Monday, November 15, 2010

I Guess My Real World Reference Was Too "Out There": Ronin

326 W. 4th St., Royal Oak
Hours: Sunday and Monday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Remember on the original “Real World: New Orleans” when Melissa (the bi-racial bi-sexual, not the Mormon Gone Wild) said she wouldn’t eat avocado because she thought it would be so good it would be like sex and she wouldn’t be able to stop? That was probably the most moronic thing ever said on “reality” TV up to that point, but then again that was before Jessica Simpson or Jersey Shore.

Yes, avocado is just like sex. Cool, creamy, mushy green sex.

At Ronin in Royal Oak, you can get all the creamy, luscious avocado you desire, alongside some of the metro area’s most creative sushi. Now, sushi purists tend to be at odds with most Asian-fusion joints -- which this place certainly IS -- for what they consider to be a lack of authenticity or too much pandering to American palates by means of spicy mayo, cream cheese and ... well ... avocado. But at Ronin you might find yourself singing a different tune, one that embraces this NOT bastardized but modernized breed of distinctly American sushi (a song that may resemble the sonic warbles of Morrisey, but I get ahead of myself). One taste of sushi chef Kaku Usui’s contemporary creations will make you a nu-sushi songbird in no time.

But Kaku -- a name you might recognize from the original incarnation of Oslo -- can’t take all the credit: the “Fasian” menu here is a group effort. Chef Mickey Lutes’s kitchen menu is full of intriguing cross-cuisine creations. Take their “burgers,” for example: your choice of Kobe sliders with ginger, smoked bacon, sriracha, lettuce, tomato and boursin cheese, or grilled Ahi tuna burgers with banana pepper-sesame aioli. My favorite hybrid is the sushi pizza. Actual name: Ahi Tuna Pizza, consisting of a crispy grilled tortilla, tomato, avocado (l’amour), cilantro and jalapeno with big, beautiful ruby-colored cuts of fresh sushi-grade Ahi tuna. This moshing of textures and flavors is completely unexpected -- the tuna itself dominates the dish but the kick from the jalapeno and contrasting crunch of the tortilla and smooth avocado create an impression of sushi deconstructed.

From their specialty rolls, sushi chef Keith Cha’s signature is the Cha Cha Roll -- spicy tuna topped with shrimp and garlic aoili, wrapped in sesame soy paper and baked. It has the deceptive visual impression of toasted marshmallows but is a very rich, decadent roll thanks to the heavy egg-based aoili. By contrast the vegetarian Shinto roll is light and downright delightful. Again playing on the contrasting textures of crunchy and creamy, this roll has lettuce, carrot and tempura bits with garlic mayo and topped with avocado -- all the joys of sushi without any of the concerns over parasites.

Sushi aficionados who frown at such Westernized flavors, take heart: the menu may be mass-audience-friendly, but Kaku is a traditionally-trained sushi chef lauded as one of the very best in the area. If REAL sushi is what you want (cuttlefish, quail egg, eel), Kaku abides. It’s the best of both worlds, really. And if after your meal of "healthy" sushi ("healthy" being all relative, really, what with all the mayo and cream cheese ... one must awe at the distinctly American ability to make some of the healthiest food in the world and transform it into high-fat, high-cholesterol, high-calorie garbage. What's next, swapping out the seaweed paper for bacon? You know what, forget I said that ...) you feel you can justify a decadent dessert, the exceptionally creative desserts with an Asian-inspired flare will cure your cravings. Try the Oreo Cookie Tempura with black sesame ice cream and vanilla crème anglaise -- basically an Asian deep-fried Oreo.

Ronin is the best of both worlds in a lot of ways. It’s definitely hip and trendy, but in the antithesis way to BlackFinn. At Ronin you get a little glimpse of the Royal Oak that once was: girls with lips almost red enough, eyeliner almost thick enough, hair almost black enough to be called “goth;” lots of gender-blind tattooed sleeves. And while most trendy sushi joints are all about the techno, here you’ll get a mix of James Brown and New Order. “Ronin” means a masterless samurai, and by Royal Oak standards this Ronin is certainly a renegade.