The Austin Chronicle

Attention Sushi Lovers: Lucky Robot Offers Time Out for Tuna Tuesdays

By Emily Beyda, June 19, 2018, 4:41pm, On the Range

Bad news sushi fans: That spicy tuna roll might come at a higher cost than you realize. Tuna is consistently ranked among the most popular sushi orders across the country, and, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the second most popular fish in the world. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most overfished species.

The World Wildlife Federation lists the bluefin tuna as endangered. “It’s a double edged sword,” says Stephanie Nasoff, operating partner at Lucky Robot Japanese Kitchen.

Nasoff explains, “Because of its popularity, a lot of the tuna on the market is being harvested before the fish reach sexual maturity, so they’re being pulled out of the ocean before they’ve had the opportunity to replace themselves.” At this rate, many experts warn that bluefin tuna may disappear from the ocean entirely.

That’s why Lucky Robot is launching their new sustainability campaign, #timeoutfortuna. Every Tuesday this month, there will be an absence of tuna on the menu. “We’re not doing a replacement,” says executive chef Jay Huang. “Because we want to show people that someday it may not exist at all, that tuna is in danger of not just disappearing from menus, but totally disappearing from the ocean.”

Sustainable sourcing has been important to Lucky Robot from the start, which has never used bluefin, the most popular and most critically endangered, of the world’s tuna species. “This is something you wrestle with as a chef,” says Huang. “Not putting something so popular on the menu. This is something everyone wants. But for me, constraints create creativity.”

If you happen to come in on any other night of the week, you can try Huang’s innovative solution to the bluefin tuna problem, a dish he calls “chiki toro,” a play on the Japanese word for “fake.” Huang starts with line caught big eye Hawaiian tuna, the tuna of choice for the kitchen because of Hawaii’s stringent enforcement of quotas, which he tops with a thin sliver of lardo, cured for sixty days in a blend of spices, before a quick sear. The fat melts over the fish, basting it as it cooks and giving it a fatty, smoky complexity.

But for tuna fans visiting on a #timeoutfortuna Tuesday, Nasoff has some suggestions, starting with the kanpachi, a Hawaiian almaco jack that’s rated as a best choice by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “If you know you love hamachi,” says Nasoff. “Kanpachi is a similar fish. It’s got a lot of great natural oils. Fresh sweet flavor, firm texture.” Lucky Robot has even dropped all hamachi from their menu, in a move towards sustainability. Try kampachi sashimi with orange supremes, serrano peppers, black tobiko and cilantro. Suzuki is another sustainable choice, a hybrid between a stropped bass and white bass which Lucky Robot sources from a small farm outside of Colorado Springs. Aside from using the fillets for sushi, and in the suzuki ringo, sashimi topped with fuji apples, ponzu, fresh grated ginger, lemon zest, and walnut oil, the kitchen uses the rest of the fish in the broth for their seafood ramen.

Whatever you order, the folks at Lucky Robot hope you’ll walk away from your #timeoutfortuna experience with a more intuitive understanding of the problems posed by unsustainable fishing practices, as well of an appreciation of the delicious solutions. “For us, says Nasoff, “This came from education, wanting to do a little research and information finding about sustainability. We can only make a minimal impact without our guests rallying behind us.”

Huang agrees, adding that for him, as a sushi chef, this issue takes on a personal dimension. “The resources of the world are finite,” he says, “and we have to find ways to really commit to assonance and learn to limit ourselves for how much we’re consuming. We want to practice restraint and consume mindfully, celebrating that restraint.”

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