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Biting Into Sushi

Biting Into Sushi

We take a look at the latest trends in sushi, its growth in popularity over the years and the outlook for the sushi industry.

Jessica Chen | Entrepreneur Magazine

During the past 20 years, sushi restaurants have sprung up in cities across the U.S. Included in the mix are traditional corner sushi restaurants, hipster bars flaunting innovative fusion cuisine, and combinations of the two paired with flashy displays and a bustling night life.

At Tengu in Santa Monica, California, Chef Shunji Nakao creates a colorful mikuno roll packed with fresh crab, avocado and seared albacore. He adds a splash of color with a crispy shallot and carrot topping and a hint of ponzu, a green Japanese citrus chili paste. As with most art forms, knowing the basics of the tradition allows an artist to truly innovate. Nakao says he prefers traditional sushi, but he knows the fusion sushi rolls get the biggest buzz in the U.S. Having studied under the world-renowned Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, creator of the sushi fusion concept, Nakao offers specialty rolls like the mikuno roll to delighted American customers looking for an exotic dining experience.

Anne Lee, co-founder of Sushi Twist, experiences the same dynamic at her New York City restaurant. “It’s really hard to really do traditional [sushi],” she says. “Now you have to set yourself apart to either a much healthier or high-end palate.”

Lee founded Sushi Twist with her mother, Rosemary, in 2005. Like Nakao, Lee notices the majority of her customers splurging for the flashier specialty rolls that focus less on traditional Japanese tastes than on mixed flavors and flair. Their fusion includes toasted rolls, sushi topped with mozzarella cheese, Korean-Japanese mixes and even healthy, no-carb sushi wrapped in cucumber skin instead of sushi rice.

“We’re trying to match the traditional with the contemporary, like the music, décor and the food,” Lee says. In a sink-or-swim restaurant industry, sushi has become about offering a unique dining experience unparalleled by other restaurants. “It needs to be a little different to give people a reason to come back,” Lee says.