News Article | 7/27/2007

Hot restaurant: Kenichi at Victory Park

Kenichi is a lot like its blond-haired, party-boy founder, Billy Rieger. Both are intensely focused, stylishly turned out and hell-bent on showing you a good time.

Proof is served up nightly in the Victory Park edition of Rieger’s boutique sushi chain, which first made a name in Aspen and then followed with locations in Austin and Hawaii.

Dallas’ Kenichi (the eateries are named for co-founding sushi master Kenichi Kanada) is the largest and glitziest version yet. The bar’s custom chandelier of luminous fiber-optic tentacles? Reiger says he wanted to “replicate a glowing squid” that he saw at age 10 while diving off the Great Barrier Reef with his father and Jacques Cousteau. (The adventurous restaurateur’s obsession with the undersea world extends to his cellphone, for which his message urges callers to “please eat more sushi.”)

Rieger’s playful mind-set goes to voyeuristic detail.

Upstairs in the women’s lounge, small portholes offer a discreet view of whomever might be sitting – or flirting – at the bar below. A large plasma screen planned for the mezzanine will be synced with a similar monitor inside the Austin Kenichi for live, two-way people watching. Kinky.

Of course, peep shows get even more interesting when fueled by one of the largest premium sake selections in Texas. More than 80 varieties – many of them, like the Divine Droplets (made from Japanese ice drippings), irresistibly named – invite experimentation. Not to mention the opportunity to learn firsthand whether premium sakes really leave no hangover.

For Zen-chic noshing, request one of Kenichi’s cozy (read: less noisy) curtain-draped booths and share multiple courses with friends. ( Omakase service lets executive chef Bodhi Durant make the menu decisions for you.)

An orchid-adorned bowl of spiced edamame makes an addictive start. Then prepare to compete for bites of such standouts as the tuna and blue cheese sashimi, marinated Chilean sea bass, Dynamite Shrimp or simple Miami roll with fresh strawberries.

Kenichi’s ultimate interactive dish is the gimmicky but fun ishiyaki, or “hot stone” – a sear-it-yourself affair involving a selection of raw items (scallops, escolar, Kobe beef) and a black Japanese river rock heated to more than 1,000 degrees.

But be forewarned, when Kenichi opened, two rocks smoked up a corner of the restaurant enough to cause an evacuation of the W.

Somehow, we think Rieger found the humor in that.