Casellula @ Alphabet City is the first dining spot in Pittsburgh to end its no-tipping policy, just 10 months after it opened.
At Sushi Fuku, they’re all about assembly-line modernity, efficiency and having it your way. Think of it as “Chipotle, but for sushi,” which is how my dining companion Hal described it.
You get to pick your toppings or stuffings served on a salad, in a bowl with rice or in a sushi roll. Stealing from the Chipotle model, your meal moves along an assembly line and its ingredients are plucked from small containers behind a glass case. The fish is pre-cut and the sushi rice — rather than being molded onto the seaweed by hand the old-fashioned way — is applied thick with a special machine. The rolls are made with a special bamboo mat — which hard-core sushi chefs would probably view as a crutch. (But remember, you’re at the Chipotle of sushi.) The talented folks behind the counter can make you a sushi roll in about the same amount of time it takes the burrito artists at Chipotle to assemble a 10-pound burrito.
And for that reason, the options and combinations are nearly endless. You pick your “protein” — a range of raw fish, cooked fish, tofu or “tempura chicken” — and then you pick “what goes inside” (any number of veggies) and “what goes on top,” which includes syrupy sweet sauces and crunchy scallions.
But can the principle of Chipotle’s personalized mass production be applied to sushi? Well, here’s the thing when you get to personalize your sushi. If you don’t like it, the person to blame, in part, is the person who ordered the monstrosity.
Among the four of us, Hal did the best, building a roll with yellow tail, a bit of mango and cucumber ($8.25). The sweetness and tartness of the fruit complemented the fish nicely. The other rolls were mostly misses, including my unagi roll ($7.25), which I got with cucumber, some not-so-ripe avocado, cucumbers and shredded carrots. I found the sushi rice to be excessive and cloyingly sweet, drowning out the flavor of the eel.
And sure, Oakland Avenue is not much of a food destination, but Megan figured, “when in Oakland, do as the freshmen do,” and got the terrifying Oakland Avenue roll ($7.50). It was stuffed with absurdly salty bits of bacon, deep-fried chicken tempura and cucumber and topped with a bright orange “yum yum sauce,” which I can only describe as Sushi Fuku’s answer to bottled thousand island salad dressing. Even though we were hungry, it was so potently salty that we were unable to finish it.
Amanda, fresh off a yoga class, scarfed down the electric eel roll ($9.60) and said she enjoyed it. It contained more unagi, salmon, cucumber, carrot, avocado and was topped with a few stripes of sweet avocado sauce.
Other dishes were hit or miss. Amanda declared her miso soup — served in a casual plastic foam bowl — to be pretty good. The entire table passed on the seaweed salad.
Hal was the most disappointed in the tempura chicken ($3). Instead of being enveloped in a light and crunchy coating, it resembled chicken fingers that were pulled out of a freezer bag.
Sushi Fuku, though, undoubtedly fills a niche. It’s some of the cheapest sushi in Pittsburgh and, if you’re looking for a grab-and-go meal, it’s probably healthier than many of the pizza and burger options in Oakland.
Sure, the 21st century has brought us lots of cool things in the way of modernization. A pocket-sized device that Munch can use to watch cat videos and find restaurants. Electric cars. Teenaged Canadian pop stars. But Munch hopes that the Chipotle model is not the way of the future for sushi.
Sushi Fuku is at 120 Oakland Ave.; 412-687-3858 and sushifuku.com.
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.