Surrounded by Detroit's most forward-thinking art collection at MOCAD, the minds behind Café 78's new concept Super Happy Sushi have taken a rather appropriate approach to museum food. The standard cappuccinos, croissants, and pre-packaged sandwiches are nowhere in sight. In their place, diners can now expect to see truly first-rate food and drink menu courtesy of chef Rob Lee, and the management team that brought us local favorites Wright and Co., Sugarhouse, and the Peterboro.
Chef Lee brings two decades of experience to the role, including significant training as a sushi chef in a more traditional setting. But the process of developing his skill set was not simply laid at his feet. "Sushi chef hated me," he says. "I looked him in the eyes. Apparently you're not supposed to look them in the eyes."
"He made me cry in the walk-in like once or twice." Lee says. "If you're a cook, and you don't cry in the walk-in, you're not going to be a chef. You're just going to be a cook."
Lee emerged from the experience a chef in his own right, with a unique sense of balance and respect for tradition. Super Happy rolls like the All That And a Bag Of Chips — coated in Better Made Potato Chips — display the menu's signature combination of more traditional flavors with unconventional ingredients. "My whole goal is to take Japanese ingredients, and to prepare them for the American palate," he says.
The new Super Happy Sushi menu also features brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The menu offers a select number of rolls, along with Lee's characteristically atypical dishes like the waffle with grilled eel, avocado, and sesame. The Minoru fried rice is prepared Pilipino style, which Lee explains is distinct from Chinese or Thai fried rice in one major respect: "There's more fish sauce. It's a little more funky. It has a lot of garlic."
Managing group The Detroit Optimist Society is known for a meticulous and thoughtfully crafted drinks menu, and Super Happy Sushi is no exception. Manager Nick Chapman suggests pairing Perrin Brewing Company's No Problems with their Californication roll and extra wasabi. The Session IPA's body is light enough as to not overpower delicate fish, while the beer's hops have enough bite to compete with the heat of the wasabi.
For Optimist Society partner Dave Kwiatkowski the winning formula is uncomplicated. "Sushi doesn't have to be serious," he says. "You need to respect the ingredients, you need to honor the technique, but it can be fun too."