18584 Mack Ave,
Grosse Pointe Farms
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday,
11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
3 p.m.-8 p.m. Sundays.
While the name may imply otherwise, Blufin Sushi isn't just a sushi bar — or even a Japanese restaurant. Sushi dominates the offerings, but a glance at the other side of the menu shows pan-Asian influences, and a general Pacific Island sensibility carries through to the decor.
The restaurant presents a narrow, almost tiki-themed facade to the street, and the interior is every bit as small. It's more of a cozy than cramped feel — unless there's a wait, in which case the reception area gets quite crowded. Similarly, service is commonly quite prompt and very friendly — unless it's busy, in which case it's hit or miss.
Naturally, many of those hungry patrons are there for sushi, and Blufin offers plenty of options ranging from traditional tuna nigiri ($3 a piece) to such house specialties as the Blue Devil Roll ($12), a pants-button-popping combination of tempura-battered shrimp, cream cheese and mayo with white tuna.
Prices are a bit higher than some of the area's better establishments. But just barely: Nigiri is almost exclusively $2 or $3 per piece, and while parting with a five spot for a modest California roll would be a stretch in any establishment, thankfully, many of Bluefin's traditional rolls are less than $5.
Fans of big, aggressively flavored rolls will be most pleased: Blufin tends to embrace sweet sauces, cream cheese and mayo, not to mention warmed rolls and sushi set briefly ablaze. These approaches can produce results both delicious and disastrous. Their Rainbow Roll ($14), for example, spotlights an assortment of fresh, tasty fish. Conversely, the special "Salmon on Fire" roll with tempura, cucumber, spicy sauce, siracha, eel sauce and green onion rolled, topped with salmon, and then cooked in foil was more of a chaotic mess than sushi.
As far as Michigan may be from the briny waters of the Pacific, metro Detroit does pretty well with sushi, especially across Oakland County. Blufin is a solid member of that group, but when compared to our region's finest offerings — delicately seasoned rice that barely sticks together, fish that melts in your mouth, flavor and texture that elicit happy sighs — the sushi at Blufin falls a bit short.
They do offer much more than sushi, of course. There's a variety of soups and salads across a range of prices: Simple miso soup runs $2, and tataki salad with beautifully seared tuna costs $11. In between, they offer a seaweed salad, a simple house salad, and their Oriental Salad ($7), a typical but refreshing mix of cabbage, green onion, carrot and dried noodles, dressed in a sweetened soy sauce.
Appetizers offer a familiar array of Asian influences from Japanese vegetable and shrimp tempura ($9) to a trio of krab rangoons ($6). On one trip, we sampled the fried spring rolls, which are more or less like any other one might find at a Thai joint in the metro area — which is to say, they're pretty good. What's not to love about nicely crisp, fried finger food for $4?
An interesting addition to the menu is a series of sliders for $4 apiece. Traditionalists can opt for the "Kobe" beef with caramelized onion and a choice of Boursin or American cheese, but the three seafood-based burger bites are worth a look: one with salmon, another with spicy tuna, and a third with a crab cake, all topped with greens and a wasabi mayo. Across a few visits, these were all quite tender, delicious and well prepared.
Many of the ingredients found throughout the menu find their way into entrées — a seared piece of tuna ($19), crab cakes with wasabi mayo ($17), and tempura shrimp and veggies ($16) — but there are some other choices as well.
On one trip, I sampled the pair of fish and shrimp tacos ($12) and found them quite tasty. Any taco at $6 apiece is a bit of a head-scratcher, but sweet corn and bean salsa was good, and the Asian-inspired slaw gave the dish a pleasing, snappy texture and freshness.
Among the other entrées our party tried was the Mongolian beef ($15). Like several of their sauces and condiments, the beef is rather cloying. The meat was tender, and they provided an absolutely massive portion of rice alongside it, but the sweet and tangy sauce described on the menu was much sweeter than it was tangy.
Desserts have only the most symbolic of ties to the pan-Asian theme throughout Blufin. The two options are a tempura-fried cheesecake ($6) and tempura Oreos ($5). We tried the latter and were unimpressed with the concept, the rapidly disintegrating tempura batter, or the overly sweet raspberry sauce drizzled across the otherwise attractive frozen glass plate. For serious sweet tooths only.
Great drinking options are likewise limited — cocktails and wine choices are pedestrian — but the usual (and welcome) assortment of Japanese beers is available, and a compelling sake list was a pleasant surprise, including some daiginjo at reasonable prices.
It's worth noting that Blufin has done more than one GroupOn offer over the past few months, and they offer a lot of specials at lunch and non-peak hours. So if you're a bit of a deal-hunter — or are just looking for a new east side dining spot — Blufin Sushi is definitely worth a visit.
Evan Hansen dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.