For as long as most folks can remember, there’s been a sushi restaurant in the 6100 block of Camp Bowie Boulevard. Danny Liu worked as a sushi chef at Hui Chuan for years before decamping to Sushi Yoko right up the street. When Hui Chuan’s owners decided to close up shop in 2012, Liu and his family took over the property, reopening as Little Lilly late last year.
For his chef, Liu hired Jesus Garcia, with whom Liu had worked at Sushi Yoko. Not even 30 yet, Garcia has worked at some excellent sushi restaurants in the Fort (Shinjuku Station, Piranha Killer Sushi). With him holding court behind the sushi bar at Little Lilly, a patron might find herself trying something out of the ordinary because the chef makes it sound so good.
That was the case with the okonomiyaki appetizer. Loosely translated, it means “whatever you want, grilled.” In this case, it was a pancake topped with savory shrimp, cabbage, pork belly, and smoky bonito flakes. The pork’s mushy texture was a little overwhelming, but the smoky bonito worked well with the shrimp and grilled cabbage. And then there was the sea urchin sashimi –– Garcia overheard my table of three discussing salmon roe versus the more classic tobiko and offered up a salmon roe-topped sea urchin delicately wrapped in nori. The salty, oozy, briny goodness of the salmon eggs and velvety, pudding-like texture of the sea urchin tasted weirdly good together.
The tempura shrimp and vegetables, ordered as a safe counterbalance to the other appetizers, were delicious. The delicate batter clung nicely to the shrimp, and Garcia used unusual veggies, like meaty mushrooms and chunky sweet potatos, along with the more conventional zucchini. The appetizer was served with traditional salty ginger tentsuyu sauce.
The chef’s choice was a bento box of nigiri (sliced raw fish served atop a ball of rice): a generous assortment of seven kinds of fish (scallop, salmon, white tuna, albacore tuna, mackerel, and spicy tuna). A bento box can be a bit of a crapshoot, but since Garcia had proven himself with the starters, it was a fairly safe gamble. The sashimi was immaculately fresh, and each piece came with its own sauce. All the fish tasted wonderful, but the scallop nigiri, served with a citrusy ponzu sauce, was the best. The box also included a salad topped with a creamy, delicate tofu vinaigrette dressing plus miso soup.
Then the tuna tower arrived, and we noticed that the crab in the gorgeously layered mess of sushi tuna, spicy tuna, veggies, and rice was actually blue crab, not the crab substitute used in some restaurants. Garcia uses “krab” in the California rolls, but he said he likes the texture of the lump blue crab for the tower. And what a vibrant assortment of salty, tangy, sweet flavors.
Finally, the hamachi zest roll revolved around soy-marinated salmon and avocado, accented with ponzu sauce. Topped with more of that super-fresh yellowfin tuna, the dish was one of the best simple sushi rolls we’d ever sampled, perhaps due to the combination of the lemon zest, ponzu, and salmon. Or maybe it was because the sauce was used as an accent, not as gravy.
Usually in a sushi restaurant, there’s one dish that’s the clear winner, and everyone else has plate envy. At my table, each of us believed his or her particular dish to be the winner, and sharing bites was a grudging business.
Since most sushi chefs are of Japanese descent, the 6-foot-tall Garcia stands out. But he excels at this style of cuisine. You can see it in the meticulously kept jars of spices in front of the sushi station –– kelp, Japanese rock sugar, and bonito flakes prepared a certain way to capitalize on a smoky, rather than just fishy, flavor. Garcia’s love of Japanese cuisine is absolutely infectious.
Little Lilly Sushi
6100 Camp Bowie Blvd, Ste 12, FW. 817-989-8886. 12pm-9pm Sun, 11am-2pm Mon-Sat, 5pm-10pm Mon-Thu, 5pm-11pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Okonomiyaki ………………………….. $ 8
Tempura shrimp and vegetables $ 8
Nigiri bento …………………………….. $15
Hamachi zest sushi roll …………… $13
Tuna tower ……………………………… $15