Did you know that Detroit-style sushi exists? Me neither, but it exists, as Detroit Sushi chef Shinya Hirakawa explained to me in a recent history lesson on our region’s rolls. Many of the first sushi chefs who immigrated to the Detroit area about 50 years ago were from Kyoto, in western Japan, Hirakawa says. The fish must be brought to Kyoto, a landlocked country, from the coast, about 30 miles away, so in the days before refrigeration and rapid transportation, the product was not as fresh.
To account for this, Kyoto sushi chefs lightly sweetened their rolls, using sweeter vinegar and soy sauce than can be found in their saltier counterparts in cities like Tokyo. The upper palate of the Midwest approves of this subtle but important difference, Hirakawa says, and upholds that tradition at Detroit Sushi. And with a few notable exceptions, the menu’s rolls are fairly plain and sushi is what local tastes are accustomed to.
The restaurant is located inside Midtown’s Hammer & Nail, which focuses on craft cocktails, but the owners of the Roxbury Group felt it needed a food component that didn’t require an exhaust system. Sushi is the next best thing to ventless cooking and fills a bit of a void as there is a shortage of worthwhile sushi in the area.
Hirakawa is a good choice to run the operation as a Ronin veteran of Royal Oak and Noble Fish in Clawson. In his new position, he is a one-man show: chef, prepper and dishwasher.
Hirakawa highlights the use of higher quality ingredients, such as rice imported from Japan that he cooks in alkaline water to keep it moist. In his excellent California Crab Roll, he uses real snow crab instead of the artificial crab meat most stores use. Their soy sauce is high quality and gluten-free, the same goes for their sushi vinegar.
High on Detroit Sushi’s list is the Mexico City Roll with shrimp, pickled jalapeño, cilantro and avocado, which Hirakawa says is a play on a more common version of the roll made with tuna. It works, with the acid-salty-sweet components reminiscent of shrimp ceviche in sushi form.
The nigiri is also solid with salmon that is delicious and full of flavor and bluefin tuna that is fatty and rich. Detroit Sushi sources fish from True World, which ships its seafood directly to Michigan instead of through Chicago, as is common with many other distributors.
Hirakawa compares the weight of his Rainbow Roll to a Detroit-style pizza one might order at Loui’s in Hazel Park, or a sandwich at Zingerman’s. It’s a large product at a higher price ($25) with four types of fish rolled into the package. Michiganders appreciate that kind of “fat-packing” approach, Hirakawa says, and there’s good value for money.
Similarly, among the most popular items is the Roma Roll, which Hirakawa assumes is due to the inclusion of two sauces: mayonnaise and teriyaki. Its smokiness comes from the seared tuna on top, and the roll contains shrimp, avocado, and cucumber that give it the necessary crunch. The roll, he points out, was invented at Troy’s Cafe Sushi, sold under a different name at Ronin, and he sees himself upholding a local tradition by including it at Detroit Sushi.
The most pleasant surprise is the truffle and asparagus roll, for which Hirakawa uses truffle soy sauce and truffle powder, which has a strong umami flavor. The Inside Out Tekka Roll is solid and the Sunomono Salad sings with wood mushrooms, cucumber and ginger in a sweet sushi vinegar.
Hammer & Nail’s cocktails deserve their own full review, but each one is excellent, and the restaurant is about to introduce a happy hour with $5 bagels and Valentine’s Day specials.
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