My sister and I are both in college and actually haven’t spent a lot of time together since I started college 3 years ago. When we are fortunate enough to spend time together, it’s usually just hanging out, nothing fancy, just shooting the shit about life, some talk about music or the family. Today was kinda different.
I mean, we stayed along the same talking points but Mary had to make a trip back up to Philly to sign some paperwork for next semester and she asked if I wanted to join her. I agreed and thought it would be great way to spend some time together. Anticipating the Friday traffic that plagues the Jersey Shore locals (and I mean real locals, not those fuckwits on MTV who wear Tom Hardy and get drunk while pretending to be Italian), we left just before 11.
Driving up was nice, very relaxing, Mary has great taste in music; it’s a lot of the alternative and indie rock that I loved in high school so often I find myself yelling “oh shit I haven’t heard this in forever” or being able to recognize a band’s newer songs based on how they sound like the Kooks or Arctic Monkeys. I still have my custom playlist of this kind of music on my Spotify but it’s not my regular EDM variations of Major Lazer, Diplo, Odesza and the occasional mix up with RiFF RAFF, Action Bronson or Chance the Rapper (AHH!). I mean, that’s kind of our relationship in a way; we know who we are, we like who we are, she’s never gonna grow old on me and I’ll always go to her for the real deal things in life, we are ride-or-die bitches. Oh, and we both have an affinity for selfies and taking pictures of food so if that makes me basic than my pH is like 12. On that note, we arrived in Philly in time to find some lunch. I picked, she led the way.
A few months ago, my mom told me she met my sister in Philly for lunch one day and they went to get “Sushi Burritos” at a place called Hai Street Kitchen. I was so enthralled with the idea that I have been dying to go here for months My opportunity finally arose and decided that even in the 90* Philly heat, we could spare the walk from 33rd St. to 18th St. I know have come to learn they had a location on 40th. Oh well, next time. Hai St. calls their food “Urban Japanese” which I think is an apt description of a Japanese take on burritos without actually being Mexican.
They are also focusing on giving people “fresh” ingredients rather than things with preservatives and GMOs which I think is a great business model, but from a foodie standpoint, I think sometimes its a way of making your food sound better and more attractive to people susceptible to food trends. Like people who suddenly love kale. I grew up in a vegetarian household, I fucking loved kale before it as cool. But I digress.
I think because of the kind of food they make, which is basically things you see on any sushi menu, they would have a harder time finding quality ingredients that were organic or GMO free or what have you but it’s still nice to see that people are putting time into the ethics of their food rather than just making the cheapest food. Their storefront was small, Most of it was the Kitchen which was right behind the counter where you could see people prepping the food, cutting veggies, battering shrimp and chicken for shrimp tempura and chicken katsu. If you want a signature roll, definitely go for it. Their combination looks sick, but if you want to venture into the world of custom such burritos, you need to make your own. so follow this formula: 1)Pick a style 2)Pick a protein. 3)Pick a sauce. 4)Pick 4 toppings. 5)Pick a crunch. My order was as followed:
Protein: Tataki Salmon
Sauce: Spicy Mayo
Toppings: Carrots, Cucumbers, Mango Salad, Pickled Red Onion
Crunch: Fried Garlic
When Mary first told me about this place, I had to go, the pictures online looked too good to be true because they were so beautiful. Maybe I set my expectations too high, but I’m not sure I got that. We went during the lunch rush which seemed like any other lunch rush, but it only lasted about 15 minutes before it was back to relative quietness. I thought it would take several minutes for them to make this because the pictures from their website and from other websites like yelp and google images made them look like intricate and delicately crafted pieces of art. This was not the case.
They people behind the counter were moving at a speed unlike anything I have seen. They moved so quickly they would not even hear when someone would say “roll” instead of “bowl” which caused some confusion. The assembly station was messy and disorganized. It looked like they were moving too quickly and things were falling out of their hands faster than they could put them in the rolls. The rice was not evenly distributed on the nori which I knew was going to be a problem later. They Tatami Salmon was cooked but then wrapped in (what looked like) cellophane and put in the perp station. This kinda confused me because they talk about being sustainable and healthy and everything but used cellophane to individually wrap portions. The spicy may was layered on and I could see my roll starting to take shape. hey layered the veggies in but did so without finesse and my veggies were not evenly distributed. The packaging was ok, the roll was cut in half and put in one of their really nice boxes, which I thought made it an easy way to transport. My qualms with Hai St. is not necessarily the food; i really like the food and think the quality is pretty damn good. Where I was let down was the aesthetics and assembly of the food. Normally I think anyone can make the argument that the aesthetics can be secondary but Japanese food is supposed to be aesthetically pleasing and functional, it’s actually very important to Japanese cuisine to be visually pleasing to the eater. With no bottom to this roll, a lot of its content fell out and required a fork to finish. Everything I was lead to believe should tell me that this should be the best and most beautiful combination of a Sushi and a Burrito ever made, but it wasn’t. Look below at a post from their Facebook page.
They layered the veggies in but did so without finesse and my veggies were not evenly distributed. The packaging was ok, the roll was cut in half and put in one of their really nice boxes, which I thought made it an easy way to transport. My qualms with Hai St. is not necessarily the food; i really like the food and think the quality is pretty damn good. Where I was let down was the aesthetics and assembly of the food. Normally I think anyone can make the argument that the aesthetics can be secondary but Japanese food is supposed to be aesthetically pleasing and functional, it’s actually very important to Japanese cuisine to be visually pleasing to the eater. With no bottom to this roll, a lot of its content fell out and required a fork to finish. Everything I was led to believe should tell me that this should be the best and most beautiful combination of a Sushi and a Burrito ever made, but it wasn’t. Look here at a post from their Facebook page.
So when we paid about $25-ish for 2 rolls, I expect my roll to look like this. This is not an impossible thing to want. It’s not like a Whopper; the commercial is going to make it look better because it’s fucking fast food but the reason my roll doesn’t look like this is simply a matter of the people behind the counter moving way to quickly. They need to slow down, that’s all. Honestly, the food is really good. They just need to slow down. My recommendations other than slowing down are to combat the problem of a roll that falls apart because it is too wet or over filled and has no closed end (both sides are open).
1. The reason tacos come with two tortillas is because one just isn’t enough to keep it all together, maybe try 2 pieces of nori instead of one, or use larger sheets of nori that can be wrapped around more than once.
2. Use a second piece of nori cut in half on each side roll as a way to close the bottom. Unlike a large tortilla for a burritos, nori generally isn’t large enough to close around this kind of roll, but there has to be a way to combat this problem of rolls falling out the bottom.
3. Maybe run some type of beta program at a pop-up location that specialized in more burrito-style Japanese food. What I specifically mean is to ditch the nori and rice in favor of a large flour tortilla like a burrito, that can be filled with the asian ingredients. In doing so, I see combination like Wasabi Spinach, Ginger, and Miso Wheat tortillas that can be filled with more veggies rather than rice and people won’t be afraid of the sauce permeating the thin nori.
Final Thoughts: 3.5/5 Really great concept for food, definitely worth a visit. I’m trying to think of why I’m not liking this more and I’m hoping that today was just a fluke. I am going to try to get out here one more time before the summer ends and I hope I can look back on this review and admit that it was just an off-day. My sister thought it was dope AF but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that it was being held back by poor aesthetics and a staff moving a bit to quickly.
Remember, it’s not rocket science, its food porn, bruh.
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