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Local sushi restaurant puts a unique spin on the Japanese classic

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Garlic tonkatsu ramen at Yuzo Sushi Tapas Friday, April 14, 2017. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Garlic tonkatsu ramen at Yuzo Sushi Tapas Friday, April 14, 2017.

There was a time when many of us wondered if Yuzo Sushi Tapas was an elaborate prank. The sign was up on the building, 808 N. Broadway Ave., so long before it opened that I began to imagine an enterprising sign company just trying to show its acumen with no intention of serving sushi.

But finally, the day came. Yuzo Toyama and Tomi Le opened the doors and began serving some of the tastiest and most interesting sushi in the metro.

Billed as a Latin American-Japanese fusion restaurant, Yuzo has a menu that can take diners on a wild ride through different cultures.

My favorite dish so far is hamachi ajillo ($14). Hamachi is Japanese for yellowtail. Ajillo is Spanish for garlic. Diners are presented with a long plate of yellowtail pieces topped with thin slices of cucumber and jalapeño, a little cilantro and finely diced garlic fried to a crunchy golden brown.

On the bottom of the dish, the chefs have poured some ponzu sauce, a blend of soy and citrus juice.

First of all, it’s a beautiful appetizer. Look at the striations in the pale fish set off by the vibrant greens. With a chopstick at either end of a slice, pull it together like a pouch holding the jalapeño, cucumber, cilantro and garlic and place it in your mouth. I don’t usually like to ascribe thoughts or feelings to the animals I’m eating, but I make an exception for yellowtail. This fish wants to be eaten. It feels as if the only thing holding each delicate slice together is the hope that you’ll soon be chewing on it.

The flavor combination is surreal — mild chilled fish, the salty sharpness of ponzu, the bright burst of jalapeño heat and the cool of the cucumber and then you get the crunch and sweetness of garlic, all in the span of a few seconds. Hamachi ajillo is so good, I think Yuzo should have a server standing at the door, waiting to shove a bite in everyone’s mouth as they come in, like the sushi equivalent of a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

Perhaps that dish doesn’t sound weird enough. In that case, please see your way to locomoco ($13) on the lunch menu. Locomoco starts with a wheel of rice topped with a wheel of Brazilian meatloaf slathered in a sweet-and-savory brown sauce. On top of those wheels is a slightly less uniform over-easy egg with shaved coconut artfully sprinkled about.

There are a few slices of avocado, butter lettuce leaves and tomatoes on the side. Mix those in however you see fit, but the main goal is to get rice, meatloaf, sauce, egg and coconut in one bite.

I ate an entire lunch of this trying to figure out why it works, and I’m still baffled. Never did I imagine egg and coconut would pair together so well.

The rice soaks up the sauce and the yolk. The meatloaf is moist and warm. The green salad on the side gives the dish contrast in both flavor and temperature.

If those observations don’t convince you, then taking a bite will.

The number of restaurants in which you can get a really good bowl of ramen is steadily growing, and one of those places is Yuzo. The garlic tonkatsu ramen ($12) is the one that most captured my attention.

Tonkatsu means “pork cutlet.” So this is pork and noodles in a pork broth.

The liquid is cloudy and thick. Swirling a spoon or chopsticks in it won’t clear things up.

You must have faith that there is magic beneath the surface. The slices of tender pork belly are soaked in roasted garlic flavor. The ramen egg is glorious with a gooey yolk, and the noodles are supple and chewy.

No one needs to be coerced into ramen. If you love it, you’ll go.

Yuzo is the kind of place where it would be nice to have an unlimited budget and time to sit at the bar, sampling whatever the skilled sushi chefs want to slice for you next. Alas and alack, that is not the world in which most of us live.

If you’re looking for a specialty roll that is well outside the norm, Smokehouse ($14) certainly fits the bill. Stuffed with asparagus and blue cheese, the roll is topped with silky salmon and crunchy bacon.

It’s a mélange of textures — crispy snapping asparagus is fresh and light, the blue cheese turns smooth in the mouth and the bacon provides a bit of chew. The flavors work together, but I feel bad for the salmon. Amid the sauce and the bacon and blue cheese, that beautiful fish is subsumed by more dominating flavors.

Max Maguro ($15) is, as the name implies, all about the tuna. (Maguro is the Japanese term for bluefin tuna.) The roll is filled with tuna and then topped with sliced avocado, macerated tuna, fried garlic and paper-thin slices of jalapeño.

The flavors are lovely, but the texture of the macerated tuna is off-putting. The avocado and tuna get along so well, I’m thinking of making a movie about their friendship starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.

The garlic and jalapeño add spice and crunch to counterbalance the smooth harmony of the other ingredients. Only the mouthfeel gives me pause about ordering this roll again.

Hamachi ajillo at Yuzo Sushi Tapas Friday, April 14, 2017. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Hamachi ajillo at Yuzo Sushi Tapas Friday, April 14, 2017.

One absolute order will be a Viet Summer roll ($16). It’s kind of a cross between sushi and Vietnamese summer rolls — sticky rolls filled with vermicelli noodles, shrimp and sprouts and often served with a peanut dipping sauce. At Yuzo, Viet Summer rolls use a mix of four types of fish, asparagus, lettuce and cilantro wrapped in the same sticky rice paper.

Each monster bite luxuriates in savory sauce, soaking it up to deliver maximum flavor.

As the weather heats up, look for this roll with gorgeous greens and tempting cuts of tender fish to be ordered again and again. Viet Summer is the perfect antidote to Oklahoma’s summer.

 Print headline: ’zo tasty, Yuzo Sushi Tapas delivers Japanese-Latin fusion to Automobile Alley.

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