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Domo Arigato, Mr. Neko: A 20-Year Return to Sushi Neko

8:51 AM EDT on August 5, 2021

My father died during my freshman year in college. I struggled to scholastically hold on but, eventually, I realized I just had to let go of that collegiate dream, if only to keep myself alive. I worked many jobs during that era—mostly video stores and movie theaters—but one job I’ll never forget is that six or seven months I spent working at Sushi Neko, 4318 N. Western Ave.

There’s no way around it, so I’ll just say it: I was a dishwasher. Sure, it wasn’t the most glamorous job, but it paid the bills and, now that I think about it, was probably one of the best minimum wage jobs I ever held, but that was mostly due to the unwritten perks of the gig...

You see, in addition to that much-coveted paycheck, my favorite part was all of the sushi that people didn’t eat—especially on those large boats—that were brought back to us first, giving the other dishwasher and I the supreme chance to sample Sushi Neko’s expertly crafted sushi, all for absolutely free, until we were duly bloated.

Sometimes I felt like I should have been paying them.

Soon, however, I was offered a steady job assistant managing a Suncoast at Penn Square Mall and gladly took it, all that free sushi, sashimi and other Japanese fixtures waving farewell to me in the rear-view mirror of my mouth. Sadly, it’s been twenty years since I last set foot in there, but, as of late, I’ve been dying to return to see how much it has changed.

My gal-pal Jodie and I stopped in last week, entering through the back part of the completely refurbished—by my temporal standards, of course—Will Rogers Theatre, past the striking Lobby Café and on to the famed restaurant, looking as nice as ever. Though, to be honest, I guess I didn’t realize how small Neko truly was but, then again, I was always in the kitchen. So what do I know?

Looking over the paper menu in our seats outside on that nice summer afternoon, I was looking over some of my old favorites, like the tempura and such, but there were so many new eats that it made my mouth foamed as I decided to sample those instead, not allowing any part of this outing go to waste, starting with one of the best.

Anytime I can get it, my steadfast appetizer (or meal, really) will always be pork belly—in this case, Twice Cooked Pork Belly ($10.00)—my favorite part of any slaughtered pig. Served on a small wooden spit, once braised, this brazen cut of the porcine beast is then grilled, roboto-style. Before I could say domo arigato, it is then drizzled with the tangiest hoisin sauce, grilled shitake mushrooms scattered all around the plate.

Now, I have to be very honest with you: there are few things in this misbegotten world that are as incredibly flavorful as Neko’s ultimately tempting pork belly. As I slowly took loving bite after loving bite of that ever-so-soft pig meat, I remembered how this wasn’t on the menu back then because, if it was, I would have ceremoniously ordered it continuously.

Before I got to my main roll of the evening, I had to have one more specialty, the Quail Egg ($2.50), a definite first for me. While many people might try the flying fish roe or the smelt roe instead, I wanted to delight in eating the fluid of a bird that lets out a gentle coo as it rests on a limb, much like me.

Featuring a warm yolk sitting on top of packed rice and wrapped seaweed, it was everything I expected and more. Despite only two of them on my plate, would it be wrong to admit I feel like I could have eaten a whole nest of these precious eggs?

Finally, it was time to get down to business with my handmade sushi roll, the explosive Oklahoma Dynamite ($9.50). A fully-loaded roll that featured tuna with soy sauce, Japanese mayo, Japanese pepper, and flying fish roe, then rolled with cilantro, avocado, gobo, green onion and, of course, jalapenos, how could I not love this purely Oklahoman creation?

Even more so, how could I not love this restaurant, one of the few in Oklahoma City that has truly earned every single accolade, and certainly earns every one of them now. It makes me miss a job I know I probably shouldn’t but, on many days, truly do.


Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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