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Texas Sushi? Hai!

Lessons from Mami

Goths and strippers eating sushi in weird little booths -- that's the rumor I received by e-mail about Coco's Yakitori/Sushi Bar out on the Richmond Strip. So the first time I went there, I showed up at 1:30 a.m. Doesn't that seem like the right time to mingle with goths and strippers? It didn't work. The restaurant closes around ten. Evidently the goths and strippers who hang out at Coco's are the kind who go to bed early.

So I try again at a reasonable hour. The restaurant is small and decorated in a cool, ultramodern style. But the big Sony flat-screen TV behind the sushi bar, airing a hip-hop video, and the tacky pictures of scantily clad body builders by the cash register give the place a sort of dorm-room feel. There are no goths or strippers, though; the only strange characters I run into at Coco's Yakitori are Ichi and Mami. The tall, ponytailed 27-year-old Ichi is the sushi chef; his diminutive mother, Mami, is the waitress.

I take a table in the back near a long line of Japanese pinball machines. Mami comes by and introduces herself. She delivers a pen and a menu that consists of two long sheets of white paper with little blanks. I order a Kirin draft. No, you can't play pinball, Mami tells me, those machines make too much noise. "Hai!" she says as she bows in that distinctly Japanese fashion that makes politeness seem like a martial art.

No photos, please: The folks at Coco's Yakitori are long on personality but short on PR skills. They refused to have their pictures taken.
Troy Fields
No photos, please: The folks at Coco's Yakitori are long on personality but short on PR skills. They refused to have their pictures taken.

Details

(713)266-1188 Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Dynamite sushi roll: $5.50
Beef liver yakitori: $2.75
Green onion yakitori: $2.50
Chicken meatballs: $3
Vegetable tempura: $3.75

5959 Richmond Avenue

At Coco's Yakitori, you check off the items you want on the menu pages. One page lists the sushi; the other, the yakitori and tempura items. It sounds easy, but it's not. There are no translations for some of the Japanese words, and no explanation for such mysterious English-language items as "veg ten, croquette and aspara mayonnaise." I am curious about some of the sushi rolls, which have names such as Dynamite, Rock & Roll and Jazz.

"What's on a Dynamite sushi roll?" I ask Mami.

"Hai!" she says, bowing respectfully. "I don't know. We'll see."

I can't help laughing. We'll see? I guess when you have sushi rolls named Dynamite, Rock & Roll and Jazz, you get to make them up as you go along. "Bring me a Dynamite roll," I tell Mami.

"Hai!" she says, backing away and bowing.

Meanwhile, I look over the yakitori list. In Japanese, yakitori means "grilled fowl," but at Coco's, the menu includes other grilled meats and vegetables. Like most cuisine from the Asian islands, yakitori items are simply prepared and elegantly presented. At this point, I must confess that while there is much to admire about the artistic minimalism and healthy attributes of the Japanese diet, I have never been much of a fan of Japanese cooking. It's too bland for me. And I never seem to bring enough money to get filled up. Reading the list of yakitori items isn't creating any great expectations for me, either. It reads: "chicken with g. onion," "chicken wings," "chicken meat balls," "chicken gizzards," "shrimp," "squid leg," "chicken skin," "anchovy," "beef/tori liver," "onion," "mushrooms," etc. They sound like tidbits to me.

Mami delivers my sushi roll and asks what I want from the yakitori list.

"How's the beef?" I ask. Mami looks at me like I'm an idiot.

"Where do you see beef?" she says, with her hands on her hips. I point to the line that says beef/tori liver. "That's liver!" she says, as she walks away. I drink my beer and try to imagine a combination of these yakitori items that might taste good. And for some reason I keep trying to make up a joke that starts with the line, "An Irishman walks into a sushi bar" I like beef liver more than chicken gizzards, so I end up putting little check marks next to the liver and onions. And then I call for Mami. Which sounds kind of strange.

The Dynamite sushi roll is made of tuna, crabmeat and salmon with a spicy mayo. It is an unusual sushi roll, spicy and very tasty. In fact, it reminds me of a new style of sushi that's emerging in Mexico City. There is a large Japanese population in the Mexican capital, and sushi restaurants there have become trendy. But Mexicans like their sushi a little zestier than the Japanese, and so the sushi chefs put jalapeño slivers in the rolls and serve spicy dipping sauces and chilied mayonnaises on the side. They call these creations "sushi à la mexicana." The Mexican sushi is akin to Americanized items such as the avocado-studded California roll, which aren't authentically Japanese but which suit the tastes of the locals. Ichi's list at Coco's includes a spicy tuna roll and a spicy sesame tuna ball. I think the young chef may be on the verge of creating sushi à la Texas. We'll have to keep an eye on him.

My grilled liver and onions arrive on wooden skewers. The liver is a thick and meaty rectangle about the size of a chocolate bar. Dunked in the soy dipping sauce, it goes very well with the beer. The onions are the green variety, and they're lined up like raft logs and pierced by two skewers. I pull a few off the skewers to eat with my liver, but there is nowhere to put them. This brings Mami over for a little remedial yakitori.

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