Sabuku Sushi brings craft beer and brewers into the sushi dining experience
For years, taking in the American pastime meant pairing sacred ballpark fare—red hots, peanuts, popcorn and other stadium staples—with American adjunct lager. And that was just fine; traditional even. It was the American way, because there were no other options and, because of that, people’s palates didn’t know of any alternative. Even in San Diego, arguably the craft beer capital of the world, Padres fans had resigned themselves to the fact that a day spectating the boys of summer meant settling for whatever macro brews had complete control over Petco Park. That is until fans were granted the opportunity to purchase local IPAs and the like from a handful of vending outlets within that Major League venue. Now, taking in a ballgame without a plastic cup filled to the frothy brim with a local craft beer feels like an incomplete experience, and settling for macros is out of the question. Now, allow me to take you out of the baseball realm via the powers of analogy, and into a sushi bar.
For years, indulging in an evening of sushi meant pairing fine Japanese sea fare—sashimi, nigiri, rolls and other sushi bar staples—with Japanese adjunct lager. And that was just fine; traditional even. It was the Japanese way, because there were no other options and, because of that, peoples’ palates didn’t know of any alternative. Even in San Diego, arguably the craft beer capital of the world, sushi fans had resigned themselves to the fact that a night of omakase meant settling for Sapporo, Kirin Ichiban or sake bombs. Sound familiar?
The only thing keeping bland versions of Pilsners and other adjunct-laden brews from dominating the sushi scene is the fact few restaurants specializing in that cuisine offer a taste of something better. That said, there are local restaurateurs taking their beer lists next level, and just like at Petco Park, craft is quickly engraining itself into their entire program, bringing the tastes of those eateries’ patrons with them via a new form of cultural food-and-beverage fusion. Case in point, Sabuku Sushi.
Located in the contentiously gray geographic area that is University Heights—or is it North Park…or is it Normal Heights—Sabuku is the type of adventurous, modern American sushi spot that honors the fine art and lineage of the sushi chef without being afraid to think outside the bamboo box. This has made it a good candidate for testing how well sushi can pair with craft beer. It turns out they go together hand-in-hand, though that’s hardly surprising to readers of this column who are well aware of the broad spectrum of edible amenable flavors artisan ales and lagers provide.
Earlier this year, Sabuku chef-owner Bob Pasela made the decision to overhaul his beer offerings. Now the restaurant provides a long list of beers, most of them local. Not only that, Pasela has taken the time to get to know the companies throughout the county that are furnishing him with their liquid wares. This occurs mostly through monthly brewery spotlight nights where brewers and other representatives from local companies spend the evening at Sabuku, chatting with guests and enjoying specialty rolls they had input on the creation of when working with the restaurant to come up with something ideal for marrying with their beers.
At one such evening with Stone Brewing Co., Sabuku’s culinary crew developed the Smokin’ Roll to pair with Stone Ruination Double IPA 2.0—yellowtail and seared scallops, stuffed with avocado, tempura-fried shrimp and onions, and garnished with scallions, sesame seeds, masago (flying fish roe) and a smoky eel and bonito sauce. Also conceived was Zombie Bait—tuna, grilled zucchini and bacon rolled with filet mignon and shrimp, topped with bonito flakes, kuro goma (black sesame seeds) and iri goma (toasted white sesame seeds) and a spicy “bloody sauce,” built to match Stone Pale Ale 2.0.
But there are literally dozens of other pairings Pasela happily recommends. The following are some of his favorites to-date…
Rising Sun paired with Mike Hess Claritus: This roll is a fun combination of shrimp tempura, crab, cucumber, salmon and avocado topped with crispy bonito flakes, shiro goma and scallions. The roll has a strong Asian influence and I like to think of it like a stir-fry rolled into one package. This blend of flavors pairs with the crisp, German-style Claritas. It is a contrast in tastes and cultures, but it works well together.
Orange Crush paired with Modern Times Fortunate Islands: This is our island pairing. The tropical vibes of the roll flow well with the beer, which shares the characteristics of a hoppy IPA and an easy-drinking wheat beer, with a mango and passionfruit twist. The Orange Crush is identified mostly by the salmon and signature sweet Mandarin sauce. The pairing is strong but not overpowering. Grab your sandals, an umbrella and enjoy!
When Pigs Fry paired with Arrogant Bastard Ale: Bring your appetite for this pairing. Loaded with two slices of bacon, spicy tuna and asparagus-battered tempura that’s battered and topped with a glazed bacon garlic aioli, sweet Mandarin and sriracha, When Pigs Fry is one of our most popular rolls. With all of that flavor, we needed a beer that could match it, punch-for-punch. This brew is a deep amber-red and fills your mouth with flavor. The hops and caramel malt balance works well with the bacon.
Sun Di-Ah-Go paired with Twisted Manzanita Gillespie Brown Ale: There is a lot going on in our signature Sun Di-Ah-Go roll, which pairs well with the strong, bold taste of the beer. The roll is packed with spicy crab, shrimp, cream cheese and jalapeños, and coated in sweet Mandarin sauce with spicy ginger aioli. The cream cheese and jalapeño combo is packed into every bite and gets washed down smoothly with care of the brew.
Naughty, Nice & Everything Spice paired with Coronado Mermaid’s Red: This particular roll is a mouthful (literally) and packs a punch of spice and flavor. The beer delivers a fresh floral aroma and sharp bitter notes. It contrasts with the spiciness of the roll – but it works!
In addition to notes for enjoying food and beer at Sabuku, Pasela has also shared recipes for one of the aforementioned rolls. It takes a good deal of prep work and some practice, but going through the motions along with a few swigs of craft beer should make it a fun learning experience.
Editor’s note: Brandon Hernández is a senior communications specialist at Stone Brewing Co.; the company’s distribution side carries Modern Times Beer, but Hernández had not been incentivized to include either brand in this column.
Yield: 1 roll
canola oil for frying
3 to 4 shrimp (peeled and deveined)
2 to 3 cups cups tempura batter
1 half-sheet nori (seaweed)
5 oz. prepared sushi rice (short grain rice, rice vinegar, salt and sugar)
cucumber, cut lengthwise into thin strips
2 to 3 oz. crabmeat (picked over to remove shells)
3 oz. salmon, thinly sliced
avocado, thinly sliced
lemon, thinly sliced
scallions, thinly sliced
white sesame seeds
Preheat oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit in a large sauce pan. Evenly coat shrimp in tempura batter, then carefully drop the shrimp into the oil. Cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove from the oil and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Place the nori on a dry, clean surface, rough-side-up. Spread the sushi rice evenly over the nori. Flip the sheet over and set 2 pieces of cucumber, lengthwise, in the middle of the sheet. Place the shrimp, lengthwise, in the middle of the sheet. Spread the crab, lengthwise, over the cucumber and shrimp. Close the roll by bringing the side of the roll nearest to you up over the ingredients, lengthwise. Applying even pressure, bring the one side to slightly overlap the other side. Use a bamboo mat to compress and shape the roll into desired form. Evenly layer the salmon and avocado across the roll, alternating between the two, followed by the lemon. Place the roll on a cutting board and slice into 8 to 10 uniform pieces. Transfer to a serving plate and drizzle with ponzu sauce. Garnish with the remaining ingredients and serve.