The Dragon King’s Daughter, Louisville, Ky.
While driving through Kentucky’s largest city in March with Amy, I couldn’t help but notice Louisville’s 20-year slogan: Keep Louisville weird. It seems that the slogan is an effort to convince Louisville residents to buy local, and keeping Louisville weird means keeping it unique. I’m not sure why they chose to use weird, but I guess weird is a good way to describe a city where the local university is joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, despite it being closer to Oklahoma than it is to the Atlantic Ocean.
Whatever definition of weird you choose, however, it doesn’t get much weirder than the Dragon King’s Daughter, a local favorite that features both Japanese and Mexican on its menu. Yes, Japanese and Mexican. I shouldn’t be surprised, since I’ve seen Chinese and Mexican together, but that was in Phoenix, where Mexicans are plentiful and Asians aren’t that uncommon, given Arizona’s proximity to the West Coast. This is Louisville, where 95 percent of the population is neither Asian nor Hispanic. Given that it’s two cuisines that seemingly don’t go together at all, the first question to ask is why.
Well, truth be told, that’s the wrong question to ask, but I’m going to answer it anyway. The story of the Dragon King’s Daughter actually starts with a beloved Japanese place in Louisville called Maido, where DKD owner and chef Toki Masubuchi first developed her creations. Eventually, Masubuchi sold Maido to focus on the Dragon King’s Daughter, named for a character in mythology. According to the legend, the Dragon King is the ruler of the ocean, with the ability to become human, while his daughter was the first one to reach enlightenment.
Perhaps this was Masubuchi’s way of claiming she had reached the level she wanted to reach as a chef, and perhaps it’s just because the name sounds cool, but either way, the Dragon King’s Daughter took the sushi and other Japanese favorites that made the now-closed Maido a favorite and brought them onto a menu with Mexican and Western favorites that Masubuchi had picked up through her years of work.
The result is that the menu contains things like Tilapia Tempura and Tuna Tataki…in tacos, fusing Japanese culture with Mexican. It’s a bold move, but Chino Bandido certainly taught us that bold fusions can pay off in a big way. Other options include Shrimp Tempura, Asian barbecue and Ginger Chicken, all of which sound like they’d work out pretty well inside a tortilla. Outside of the Mexican touch, the Dragon King’s Daughter caters to both alcohol fans and dry customers alike, serving a large amount of alcoholic libations while putting their water in a wine glass. Pretty cool.
But at its heart, the specialty of the Dragon King’s Daughter remains its work with its Japanese roots, and Japanese cuisine in America means one of two things: hibachi or sushi. At the Dragon King’s Daughter, that means sushi and a lot of choices. It also means a lot of creativity on the menu. Many sushi places will explain their entrees in a straightforward manner in the name, given that a lot of Americans are unfamiliar with sushi and want to know exactly what they’re consuming.
The Dragon King’s Daughter goes the opposite direction. They’ll give you the description of each, but they’re assuming that if you’re coming there, you know what you’re getting into as far as sushi is concerned. This place is the Voodoo Doughnut of sushi, and here’s a few examples:
Red-tailed Hawk: Salmon and spicy crab inside, red tuna and escolar outside
Sushi and the Banshees: Cream cheese, garlic and avocado inside, salmon and basil outside
Sarah Said: Red tuna and hot sauce inside, salmon and avocado outside
There Went Drew: Salmon, crab, cream cheese and avocado tempura fried
Frosty Sunbeam: Mango and cream cheese inside, salmon and avocado outside
Mikey Ain’t Right: Shrimp tempura outside, lobster salad and unagi outside
I’m not sure what any of those names have to do with their descriptions, with the possible exception of the Red-tailed Hawk having red tuna. But as usual, Amy and I opted to go with a few different choices than what you see above, which does tend to be the case when we’re trying to bring you the best picture of a place we can without setting our wallets on fire.
As always happens when having Japanese with Amy, we started with some edamame. Amy absolutely loves these salted soybeans in the pods, and they were again high-quality, although she was surprised to find out that it’s served cold here. Edamame tends to be served hot, but here, it’s a cold appetizer. It still worked as well as usual.
With that out of the way, we turned our attention to the real reason we fought through Louisville traffic and a car issue to make it here: the sushi. Given that sushi isn’t exactly the most filling food in the world, we decided to go with three different types, along with some spicy mayonnaise that Amy wanted to add for dipping.
Quickly, she decided that given the name of the place we were at, we had to try the Dragon King’s Daughter, while I opted to add an order of Steve’s Kryptonite. Our third choice was made after great deliberation, since Amy has a higher spice tolerance than I do, but we opted for a Chupakarla Roll, which neither of us was quite sure how to pronounce.
All three were outstanding. I’ll start with the namesake, the Dragon King’s Daughter, which happens to be the most visible one in the above picture. The interior is filled with tempura fried shrimp, while it’s topped with both avocado and unagi, a Japanese freshwater eel. While eel isn’t the first thing most people think when it comes to sushi, Amy and I discovered a while ago that we had a taste for eel, and this was awesome. It’s further topped with a unagi sauce, which only added to the flavors. I loved every bit of this one, and Amy named it as her favorite of our three choices.
On to our second choice, Steve’s Kryptonite. Ironically, despite it being my choice, it finished third among my voting of the three. That doesn’t mean it was bad at all, but it wasn’t quite as amazing as the other two. That said, Steve’s Kryptonite is still pretty wonderful. I’m not sure who Steve is or why this is his kryptonite, but it includes unagi outside and salmon, avocado and cream cheese inside. There’s nothing in that description I didn’t like, and those flavors work fantastically together. The creaminess of the avocado and cream cheese is outstanding with the fish and rice, and it works great with the mayonnaise as well. Love it.
But that said, it wasn’t quite as good as the Chupakarla, which I’m still not completely sure how to pronounce. What I do know is it tastes incredible. The interior is filled with spicy crab meat and cream cheese, and it’s topped with salmon, shrimp and basil for a truly different taste. I was worried about the heat of the crab, but the crab actually isn’t that spicy and the cream cheese works against that anyway. Plus, the bit of heat works well with the heat of the spicy mayonnaise, making this a perfect choice to dip in the sauce. It was an excellent choice, and something I wouldn’t have experienced if not for my amazing girlfriend. She is the perfect complement to my blog, if you haven’t figured that out already (as well as the rest of my life).
As far as the sushi goes, it’s so hard to find it made correctly that when a place does succeed, it’s truly valuable, especially in a spot that’s nowhere near Japan. Almost nobody thinks of Kentucky when they think of great sushi, but the Dragon King’s Daughter shows that the right people can make things work anywhere. This is truly enlightened sushi. If this is what it means by keeping Louisville weird, I’m all for it.
Time to go: Lunch or dinner. Try to avoid rush hour, as the Dragon King’s Daughter is in a very busy part of town and traffic can get ridiculous here. If you can avoid that mess, it’s best to do it.
Wait during my visit: None. Busy part of town does not always mean packed atmosphere, and that was a welcome thing here.
Location: The Dragon King’s Daughter is at 1126 Bardstown Road in Louisville, Ky. There’s also a location in New Albany, Ind.
Cost: Depends. You can get some budget sushi for no more than $6, or you can go high-brow and get creative for about double the cost. It’s fairly affordable no matter what you do.
Parking: Keep dreaming. Remember how I said this is a busy part of town? Yeah, that means there is no parking lot at all, and you’ll be lucky if you can find anything on the street. Hope and pray even more so than at Hattie B’s.
Seating arrangement: Tables and chairs, and be careful. Our table wobbled all night.
Website: Dragon King’s Daughter
Specialty items: Sushi and tacos