Tulsa is no stranger to sushi, but Sushi Alley Izakaya is unique in so many ways. For starters, it's located in what used to be an alley in Utica Square -- 1730 S. Utica Square, to be exact. The front is all glass, and the foyer is barely big enough for two people to wait to be seated, leaving customers crammed against the hostess stand. This restaurant has a galley-style feel to it with an occupancy of 49 people, and my companion remarked that the dining area felt rather claustrophobic.
A Mac stands at the small hostess stand and the servers punch orders into iPad Minis. The décor is sparse with a very linear, modern feel and a general lack of decoration on the walls. A woodwork arch traces the wall up across the ceiling, and the lights hang in oblong teardrops of glass. The bar top is lit with colored lights, allowing customers a great view of the working chefs. The space is cramped, but definitely has a very unique presentation.
As the name izakaya (essentially a Japanese pub) implies, there is an extensive drink menu. Sushi Alley offers red, white and sparkling wines, sake, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, this menu doesn't include Japanese cocktails. It does, however, offer a variety of Japanese beers and sake. This eatery has an impressive diversity in its drink menu, and there is definitely something for everyone.
The food menu consists of Zensai, salads, grill, nigiri/sashimi, maki, and select rolls. This menu can be a little daunting for those who are new to Japanese food, but luckily the wait staff is both knowledgeable and helpful. The menu is safe for all those with common food allergies except for the obvious exception of fish. The dishes can be made gluten free, there are soy-free options, and the restaurant doesn't use any nuts. Sushi Alley is very health- and environmentally-conscious. The restaurant buys fish from markets that support sustainable practices, and most of the wines come from organic vineyards. The website even has a tab dedicated to health in order to express Sushi Alley's desire to ensure healthy practices and keep those with food allergies safe.
Everything on the menu looked delicious, and I had a difficult time choosing. Rather than aimlessly choose, I decided to ask our server for help. She suggested we start with either the edamame hummus or duck with ponzu marinade topped with sweet onion and yuzu kosho dressing (both specials that night). I chose the duck ponzu ($12).
The presentation of this dish was marvelous. Each slice was painstakingly placed on a long white dish with carefully measured sweet onion and yuzu kosho dressing. Upon the first bite, I was surprised. The duck didn't have the taste or consistency I expected. It was a very lean duck, tender and moist, but not at all greasy. The topping was sweet with a hint of onion, and it was appealing without over stimulating the palate. I found the duck ponzu delightful, and a great introduction to my entrée.
Unfortunately, the server suggested an appetizer, but no entrees. This left us to the discomfiting task of determining what we might like without direction. In the end, we ordered the Alley roll ($9), the Foundation roll ($16), and ishiyaki beef ($20). Each dish was served on a neat, rectangular white plate and adorned with colorful dressings.
The Alley roll was an amazing synthesis of taste and texture. The soft and tangy goat cheese melded well with the plump shrimp, and excited the senses when topped with a bit of soy sauce. The garlic aioli gave it just a hint of garlic and blended well with the strips of red bell pepper. There were also subtle hints of lime and basil. The Foundation roll was a soft, slightly spicy treat with gentle overtones of goat cheese. The spicy mayo was a savory tongue-pleaser. The cucumber provides a moist liquidness that keeps the whole dish well-hydrated. The micro greens (arugula) and red bell pepper add a crisp texture to this generally soft dish and the tuna tataki only enhances the dish.
Lastly, the ishiyaki beef was an interesting treat. Served with two sauces and grilled on a hot stone atop a konro grill, this entree is an activity as much as a dining experience. The beef (four ounces of it) is served in thin slices with cucumber, red bell pepper, and thin slices of wasabi. The diner dips a piece of beef in a soy-based sauce and then grills it on the hot stone right at the table. There's mustard type of sauce and vegetables to finish it off. The hot rock grill has more of a boiling effect than a true grill, which leaves the lean meat tender and soft. The beef melts in the mouth with soy and horseradish flavors tickling the senses and wasabi warming the palate. The cucumber serves as a wonderful cooling presence after the warming of the wasabi. This all serves as an exciting treat.
Sushi Alley Izakaya presents itself as a delectable treat for those with an adventurous palate. The eatery offers itself as a traditional Japanese pub, right down to its conception out of a reclaimed alley. It's small, sleek, efficient, and focused on appearances. Izakaya definitely serves more of a niche dining crowd, but will delight anyone with a taste for exploration. A little researching of the menu is required for customers unfamiliar with the nuances of sushi, but the servers will certainly do their best to guide you to an enjoyable meal.
I thoroughly enjoyed my dining and sensory experience, though my big meat-and-potatoes companion found our meal less satiating. I recommend Sushi Alley Izakaya to anyone with a taste for sushi or for something new, but not for the culinary faint of heart. Itadakimasu!
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