Dragon Gate by Phoenix

Dragon Gate by Phoenix
Photo By John Anderson

Dragon Gate by Phoenix

3801 Capital of TX Hwy. N., 732-7278

Monday-Saturday, 11am-10pm; Sunday, 11am-9:30pm

Restaurateur Phoenix Pai is creating a mini-empire in the Austin area, with three eateries catering to Asian-food lovers who just can't quite decide which cuisine strikes their fancy. Like her other places – China Cafe by Phoenix on Spicewood Springs and the Tokyo Steakhouse in Round Rock – Dragon Gate by Phoenix offers a little something for everyone in the mood for an Asian food fix.Ê

We were drawn by the sign on the outside of the building facing Highway 360 offering sushi, so despite the lavish offerings in the Chinese section and the delicious aromas wafting by, we stuck with food from the Land of the Rising Sun.

The single best predictor of quality of a sushi place is a simple piece of Hamachi (aka Yellowtail) Nigiri Sushi. In one bite, you tell whether the restaurant cares. The fish is delicate enough that you should be able to taste the elusive hint of sweet/sour/salt flavoring in the rice; the texture of the fish is buttery, lending the perfect counterpoint if the rice is done correctly; and the sweetness of the fish is the ideal match for the tang of the vinegar in the rice. If the sushi chef has everything right, this simple dish will tell you everything you need to know – certainly much more than any combo-roll of deep-fried shellfish wrapped in avocados draped in molasses and soy sauce could. Dragon Gate's Hamachi ($5, all prices for two pieces) was flawless.

Other signs of a good shop: crisp sweet Tobiko (aka flying fish roe, $5); Amaebi (raw shrimp, $8.50) that tasted sweet and dense; buttery Escolar ($5); and expertly made Tamago (sweet egg, $4).

My dining partner was not a raw-fish aficionado, so she ordered cooked items. The Alaska Roll ($7.50) was a nice combo of salmon, avocado, and flying fish roe, while the Tokyo Roll ($8.50) was made with deliciously rich eel. The only food disappointment was an order of Yakitori ($5.50) that should have tasted grilled and lightly sweet. Instead it tasted steamed and soaked in Chinese brown sauce.

The other letdown was that they only serve one brand of sake, a mediocre brand, and it only comes warm and in small containers. Good sushi deserves good cold sake, and lots of it. They did have a nice wine list, including a delicious Erath Pinot Gris ($28) that matched the sushi nicely.

Service and decor were both warm and homey. We never felt rushed or pushed. One of the sushi chefs was American but had lived for several years in one of Japan's most glorious cities, Kanazawa. She spoke fluent Japanese and did a brilliant job making our food.

Austin has so many sushi choices, it sometimes feels like we're living in southwest Japan. Even with all that competition, Dragon Gate's sushi deserves a try for its meticulous attention to the details.

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