It would be hard to pick my favorite restaurant in Tulsa. There are a handful of excellent establishments -- the right "perfect storm" of atmosphere, food and service. But after a recent trip to a downtown Sushi and Asian fusion restaurant, it would not be a favorites list without adding Yokozuna. What an awesome, hip, cool, stylin', delicious, fantastic place. If you haven't been since it opened, you have to get yourself down there.
When you walk in, you immediately feel that you have entered a really stylish place, put together with the right combination of wood, brick, glass, natural stone, a really cool bar area and good-looking young staff to make you think you have been transported to L.A. or San Francisco. Couple that with a very nice Asian fusion menu and some awesome sushi creations and this is a top-notch experience.
We opted, as we always do in sushi restaurants, to sit at the sushi bar. As with many sushi places we have eaten in, we never seem to get past the little kid thrill of sitting there watching people make the rolls, nigri sushi and other delectables, merely inches away from where we are sitting.
There were four chefs working in a relatively small area, each one in his or her own workspace, and it was like watching a concert of perfection. No bumping, fumbling or stumbling among this group. Everyone had a perfect spatial relationship to everyone else, and communicated without saying a word. It's a real pleasure to watch young professionals at work.
Our server was a young lady by the name of Lindsey Lou. OK, maybe not a typical sushi hostess' name, and I'm pretty sure she wasn't from Okinawa or Tokyo, but she was delightful, very knowledgeable, offered opinions when asked and steered us confidently through the ordering process. She took a great evening of food and beverage to the next level. Obviously the management has taken the time to inform the staff, and give them the opportunity to try items and form opinions.
We started with a trio of appetizers. The first was a Charred Scallion and Pork Gyoza with Chili Soy dipping sauce. Gyoza is a small dumpling, filled with a myriad of different ingredients depending on the menu and the chef, and generally either steamed or pan-fried. We were offered a choice, and our server recommended the fried version. When properly done, these little morsels are soft on top, and crisp and brown on the bottom from being seared in a pan, giving them the name more familiar to many diners -- Pot Stickers. Delicious and hot, they went perfectly with the spicy soy dipping sauce. At $6, they were a bargain.
Edamame, or steamed whole soy beans, may seem like a less than exciting appetizer, but it's a pretty good way to judge the expertise of a kitchen staff.
Sometimes it's the simple, everyday things that trip up the chef and his crew. I have to say, these may be the very best I have ever had. Sweet, fresh, hot and wonderfully crusted with kosher salt, they were absolutely perfect. Often, places will prepare a large batch and hold them for service, but these were obviously done ala minute, or to order. At $4, the plump little morsels were well worth it.
The third of the trio were Tempura Sweet Potato Sticks. These things were unbelievable and may have been the hit of the night. How anyone could take a perfectly simple sweet potato and turn it into a slice of heaven this good is amazing.
Tempura is a Japanese batter, into which meat, vegetables or seafood are dipped and then flash fried. Essentially, a batter or coating of any type is designed to put a barrier between product and hot oil and protect the flesh from the rigors of hot fat. This was light, clean and delightfully lacking any extraneous flavors from the frying oil. It typically should be made with a low-gluten flour such as cake flour, and only stirred to barely wet the dry ingredients, which prevents the gluten in the flour from "activating" -- making a tough, chewy coating. This was without question the crispest, lightest and tastiest tempura ever!
The fries were served vertically in a lowball glass so they not only looked great, but didn't have the opportunity to lay on each other, making for a greasy, soggy dish. Absolutely incredible! Lindsay Lou told me that they were one of the most popular items on the menu, and I can certainly see why. At $6, they were accompanied by a chili soy and wasabi mayo duo that our server recommended we mix together. Good idea!
I want to mention a few of the fusion dishes available -- it's a nice mix of items, and we plan on going back to try some more of them.
The soup and broth section boasts a number of ramen dishes, and no, it's not a bowl of those little packaged things we all lived on in college. Ramen is a noodle dish from Japan, almost always using a wheat noodle in a meat or fish based broth, sometimes flavored with soy or miso, essentially a fermented soy paste.
These were actually very creative dishes, including a Chicken Ramen w/napa cabbage, red onion, cilantro, fresno chilies and lime. Another of note is the Pork Belly Ramen with Fried Quail Egg. A little noticeable at $10-12, they are not cheap to produce, and you shouldn't be put off by the price.
The hot entrée section reveals some old standards, including Pad Thai, General Tso's Beef and Sweet n' Sour Chicken to name a few. A Thai Fish Taco is about as creative as this section gets, but if the preparation pays as much attention to quality and detail as everything else, I'm sure Chef Greg Bossler has made them unique in their own way. Fried Rice and Chicken Pad Thai low side the menu at $11, and a Sichuan Peppercorn Filet and Soy Braised Salmon top it out in the low $20 range.
Of the 30 or so sushi rolls, seven or eight are listed with an HH in front of them -- presumably for happy hour. We happened to be there during the one-year anniversary of Yokozuna and all the appetizers and HH rolls were half-price for the week. It explained why we kept seeing one roll go out in mass quantities. When I asked the young sushi chef what it was called, she replied it was one of the house specialties called a "Hot Mess:" chipotle cream cheese, jalapeño and tempura fried crab, topped with a hot mess mix of crab and spicy tuna. Rolled in Ichimi pepper with eel sauce and sriracha and served with a fried wonton chip. It sells for $13 normally and looks like a $20 roll, so you can imagine how many were flying out of the service end of the sushi bar that night at $7.50!
Master sushi chef Jin Baek has a whole list of creations, such as the Drunken Monkey: a smoked salmon, cream cheese and mango roll, topped with avocado and cashews and served with pineapple rum sauce. There's one called a Roll & Gift made up of tempura shrimp, jalapeño and chipotle cream cheese, then rolled in masago and topped with blackened eel, scallions, eel sauce and sriracha. And another if you think you can eat like a sumo. It's the Sumo roll, made up of crab, asparagus, jalapeño and tempura shrimp, topped with seared beef tenderloin, scallions, fried shallots and wasabi mayo. What a meal that must be!
We opted for the namesake roll, the Yokozuna: soft-shell crab, avocado, asparagus and king crab, served with Asian pesto and garnished with a beautiful piece of bright-red Alaskan King Crab Shell. It was stunning in its simple beauty, and excellent in flavor, texture and freshness. Rolls range from as low as $6, to as high as $15, with an average of a little more than $7.
Never one to pass up a seaweed salad, we tried this one. It was just a bit bland, but tasty and smoky none-the-less.
Salmon Poki was next. Absolutely gorgeous, it was served in a sparkling clear martini glass on a bed of daikon radish and topped with masago, or flying fish roe. It's notable that masago is actually Icelandic, but is highly prized, almost revered in Japan.
We finished the evening with a Striped Bass Carpaccio with Yuzu Soy, and Blackened Ahi Sashimi with Chili Ponzu. They were incredible.
Carpaccio was actually invented in the early '50s in Italy using very thinly sliced raw beef tenderloin, a little olive oil and a bit of lemon juice, and has since become a popular dish in many cultures and cuisines around the world.
Yuzu is a fruit found in Japan and Asia, and looks like a small, ugly cousin to the grapefruit. Its flavor is tart and very similar to grapefruit with slight undertones of mandarin orange. It sometimes tastes to me like a cross between lime, orange and grapefruit juices.
Ponzu is a mixture of marin wine, also known as Aji Marin (rice wine), rice vinegar and bonito flakes, which are all simmered together and then strained and mixed with yuzu juice. It is available in many groceries these days in bottle form, and is great on salads, as a seasoning in brothy soups, and sometimes we use it at home as a substitute for soy sauce for dipping.
Seldom do we leave an establishment where there isn't some major facet of it that was less than satisfying. This was definitely not the case with Yokozuma. From food, to service, to atmosphere and overall feel, it was a delightful evening and has gained a respected place among the few first class restaurants on the short list of great places in Tulsa.
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