: to feed people.
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Beth Rankin is an Ohio born and Cicerone certified beer server who specializes in social media, food and drink, travel, and reporting. Their belief system revolves around the importance of topo chico, the refusal to eat lobster out of season, and the importance of local and regional food routes.