Never eat mall sushi.
When I first tasted sushi — real sushi (you know, raw fish, nigiri and sashimi with no mayo) — and pronounced my undying love for it, my then-boyfriend (and future ex-husband) warned me: No matter how good it looks, no matter how much you want it, never, ever, ever eat sushi you find in a mall.
That was many, many moons ago, and places like YO! Sushi, whose conveyor belt-delivered sushi is made in an almost-not-quite-private-food-court atmosphere at Tampa's International Mall, didn't exist in the U.S. Thankfully, they do now.
I went with two of my hungriest friends to sample the new YO! Sushi lineup last week. Conclusion? Not every Tokyo-influenced plate is a winner, but those that succeed do so in a big way. The biggest change, of course, is the menu itself, not the items represented therein. Instead of a placemat-style menu, the restaurant's changing to a booklet format that contains cultural articles about Japan. Likewise, the bill of fare has some culturally inspired additions served, as before, on color-coded plates transported via the belt.
First, dishes I loved. My hands-down favorite was chazuke, which our chef explained is a breakfast-type meal. It's broth, rice and sesame cooked with whatever sushi wasn't eaten the night before. This one hit all the right taste buds, but when I sampled it at home the next morning, the salt overwhelmed everything else. However, I'm tempted to find a recipe for it the next time I have leftover sushi — the idea of throwing sushi into a sesame miso broth concoction appeals greatly to me.
Ginza (a mashup of salmon, caviar and cucumber, mixed — as is apparently now de rigeur with sushi — with cream cheese and mayo) and the Kimchi Ika (poached calamari with kimchi veggies) tied for my second favorite.
The Fish No Chips Roll (think fish and chips but with rice instead of chips) and chicken wings, not as a sushi roll, are items I could take or leave, though anything with non-fried fish, or shellfish in it or on it, tasted fresh and firm.
Now, onto plates I didn't like. Potato Salada is a Japanese-esque riff on the salmonella picnic classic and definitely why I go to a sushi bar. The tofu katsu curry combines three offerings I enjoy — tofu, curry and breaded things — and somehow made them unappealing; mostly because I don't want to taste Indian food in my sushi, but also because YO! used a tofu that was... not firm. At all. And the maguro katsu, which the chef was so excited to present, tasted like deep-fried tuna nuggets. I can see where this would thrill many people. I was not one of them.
I'd like to note that for every dish I didn't like, there wasn't a "quality of the food" issue as much as there was a "that's not to my taste and not what sushi is" issue. So, I approve.
Mall sushi and all, I'm pleased to see a sushi restaurant venturing — however tenuously — back into the world of raw fish. You go, YO!