The sushi burrito. It's been a part of the trendy mashup food vernacular for at least the past five years, starting with the popular Sushirrito chain that hit San Francisco. The idea was to load upward of 1 pound of wasabi and ginger-laden sushi-grade fish, sticky rice, and fresh-cut ribbons of veggies, and snugly pack it all into a piece of paper-thin nori the size of a flour tortilla.
The craze jumped coasts and has enjoyed popularity in New York and elsewhere, so it was inevitable that the trend would arrive in metro Detroit.
On the surface, it seems like an ingenious hybrid. After all, Latino and Asian-Americans have been living side by side in urban settings for generations. What's more, the idea of stuffing some form of protein, rice, and other fixings into a wrap is pretty much a universal concept, whether you're in LA's Little Tokyo or SF's Mission District.
When Yuzu Sushi Co. in Royal Oak first came onto our radar, we were intrigued. The menu for the restaurant, which appears to have franchise potential, consists of the foods we crave from our days living in multicultural Orange County, Calif. When we left the Golden State for the Midwest seven years ago, the wildly popular Kogi Korean taco truck was starting to shape the national food scene. Would Yuzu help to strengthen that momentum here, or would it fall flat, as so many fusion concepts do?
The answer, it would seem so far, is that while Yuzu attempts to recapture a West Coast essence, it left us somewhat wanting for more.
On the surface, Yuzu seems poised to be a franchise in the making, suitable for diners on the run who are looking for affordable, yet uniquely executed cuisine. The space has a fast-casual vibe; it's cleanly decorated, with signage on the walls that describe the history of the various menu items. The menu gives a breakdown on how to order: Pick your protein, decide whether you want a burrito wrap or you want it in a bowl, add a side and a drink for a few bucks more — all helpful to the novice. Customers order at the counter and can watch as the crew prepares each dish and pick up the metal tray when it's ready. The finished product is beautifully plated on a square dish.
We tried the sushi in both burrito and bowl form, as well as a Hawaiian-style poke bowl.
By far our favorite selection was the poke. For the uninitiated, poke is one of the most ubiquitous dishes in Hawaiian cuisine (the term is Hawaiian for "section" or "cut.") You're bound to find it just about anywhere, from the local convenience store, to surf shacks, and hole-in-the-wall eateries. When prepared right, the chunks of fish (usually tuna) are finely marinated in soy and sesame, and require little in the way of trimmings. That's definitely the case here. The tuna had the same silky texture, though the portion was unfortunately reduced in size because of a garnishment of leafy greens, white onion, radish, and Yuzu dressing, plus a heaping spoonful of rice. We enjoyed the rice: It maintained its firmness, and we enjoyed the option of the more healthful brown rice, but just not so much of it. More tuna and less of the rest, we suggest.
There are 10 rolls/bowls from which to choose, from the typical California roll, a number of tuna combinations, a barbecue variety, a few shrimp tempura styles, as well as chicken. We asked the crew member for his sushi burrito recommendations. He suggested a lox roll, with smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, pickled red onion, masago, sesame, and scallion. Another recommendation: the spicy tuna (or salmon), with lettuce, cucumber, avocado, panko crunch, and spicy mayo. Finally, the Ava is stuffed with shrimp tempura, crab, shredded cabbage, carrot, cucumber, jalapeno, and spicy mayo.
We went for the Ava, though in hindsight, knowing what we knew about the tuna in the poke, we should have gone for the spicy tuna or salmon. We didn't find much flavor in the shrimp (which seemed overcooked); it was buried in batter. The vegetables offered a light, crunchy texture, which we appreciated. In the end, we got through half and pushed the rest away.
As for the chicken satay, our dining guest, who has an aversion to most seafood, was expecting freshly grilled skewered, juicy, and marinated chunks of chicken over a bed of rice, along with shredded cabbage, carrot, cilantro, crushed peanut, scallion, peanut sauce, and sesame. Instead, we found the chicken to be dried-out, flavorless cuts of white meat drenched in sauce, which in no way complemented the protein. In other words, it seemed like the chicken was cooked early in the day and sat in a container, waiting to be drenched in peanut-gravy.
Missing too was any hint of the Latin side of the fusion. After all, if you're going to call it a sushi burrito, wouldn't one assume there would more influence from the burrito side? Pulled chicken or pork verde, stewed and ready to serve, could work well with the fast-casual setup. Or perhaps an Asian spin on carne asada.
In the end, we may see ourselves coming back to try the other variety of poke (there are spicy and wasabi varieties as well). We'll be watching, though, to see if Yuzu can push the boundaries more in the sushi burrito arena. It can be a fun and flavorful celebration of cultures, if only done right.