I went without sushi for the majority of my life.
I tasted the dish for the first time at age 20. A co-worker offered a piece from a sushi platter she bought at a grocery store. The roll was bland, chewy and unremarkable. I was puzzled as to why there was so much hype over raw fish and rice wrapped in seaweed.
My first impression sparked a disdain for the dish about which I told my then-roommate in 2006. We were both summer interns at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. She was from California and constantly hunted for sushi that was comparable to what she ate on the West Coast.I shared with her one evening that I didn’t like sushi.
“Well, that’s because you’re from Kentucky.”
My aversion to sushi had nothing to do with my state of origin – it was all about that lukewarm first experience. Fortunately, that straight-from-the-grocer’s-freezer sushi did not permanently scar my taste buds, or I would have missed out on Dragon King’s Daughter, a Bardstown Road sushi place that is quickly becoming my favorite Louisville restaurant.I didn’t think I was cool enough to eat at Dragon King’s Daughter on my first visit several months ago. The restaurant touts itself as “an eclectic fusion of Japanese and American fare,” an intimidating description for a woman who considers peanut butter and bananas “eclectic fusion.”
But DKD’s blend of Asian cuisine and American favorites might be the most effective way to ease jaded folks like me into eating sushi. And with reasonable prices and amazing happy hour specials, an exploration into sushi is affordable.
For example, DKD’s extensive menu includes two pages devoted to tacos and pizza. Including these seemingly pedestrian offerings at a sushi place could be blasphemous to some. But the idea is brilliant because it slowly introduces Asian flavors to familiar dishes.
The pizzas are served on flatbread in half or full orders (a half will easily feed one). The toppings are served either cold (toppings added after the bread is baked) or hot (toppings baked with the crust). There are traditional selections for the hesitant diner, such as pesto with provolone and mozzarella cheese (half-$8, full-$12) or organic spring mix with red onions, basil and avocado (half-$7, full-$11). But the pizzas with Asian toppings serve as a great transition to the rest of the menu – there’s sashimi (half-$10, full- $14), tuna tataki (half-$9, full-$13) and my favorite, the spicy Asian barbecue (half-$9, full-$13).
The tacos are also good training wheels to ease on to the sushi menu. Three tacos come with each order and start at $7. The selections mirror what is offered on the pizza menu – traditional Asian selections offered on a familiar base of a soft corn tortilla. But DKD doesn’t sacrifice taste on its pizzas or tacos for the sake of being safe. The restaurant uses these menu items to present its customers with new food in a comforting yet interesting way.
The star of the DKD show is its sushi selections, which consume three pages of the menu and range from $5.50 to $14 per order. There’s cooked, uncooked and veggie sushi rolls with lovely combinations, such as white tuna and orange zest (the Camille Orange Peel – $8); spicy crab, cream cheese and avocado (The Indulgent – $7); and avocado, walnuts and mango chili drizzle (Avocado Tempura Roll – $8).
The best way to attack the sushi menu is to order two (or more) different rolls and share with your party so you have more to sample. And there’s no better time to do that then from 10 p.m.-midnight whe DKD offers a late-night happy hour menu. If you can wait to eat a late dinner, the late-night menu is a great deal. Not every sushi roll is discounted, but the nearly 30 that make the late-night menu are as much as $4 cheaper than they would be earlier in the day.
BF Rob and I took advantage of the evening specials to celebrate his birthday. We ordered the smoked salmon roll ($8 late-night, normally $10) and the Dipity ($6 late-night, normally $10) from the selection of specials, but added an order of Mikey Ain’t Right! from the regular menu for $10.
The trio reminded me of Dreamgirls. The Dipity, a roll of crab, avocado, salmon and roasted garlic, was the Effie of the group – sassy and spicy. The crab kicks you in the mouth, but is cooled down by the avocado. Then there’s the sensible Lorrell, aka the smoked salmon, the roll that was the mildest of the medley but important to balance the other two rolls. The Mikey Ain’t Right! was the Deena/Beyonce of the group. The roll consists of shrimp tempura topped with a crawfish salad and drizzled with a tangy unagi sauce. The crunch of the tempura pairs nicely with the smoothness of the crab. If not for the sake of variety and an extensive menu, I would order this roll on every visit. And the rolls were very fresh, as opposed to the grocery-store variety that scarred me for a few years.
Because we were celebrating, Rob and I broke the $10 Challenge rules by ordering a bottle of sake ($10) and ordering the Mikey Ain’t Right! that wasn’t on the special menu. But the specials on already reasonable rolls makes it easy to enjoy the Japanese fusion that DKD offers on a small budget.
- Foodies have discovered the joy of late-night eating on the cheap. The restaurant wasn’t crowded on a recent Wednesday evening, but there was a healthy crowd of couples, one solo diner and a dinner party of about eight.
- DKD also has a happy hour from 3-5 p.m. that offers drink specials along with discounted tacos, pizza and sushi.
- For new sushi eaters, the staff is very friendly in terms of helping you decide which roll is for you.
- Eat a snack beforehand if you go for the late-night happy hour.
- Dragon King’s Daughter, 1126 Bardstown Road, Louisville, Ky.
- Mikey Ain’t Right! roll: $10
- Smoked salmon roll: $8 (special)
- The Dipity roll: $6 (special)
- A bottle of sake: $10
- Total: $34
- Total (with tax and tip): $40
Mission: Failed (by choice)