"I don't want raw fish."
Let me stop you right there. "Sushi" doesn't mean "raw fish." It actually means "with rice."
You can still expect to see wrinkled noses at the mention of sushi, but with the explosion of places to indulge in these tasty rolls, the thought of consuming raw fish has now taken on an air of sophistication and creativity. And, it is the centerpiece of many restaurants' menus in and around Tulsa.
Just look around and you'll find options for sushi everywhere: Simply Sushi, The Sushi Place, In the Raw Sushi, Flying Fish Sushi Bar, Asahi Sushi Bar, Yokozuna, Sushi Alley, and on and on. It's even a feature at local grocery stores, and In The Raw has recently launched its own mobile sushi factory in the form of a food truck.
Sushi has assumed a new image.
Sushi devotees may recall when the California roll was a safe entry into the sushi world. How can you resist cucumber, avocado and crabmeat or imitation crab with an outer layer of rice? Now, creativity reigns supreme on sushi menus. This new impetus has sushi lovers exploring what's available about town.
But first, the basics. Sushi menus can be intimidating, going on for pages, so a few basic tips may be in order.
There are types of this Japanese cuisine that must be noted: maki (maybe the most commonly consumed), nigiri, and sashimi. Maki is sushi rolled using a bamboo mat, usually wrapped in nori (dried seaweed), but can also be wrapped in soy paper, or even very thinly sliced cucumber. These rolls arrive to you cut into six or eight pieces. Nigiri is for the more adventuresome: sliced raw fish with a shaped ball of rice below. Some sushi chefs add just a touch of wasabi between the rice and fish, but eating this as presented is the best: no additional sauce is needed. Sashimi is for the most adventuresome: Sliced raw fish served naked, without rice. Sashimi is good eaten with a pinch of wasabi mixed with soy sauce.
Besides these basic three, the sky's the limit. Many places custom-make their own rolls to suit the palate of customers. Short-grained rice is the foundation of most sushi types; it is seasoned with rice vinegar, salt, and sugar and is a bit sticky so it can be crafted into shapes. Also served are pickled ginger (to cleanse the palate among bites), wasabi, and soy sauce.
Going on a sushi crawl? One stop must be Sushi Alley, where a post-modern feel surrounds you upon entering. This neat and narrow sleek-styled restaurant at Utica Square is an ideal stop for a few rolls with sake or a longer stay for lunch or dinner. Izakayas is a name owner-chef Greg Bossler and head chef partner-owner Jin Baek classified their restaurant, where people can come for a "socially intimate" sushi experience. Trained under Iron Chef Morimoto, Baek and Bossler have years of combined experience and training building the perfect sushi roll.
"We really had good training from a wider perspective," Bossler said. What sets their sushi apart from others is their "organic and holistic approach. It's all really fresh." They order produce locally and their fish comes from "sustainable fishing methods."
"We use no fryer. We bring a really healthy approach to sushi. We have a big grill, and only grill our food. Also, we don't use cream cheese, but goat cheese," Bossler said.
When I dined here, my guest and I were immediately greeted and brought a carafe of in-house filtered water and a complimentary bowl of miso soup. From the nigiri/sashimi menu, we consumed the Fluke Hirame and Flying Fish Roe Tobiko; and from the Select Rolls menu, Sushi Alley Roll. The nigiri was incredibly fresh and rich texture; the Flying Fish Roe was nori-wrapped with rice on bottom and roe on top. Our server recommended that I eat the Sushi Alley Roll of fish and goat cheese by squeezing a bit of lime juice on top, adding a leaf of cilantro, and then dipping it in the accompanying alioli sauce. Magnificent! Nice touches about Sushi Alley -- fresh, healthy take on sushi, sustainable practices, and wooden utensils with sleek-style dishes all produce a post-modern sushi meal.
For those interested in a more traditional, authentic sushi option, Fuji, a Tulsa tradition for 27 years, is the place to try. Mordecai Fischer, general manager, said owner Masanobu Terauchi has been in Tulsa for 30 years now and has built this restaurant to feature more than 175 types of rolls: nigiri, sashimi, sushi combos, regular, sweet, spicy, and special, and many designed by their customers.
Fischer said that their fish is flown in twice a week and is never frozen.
"We are very traditional in how we make our rice," he said, adding that Fuji is known for its "fluffy rice that sticks together well."
I sat at the bar at Fuji, watching the sushi chefs do their thing. I veered off the traditional path here, ordering the 10-piece Funky Monkey (snow crab, fried shrimp, cucumber, scallions, sprouts and asparagus rolled in wasabi tobico and topped with shrimp, scallops, and crawfish baked in mustard cream). Talk about funky -- this was an gastronomical adventure.
As I found, not all sushi is the same. With so many sushi options, places need to stand out, specialize in something to draw attention. All aboard the Sushi Train!
Sushi is affordable and fun for the entire family here. Sitting around the sushi bar at Sushi Train, color-coded priced plates of already-prepared sushi of all sorts are available to see and select as they circle around on an actual train that winds around the bar. Dining here is more functionary and entertaining than cozy and quiet. Located on the southeast corner of the busy 51st-and-Harvard intersection, the fast-paced tempo continues inside. With the train tooting and moving, diners either select from the train or the menu, which is complete with photographs of the options. I tried the Salmon Surprise (mainly because the name suits this place) and my friend the Volcano Roll. Both were good, but the entire experience lacked a refinement found at other places. They pride themselves in keeping it casual and the cost down, so it is very affordable for families.
Another stop found me downtown at Yokozuna. Manager Martina Galvan gave me a quick orientation what is offered here.
"What sets us apart is that we carry a lot of premium house sashimi and a wide variety of rolls," she said. "We also pride ourselves with our selection of sauces."
A few special-end items, include Salmon Carpaccio with Garlic Yuzu Soy and marinated cubed Ahi topped with wasabi. A few fun rolls include the Nutty Thai Professor (coconut shrimp, cream cheese, peanut butter, jalapeno, mango and avocado in soy paper with sesame seeds, topped with eel sauce, sriracha and cilantro) and Flaming Volcano (imitation crab, chipotle cream cheese and jalapeño, tempura fried then topped with langostinos cooked in a creamy volcano sauce, served with eel sauce and scallions) which, as Galvan said, the server lights on fire upon serving tableside.
Another fun feature is that a number of the Yokozuna Rolls are named after Tulsa landmarks, such as the Golden Driller Roll, Route 66 Roll, Blue Dome Roll, Dilly Roll and El Guapo Roll. I tried the El Guapo Roll of imitation crab, chipotle cream cheese and jalapeno, fried and topped with guacamole, ichimi pepper and wonton chip. This is served with a side of ceviche. Very good and very different because the combo of ingredients, and that it was fried. My guest had a Sashimi Combo of tuna, salmon, white fish, all very, very fresh. Another reason to try Yokozuna: daily sushi happy hours from 3-6pm where select sushi is discounted.
One final stop on the sushi search was The Sushi Place, downtown on E. 3rd Street, a place described as one which "offers unique and traditional Japanese rolls that emphasizes on flavors and textures."
Manager Steven Gragg defines his place as "more like a sushi café, where you can come in with shorts and a t-shirt and feel right at home." And the sushi is more affordable -- one can get a $5 California roll, and $13 is the most expensive. He said they are known for the spiciness of their rolls.
"Head chef Jayme Tan's level of spice is out of control," he said. "She can make them really, really hot."
Still, the hotness can be adjusted to the individual palate.
The Sushi Place menu has sashimi, nigiri, temaki ("hand roll," cone-shaped piece of nori stuffed on the inside with ingredients), Common Roll and The Sushi Place Signature Roll. Gragg said a roll to try here is the 918 Crunch Roll, which is shrimp tempura, crabstick, avocado, topped with tempura flakes and served with sweet sauce and spiced mayo.
Overall, there's a sushi joint for pretty much anyone in this sushi-crazy town of ours. The next time someone grimaces at the thought of sushi, there are many places to take them in order to indoctrinate them into the delicious world of sushi.
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