It all started when my friend Bob texted me about his attempt to eat at Pokirrito, San Diego’s latest must-eat restaurant—”line too long, went home.” Once again, I am the last to know. Poke and sushi burritos are the hot foodie fad from Vancouver B.C. to NYC and points in between. Now, I know poke, I know sushi and I know burritos, but Hawaiian/Japanese/Mexican fusion?
In 2012, the Aloha Island Grill in Santa Cruz introduced me to poke, loco moco and Spam musubi—I preferred poke. Later that year, I noticed a Hawaiian restaurant in Eugene and a poke bar at the Metropolitan in Tacoma—but a poke burrito is new to me. So after Bob alerted me to this new food faze, Mr. Google found Miso Hungry in Santa Barbara and I had my first poke burrito. Leave it to Americans to take a small, elegant Japanese icon, overfill it, add cheese, meat and make a huge stuffed thing oozing with sauces. What’s not to love?
Aloha Grill, Santa Cruz
Miso Hungry, Santa Barbara
At Miso Hungry in Santa Barbara, I ordered a spicy tofu wrap with edamame beans, smoked Gouda, carrots, avocado, seaweed salad, pickled ginger, cucumber and watched wrapper guy do his thing. His bar was set up like a Subway sandwich counter with all the ingredients prepped and available. He started with a sheet of nori on his bamboo sushi mat, wet his hands and pressed a layer of sushi rice on top of the nori. He moved down the aisle adding ingredients as he went, then came the sauces: garlic/ginger aioli, Sriracha mayo, teriyaki and finally wasabi vinaigrette. He flipped the bamboo mat over the assembled pile, deftly squeezed and manipulated the whole thing into a large, tight sushi burrito, wrapped it in a sheet of parchment paper and cut it in half on the diagonal. Looked easy enough.
We were going to San Diego for a Fostermiglia weekend, so why not try my hand at sushi burritos and save my friend Bob from a long wait. There’s a Japanese market just down the street from our apartment, and I filled up two grocery bags with ingredients: sushi rice, nori sheets, bamboo mat, egg roe, seaweed salad, Chinese sausage, furikake, toasted sesame seeds, enoki mushrooms, pickled ginger, cucumber and carrots. Yikes!
Pacific Beach, La Jolla
How hard could it be? I mis en placed everything in front of me on the FM’s kitchen counter, turned on one of the many YouTube videos about sushi rolls and got to work—there were five of us for dinner, so how about two for each, with one extra? Bob bought poke from Gelson’s, I brought the Chinese sausage, so one more meat filler. Rummage in the refrigerator; oh look, there’s a Baggie of chicken breast pieces—perfect.
Well, just like everything else, it takes a thousand times to reach a level of proficiency. On my first attempt, stuff squeezed out the ends onto the bamboo mat and my roll looked more like a mistake than sushi. By number five, the attempts began to resemble sushi rolls—wrapping the burrito in a sheet of parchment paper and slicing on the diagonal helped and resulted in a vague facsimile. By number five, though, I was sweaty and tense.
Bob came into the kitchen to feed the dogs. I was up to my wrists (literally) in rice so it took me a few minutes to realize that the Baggie of chicken pieces was the woofer’s dinner—sorry boys.
Back at the sushi ranch—who needs eleven rolls? Five sounds just right. The kitchen counter looked like a sushi-roll explosion—but wait, we’ll just scrape it all up, put it in a bowl, toss in a little sesame wasabi sauce and call it salad. We’re a little light on dinner content anyway. All in all, it may be worth the $8.50 to have someone else make a poke burrito. On the other hand, I now have a bamboo roll, nori sheets, 4 1/2 pounds of sushi rice, a large tube of wasabi paste, and a plastic squeezie of Kewpie mayonnaise so maybe if I practice…