Fresh Takes and Classic Favorites

Rock & Rolls Sushi Lounge offers guests hit flavors, hit tunes and a cool blend of conventional and contemporary.

By: Kathleen Naderer
Photos by: MC Studio Workz

One of the first things you notice when you sit down at Rock & Rolls Sushi Lounge is the lifesize Elvis statue rocking a guitar – a fun and fitting tribute to The King – juxtaposing the stylish, upscale decor of the restaurant’s granite tabletops and custom woodwork. Diners here go on a musical journey, listening to classic rock from every decade. The music stations change every hour, ranging from the early works of Elvis to the hard rock hits of Led Zeppelin.

Twists on sushi rolls celebrate popular albums, from “Abbey Road” to “The Dark Side of the Moon.” Meanwhile, clever cocktails handcrafted at the full bar in the heart of the restaurant put their own artistic spin on classic drinks, from The Bad Company Cucumber Martini with its fresh cucumber juice, to The Black Sabbath Bloody Mary with its signature soy sauce and pickled wasabi green beans.

These types of playful elements add to the atmosphere carefully crafted by David Lee, the restaurant’s owner. Lee designed Rock & Rolls Sushi Lounge to balance the high-end ambience of traditional sushi restaurants with the more laidback, friendly feeling associated with the Island. Guests at his restaurant can both indulge in luxury and kick back and relax while watching sports on one of 11 televisions.

This mesh of conventional and contemporary reflects Rock & Rolls extensive menu. Beyond sashimi and sushi rolls, the restaurant offers a wide variety of unique Asian fusion creations that often feature an unexpected mix of styles and flavors such as the Wagyu Flank Tacos and the Stuffed Avocado.

Those who have trouble deciding what to order or who want a more adventurous eating experience can order omakase. Omakase, the Japanese practice of chef’s choice, allows Lee and his team to choose and customise complementary dishes for customers until they are full. “Omakase lets me get creative; plus, guests can try something new,” Lee explained. “People can come here two or three times a week and have a different experience each time.”

Rock & Rolls has continued to grow in popularity since opening in January 2015, with people visiting from all areas of the Coastal Bend. Lee recommends making reservations, as the restaurant fills up quickly.

While Lee and his partners plan to open a second location in Cedar Park in the near future, Lee continues to concentrate his energy on providing the best quality food and service to his community. “We’re not trying to appeal to spring breakers; we’re focused on serving locals,” Lee said. “Our regulars range from families with kids to businessmen meeting with clients to fishermen coming by after work.”

Lee emphasizes consistent quality in all his establishments: “Consistency of product is the most important key to success. Businesses fail when they try to expand too fast and lose their consistency.”

The 29-year-old restaurateur knows a thing or two about what can make or break a person in his industry. Lee started working at restaurants when he turned 16, and has held every position imaginable in them from dishwasher and busboy to executive chef and general manager.

But his passion for good food began even before his first job. Lee’s grandfather, Du Lit Lee, opened one of the first Asian restaurants in Corpus Christi, Chung Mei, and Lee’s mother and father owned Lee Bros, a local gourmet seafood restaurant. Although he never met his grandfather and both restaurants closed before he was old enough to remember them, Lee has always felt a connection to cooking. “I guess cooking is in my blood,” he said. “I’ve had regular customers who knew my grandfather tell me that they recognize the same talent in my kitchen.”

Lee worked in many sushi restaurants and even a few hibachi grills, mastering the arts of cooking and restaurant managing through firsthand experiences rather than culinary or business school. “You can learn from anyone if you have an open mind,” Lee said. “I’ve taken a piece of everywhere I’ve ever been with me, and put it in this big melting pot that is my cooking style.”

Lee had spent time as the executive chef of Sushi Bar, so when the space previously occupied by Sushi Bar and Office Lounge was available for sale, he bought the property, knowing his restaurant would fill the void Sushi Bar’s closing left on the Island.

Although Office Lounge had expanded and remodeled after Sushi Bar moved out, the area still needed work to become a more cohesive establishment. Lee dedicated himself to shaping the flow and feel of the restaurant to suit his vision. All in all, it took Lee and his partners four months to finish their buildout. One of the most challenging parts was having patience during the slow-moving process.

“You’ve got to jump through hoops to get things done,” Lee said. “Opening a new business is not very straightforward.” Lee was determined to stay focused on his goal, however challenging it was. “When Rock & Rolls first opened, I was working about 90 hours a week,” he recalled. “I still eat, sleep and dream restaurant business.”

Fortunately, he has not only the support of his partners and staff, but of his family, as well, especially his wife, Deven. Their 1 ½-year-old daughter, Addison, loves visiting the restaurant and helps keep spirits high. “Sometime I wonder about whether I’ll be doing something else later on, years down the road,” Lee said. “But I don’t know what else I would want do.”

Enjoy fresh sushi, classic music and a slice of true Island life at Rock & Rolls Sushi Lounge, open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, with a special brunch menu available Sunday. Visit www.rockandrollssushi.com or call 361-949-1110 for more information.