After realizing that sushi meet my special diet requirements exactly, I decided to enjoy some during the first week of the program. And by some, I mean a lot.
I had it twice from Kroger, the one on West Saginaw at Creyts. One night, we went to San-Su in East Lansing. I ate some leftovers from that the next day. Then another night called for a visit to Ukai Hibachi & Sushi on the west side. I really think I could eat sushi every day or at least 4-5 times a week. I love the stuff.
Since I moved on to the vegetarian portion of the program, I probably won’t have sushi this week. Not that I couldn’t, just that Chris probably won’t want to eat carrot or mushroom or kanpyo sushi. A common misconception: sushi means raw fish. Actually, the term sushi refers to the rice- a special seasoned rice vinegar is added to the rice before its rolled in to seaweed or topped with your choice of fish, seafood, veggies or egg. You could probably get fruit sushi too but I don’t recall ever seeing it.
A few definitions:
Sushi @ Kroger
Back when I worked in metro Detroit, there was a Kroger right across the street so I’d split my lunches between their sushi and the sandwiches at the deli in the same strip (a place I miss dearly, by the way). The sushi counters in Michigan Kroger stores are provided by Southern Tsunami. It turns out they are franchises which is very interesting to me, hmmm…..
Anyhow, selections vary by store but I usually have no problem getting my favorite: spicy tuna. After offering California rolls with brown rice for awhile now, I’ve started seeing the brown rice option for all the rolls. It’s a nice way to get the extra nutrition but I’ve noticed the brown rice isn’t as sticky so the rolls fall apart easier. Generally I just grab a packet from the ready-to-go section but during the day, there is a sushi chef on-site who will make your sushi to order. You can also get salads, spring rolls and other specialty items ready-made. And you can buy instant miso soup or some of the ingredients for making your own sushi at home.
I’ve been here before but not since they moved in to their larger space (same building just at the front). The previous location was way too small and the wait times were long, even during the week. Being right across from campus and the East side dorms, I’m sure this place is a welcome refuge from dorm food (don’t get me wrong, MSU dorm food is pretty good but the cafeteria is not really a “date” kind of place). The Hagadorn Plaza is kind of a mini Epcot Center World Showcase with Indian, Italian, Chinese, Sushi and Mediterranean among the food offerings all within a block of 3 dorms full of car-less college students.
So Thursday night, I was meeting my mom on that side of town and I knew I’d be wanting sushi. Since its summer break, I figured we would easily get a table. Despite the reduced student population, the place was still hopping at 7:45. We had to wait a few minutes for a clean table. It was kind of strange, being in their new spot. Although unrecognizable now, San-Su had moved in to the old USA Café location, a place of memory for me.
On this night we sat in the regular seating area to the right of the entry. To the left is a smaller area (about the same size as the entire restaurant before) where you can sort of experience a traditional tatami room by sitting on the floor. Except this is no ordinary floor- each table is placed in a pit that allows you to dangle your legs down rather than sit cross-legged and lose all feeling below the knees. From the website, it appears they still have at least one private room with traditional floor seating also.
In addition to a large sushi menu, San-Su offers several salads and noodle dishes, a variety of appetizers and quite a list of dinner entrees including tempura, teriyaki or katsu style chicken and beef. Since I was there for the sushi, I skipped right over the dinner section and missed the Bento Boxes. Bentos are a nice way to get a little sushi sample plus some teriyaki chicken (or beef), tempura veggies and some side dishes like seabreeze salad.
With my mom there, I knew we’d be starting with an appetizer of edamame or steamed soy bean pods. Its kind of difficult to mess these up- steam then top with salt and serve hot. To eat, you pop the beans out of their pods. Don’t eat the pods, they are a little too stringy. My mom also ordered Agedashi, fried tofu served with teriyaki sauce and dotted with fiery hot sauce. Chris, joining us on a study break, went for the stuffed mushroom appetizer (crab, topped with melted mozzarella). I had a few edamame but skipped the agedashi (diet plan says no soy) and looked longingly at the mushrooms (cheese also a no-no for me, dang it!).
Since we spent more than $9 per person on the sushi choices, our meals included miso soup and a small salad with that tasty peanut-ginger dressing. I think San-Su might have won for best tasting dressing. The peanut added just the right touch. The soup was typical miso soup with seaweed. The appetizers, soup and salad all came before the sushi with longer than expected gaps between rounds. But finally, we got to the good stuff.
As usually happens, we ordered a ton of sushi, some vegetarian for mom.
Mom: Inari (comes with 2 pieces), tamago sashimi (egg, cooked like an omelet), kanpyo (pickled squash) and AAC (asparagus, avocado and cucumber)
Chris & I: spicy tuna, yellowtail with scallion, and green river (bbq eel) plus some tempura-type roll for Chris. He really likes fried stuff and cream cheese in his rolls.
There was enough left over, what with all the appetizers and such that I took home about 7 pieces of sushi for lunch on Friday and mom had at least that much left of her rolls. Leftover sushi is not as good as fresh because the rice starts to dry out and gets a little gummy but as long as you refrigerate it right away, its still safe to eat.
The service should definitely improve to match the higher prices here. There were no mistakes in our order but I’m not sure how things were submitted to the kitchen and sushi chefs. One appetizer came out, then the soups and salad followed by the second appetizer. In between service rounds, we had to ask for a small plate twice and the refill action was also slow. At the end of the meal, there was a long delay in getting the bill and take-out containers. A table next to us (party of two) came in right before our sushi arrived; they ordered, ate and boxed up then paid and left before we received our bill. Most annoying was the server’s constant apology for the delays. Every time she came to the table, she said “sorry for the wait” or some variation. You can say the kitchen was behind but how does apologizing help me pay faster?
This meal was $70 before tip and the only drink was green tea for my mom. Sushi ain’t cheap especially when you order too much, like we did.
Non-smoking, accepts all major credit cards
Before coming to a tragic end by serving some underage drinkers (with fake ID) that later killed themselves by trying to beat the train on Hagadorn, USA Café was… Well, known for serving to the underage. Without even trying, I got served there my first weekend at MSU as a 17-year old freshman.
After the sushi bonanza on Thursday, I was surprised Tuesday that Chris wanted to check out a sushi place he’d discovered over by Horrocks on the West Side. But I sure wasn’t going to say no!
It turns out that the place was Ukai Two. Ukai now has three restaurants, the original Japanese Steakhouse on Grand River in Okemos, Ai-Fusion (my review here, also on Grand River but inside the East Lansing city limit (its behind IHOP as you go out towards Meridian Mall) and this new West side location. Although not impressed with Ai, we did like Ukai’s steakhouse experience. You are definitely paying for the show of having your food cooked in front of you but the food was tasty and generously portioned.
This new location has both a sushi section and Hibachi tables in the back. Since we were short on time and didn’t want to drop another $50 on dinner, we sat in the sushi bar area. The sushi menu items are exactly the same at all three locations. If you visit Ai-Fusion’s website, you can see complete descriptions and even pictures of the specialty rolls. For this night, Chris and I shared an appetizer of spring rolls; the portion is 5 two-bite chicken and vegetable filled rolls served with a light gingerish dip. The sauce didn’t do much for me but the spring rolls were good with a dominant earthy mushroom taste (from wood ear mushrooms- distinctively Asian flavor). I then ordered a TNT roll plus 2 pieces of Unagi Nigiri. The TNT roll is tuna with avocado and cucumber topped with spicy mayo and really hot sauce. I scraped most of the two sauces off for just a hint of heat. Chris ordered the Shrimp Tempura roll but subbed cream cheese for the cucumbers. As mentioned before, he really likes cream cheese in his sushi (and fried stuff), way more than I do. But I did snag a little bite, just to sample it.
The decor at Ukai Two is more modern than you might expect in a Japanese steakhouse with a lot of light coming in and muted colors on the walls and light colored tables. The sush bar is small but not crowded. On the night of our visit, there were three or 4 other groups eating sushi but no one right at the bar. I didn’t see the Hibachi section in the back nor could we hear anything from that section. Ukai Two also has an outdoor section and there were a few people, all smokers, out there but they all appeared to be drinking and not eating. I am pleased that the restaurant itself is non-smoking but I didn’t like walking through the smoke in to the restaurant. It would be nice if they installed some planters or something to block that cloud of fumes but of course, its only a problem when the wind is blowing the wrong way.
In contrast to San-Su, the service from seating to bill presentment was efficient. However, they hit upon one of my biggest dining pet peeves- service staff that don’t write down orders! The bizarre thing here is that we wrote down our order. I checked off the sushi I wanted on the sheet and Chris wrote his special request down on the back. So we just handed it to the waiter. A few minutes later, he came back to confirm that it was “cucumbers instead of cream cheese” except of course, it was supposed to be cheese instead of cukes. Fortunately, it was served to the table as ordered. Not so much a pet peeve but definitely a poor reflection on the restaurant was our waiter’s appearance. His dress shirt was untucked and the bottom button had been missed so the undershirt (thank god!) was exposed. He was kind of a big guy and I don’t think he could tuck the shirt in anyhow.
The rolls were good and very fresh but the overall experience just does not compare to San-Su. San-Su is expensive but with good service, I’d say worth it. I believe that Sagano Japanese Bistro in Flint is still the best sushi in Michigan (right now) when you factor in selection, quality and price. Back in the day (about 6-7 years ago), there was a great place in Royal Oak called WOW but its been gone for awhile now. WOW also had a wide assortment of rolls, good quality fish, skilled sushi chefs behind the counter and decent prices. Extra bonus points for being just 5 blocks from my apartment at the time. As for Ukai, the prices seem to be typical for this area and probably a smidge lower than San-Su. With Midori (Elmwood, across from Meijer) gone, this is your only shot at sushi on the West side. If you are just looking around for this place, its small and kind of hidden behind Bennigan’s and McDonalds near Creyts off Saginaw. I think I’ve not eaten at every major sushi joint in Greater Lansing except Omi in downtown EL. Its on my list; Chris has been there before and apparently they have a lot of fried tempura-type rolls so I know he’ll be happy. In any event, we’ll probably go back to Ukai Two occasionally- maybe for take-out and I just have to remember that their spicy tuna is really spicy before you add any other spicy sauces on it.
Location: 754 Delta Commerce Drive, Lansing
Hours: Mon-Thu & Sun 4-10PM, Fri-Sat 4-11PM
Accepts all major credit cards, nonsmoking throughout
Trolling some blogs today, I found a reference to dessert/fruit sushi at Wandering Chopsticks. I’m not convinced about the fruit roll-ups subbing as seaweed but maybe if it wasn’t overly sugary.
**Photo credits: I did not take any of those sushi photos, all were found on Photobucket and link to the albums I found them in.