Saikou Sushi & Ramen, 8825 Tehama Ridge Pkwy, Ste 317, FW. 817-349-0858. 11am-9pm Sun-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri and Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Remember the long-gone, heady days when finding a decent bowl of ramen meant driving to Dallas and sushi was a chic start to a night out? The last half-decade has, to the jubilation of Fort Worth’s noodle-istas, brought a wide and growing selection of ramen-centric restaurants and pop-ups to Tarrant County and, with it, has eliminated one reason to make the drive east. The sushi market, meanwhile, has reached a level of saturation matched only by sandwich shops, and fish cravings can now be satisfied on a decidedly non-chic, midday, errand-running whim.
Saikou Sushi & Ramen (Saikou, meaning “the best” and pronounced like the Hitchcock film) is the sister restaurant to the long-standing Vietnamese stalwart, Noodles at Boba Tea House, with two locations in North Fort Worth. Taking cues from the success of some other local restaurants in offering a wide variety of Japanese fare (looking at you, Piranha), Saikou hedges its bets with an expansive menu of soups, noodles, sushi, bento boxes, and teriyaki. A large mural running the length of the interior and depicting stereotypical elements of Japanese culture –– cranes, cherry blossoms, a geisha, waves, and a koi –– gives diners a visual representation of this some-of-everything gestalt.
On a recent weekend evening, inspired by the range of offerings and spurred on by the many Saikou-based puns on the menu, my guests and I took the only reasonable approach and ordered from every section possible. The brief wait for the “Saikoudelic” Fries gave me time to catch up on some American Ninja Warrior, playing on both TVs. Sadly, the fries did little to distract me from wondering if the show was part of the ambiance, or if we were just lucky. Resembling curly fries that might flesh out a late-night two-tacos-and-a-Jumbo-Jack run, the generic potato twists were improved only slightly by a dip in the accompanying tangy pink mayonnaise topped with smoky, bonito-laden furikake.
Our sushi orders arrived in three carefully timed waves. The garlic-infused albacore, sliced thinly and artfully topped with avocado, jalapeño, and deeply fried garlic, pushed the memory of the fries out of the way and pulled my complete attention back to the table. Meltingly fresh and expertly seared albacore provided a sweet and smoky base against which the crunch and spice of the peppers and the bitter nuttiness of the garlic played to magnificent effect.
The A trio of nigiri sushi was less refined. Too generously portioned, thick slices of hamachi, escolar, and red tuna balanced atop enormous overcooked and under-seasoned rice balls. At its best, sushi rice hints at its pre-refrigeration provenance with a balance of salt, sour, and sweet. Lacking this flavor contrast, as well as the textural boost of distinct grains of rice, Saikou’s sushi is unexciting though fresh.
The specialty rolls furthered the theme. Promisingly adorned with perfectly firm slices of salmon and buttery avocado, the Snake Eye Roll suffered from poorly made rice, indistinct fillings, and a heavy-handed application of mayonnaise- and ketchup-based sauces. Perfectly cooked scallops and crab in spicy mayonnaise smothered the Volcano Roll but hit a dull note against the pedestrian California Roll beneath.
Like the sushi, Saikou’s ramen has promise but misses in the execution. Submerged in creamy, translucent broth, the noodles in the tonkatsu ramen were delicately springy, and the toppings, including thinly sliced chashu pork, egg, fried fish cake, and bamboo, were generous. However, the broth, central to elevating ramen to craving-worthy levels, was salty and decidedly non-porky, and it was further dulled by a thick slick of butter floating on top. Missing were the promised bitterness of black garlic oil and the brightness of green onions, although a side of the chile paste used to create the “Saikou/Saikou-tic/Saikou-path” levels of spice helped considerably. Better was the Shio Tempura Udon. In this standout dish, bright and delicately spiced soy broth, fat strands of hearty, chewy udon, and crisp, glassy tempura came were elevated beyond the sum of their parts.
Perhaps that’s the perfect metaphor for what Saikou brings to the ever-growing, increasingly accessible ramen and sushi scene. Despite a few sparks of genuine brilliance, they failed to separate from the pack.
Saikou Sushi & Ramen
Saikoudelic Fries $5
Escolar sushi $2.50/piece
Hamachi sushi $3/piece
Maguro sushi $2.50/piece
Garlic-infused albacore $12
Snake Eye $12
Volcano Roll $15
Saikou tonkatsu ramen $11
Shio vegetable tempura udon $11