Sushi chef Alex putting the finishing touches on an order of yellowtail sashimi (REMEMBER: you can click on any photo to see a larger version. It's worth it.)
Brighton, MI, is not known as a hotbed of exotic cuisine, so it's a pleasant surprise to find a place like Sushi Zen there. It's a good sushi restaurant, with an innovative take on things, some amazing rolls, decent prices, great staff, and truly outrageous presentations.
Most Westerners would assume the "Zen" in the name suggests simplicity and minimalist design — while that's broadly true for the restaurant's decor, it's not at all true for the creative (and sometimes bizarre) ways they plate the food. The sashimi flower above is an example, though it's a relatively small presentation. Below is what you get with the "Standard Sashimi Plate," complete with blue glass vase filled with ornamental greens, shiso leaves, and a plethora of other items, all served on a lazy susan.
Standard sashimi platter — you can just see the blue glass vase at the back
And that's nothing; we've seen towering pedestals, long sticks, flowers, glass trays, and who knows what else. (Unfortunately, we didn't get shots of anything truly spectacular on this trip, but trust us.) They've got the largest sushi boat we've ever seen ready and waiting behind the bar. In the two times we've been there, the one thing we haven't seen them do is repeat a presentation. I'm sure it happens, but not all that often. An interesting note is that they're of the "thick chunk" school of thought on sashimi, rather than the "long thin slice" school. It's a deliberate decision, and they've prepared the fish for that format. I tend to be more of the "long thin slice" persuasion myself, but the sashimi was certainly good. (They'll also do it the other way by request.)
Samurai roll, Amazing roll, and tamago sashimi — note the wasabi mushroom in the far corner
The sushi itself? Good quality. The fish is respectably fresh, the rolls are good, and some of them are really creative. They've got a bit of Korean influence (they have Korean dishes on the menu too) showing through, with the use of gochujang as one of their hot sauces. They also use some unusual ingredients, like pickled wasabi root, which is basically pickle relish which can blow your head off. That's served as a garnish to salmon roe with a quail egg (see below). We saw it being served to another table, and they gave us a taste of the pickled wasabi.
Amazing roll, salmon roe with quail egg and pickled wasabi, tamago, not sure what else
The Amazing roll — the whitish one in both of the photos above — is wrapped in "white tuna" (aka escolar) which has been lightly charred with a blowtorch before serving, giving it a nice smoky flavor. The Samurai roll is a relatively standard construction of tempura shrimp, tuna, avocado, and eel... but with a great set of sauces drizzled over it.
The crew at the Sushi bar (unfortunately I don't remember everyone's names, but the two on the right are Leo and Alex)
If you're ever near Brighton and have a craving for sushi, Sushi Zen is definitely worth a visit. Most sushi restaurants are very similar to each other; this one really stands out.
And, as a bonus, we got to see our first sake bombs. We didn't partake, since the roads were in bad shape and we had to drive back to Ann Arbor, but maybe next time...
114 W. Grand River (at the corner of Main St.)
Brighton, MI 48116