Beyond Sushi owner/chef Guy Vaknin
I arrived so early for lunch at Beyond Sushi, the shoebox of a vegan sushi spot just off Union Square in NYC, that it was almost a late breakfast for me. With only three tables and a rockin’ take-out business, I wanted to be sure to nab a seat and settle in to feast on the creations that are all fair game for this kosher keeper.
Chef/Owner Guy Vaknin has let his imagination run wild here. His combos are the most unusual and perfectly paired flavors all rolled up in completely unfamiliar, purplish hued grains.
Vaknin popped up from the basement kitchen through a staircase leading to the sidewalk. He balanced a neatly lined tray of julienned, barely steamed veggies and a rainbow assortment of squirt bottles filled with house made custom sauces (no high sodium soy sauce here). He kept moving as we spoke, gearing up for the start of the lunch rush. Throughout my meal, he continued his stream of conscious (still somehow articulate) description of what we were eating, how green the space and operation really is, and what his journey has been since he grew up in Israel, the son of Jewish Moroccan parents.
His chiseled, handsome face was familiar to me from Fox Network’s Hell’s Kitchen, where he competed in season ten under the evil intensity of Gordon Ramsey. He now opts for cruelty free environs in Beyond Sushi, this fish-free zone where organic veggies, fruit and whole grains are the rule.
As former Executive Chef for NYC kosher caterers, Esprit Events, he exercised his creative juices creating vegan sushi for clients concerned about eating raw fish (pregnant ladies, please steer clear). He watched and listened to reactions, simmering his ideas that led him to open his own compact restaurant/cafe, where every aspect is part of the green, vegan, organic lifestyle he so naturally subscribes to.
The menu at Beyond Sushi is concise and the flavor combos are complex in subtle ways. Only eight rolls and six individual pieces are offered. A Build-Your- Own soup option guantees a tasty bowl-full as some of the pairing choices are already set for you.
Choose your own base (spicy, miso, or coconut curry), your noodles (udon or soba), and a selection of veggies that come pre-selected by the chef: shitake, enoki, portobella, ginger, garlic, spinach OR grilled romaine hearts, carrots, baked tofu, cilantro, asparagus.
The rolls and individual bites are the stars here and my intention was to make a big dent on the first visit. Lucky for me, I had one of my great kosher keeping gal pals with me, so we opted for 5 rolls and all of the individual pieces.
Outstanding rolls were Spicy Mang, Pickle Me, and Sweet Tree. Pickle Me is a crunchy fest with bits of gobo (burdock root), barely steamed julienned carrot and pickled daikon contrasted against generous chunks of creamy avocado. Each bite was punctuated by a sweet dot of carrot ginger sauce.
Sweet Tree has a melt in your mouth texture, almost too soft, at the first bite. But again, Chef Vaknin’s nuanced flavors came through and by the second bite I was hooked.
He explained that the sweet potatoes are marinated and roasted overnight, yielding the perfect softness. He firms up the mouth feel with crunchy, grassy alfalfa sprouts and pairs it all with the perfect dollop of toasted cayenne (is that tahini lending the creaminess?) to punch it up a bit at the finish.
Now, for a chef with a Moroccan family back story, it occurs to me that this Chef shows great and sophisticated restraint in his use of spicy elements to punctuate flavors.
Spicy Mang roll was a great yin/yang of sweet, smooth mango contrasting with spicy veggies (not hot) and topped with toasted cayenne.
Descriptions of the healthy and unfamiliar grains is proudly displayed on the wall, near the counter where you will order. The six grain blend is deep cherry/ grape purple and consists of rye berries, hulless barley, pearl barley, brown, red and black rices. It is known to be high in iron.
It was a grand first experience for me. Toothsome texture, enticing color, and healthy all at once, the grains’ deep hue, contrast against all of the bright colors of the fresh veggies and fruit. Black Forbidden Rice is gluten free and a huge bonus for those seeking exciting solutions to avoiding the omnipresent offender.
Enoki Mushroom Piece
Six individual pieces are offered like compact, sculptured compositions. As a lover of all things mushroom, I opted for the ENOKI mushroom bite, a neatly stacked pile of those beauties bound in a single band of nori and dressed with more funghi fun with the shitake teriyaki.
I also loved the tented slabs of Mango caressing a single bite of six grain rice blend. Sticky sweetness was successfully avoided by pairing the fruit with jalapeno wasabi sauce.
Unable to resist the bulging Rice Paper Wrap, I wasn’t sure I could possibly take a bite of the Nutty Butty, which I saved for last.
With a little rest and some prompting from E, we finished with this overflowing wrap filled with buckwheat noodles, tofu, avocado, carrot and cilantro, crunchy peanuts and jalepeno. Like everything else I tasted here, Vaknin nailed this one, too, despite the unlikely combo of ingredients.
Kudos to the Owner/Chef for keeping the prices affordable, although I don’t see how he does it. Most rolls cost $6.50 and Individual pieces are $1. The combos are even better value, with a range of choices including the more than satisfying Combo Two: 2 rolls and 2 individual pieces for $13.50 ($15.00 value).
Perfect for vegetarians, kosher keepers, vegans, gluten avoiders and healthy eaters, let me know what you think after checking out Beyond Sushi.
And, because it’s likely that you are now hankering for some big Asian flavors, I leave you with this tasty recipe from my generous friend, Gayle Squires. Her recipe for Cabbage Slaw with Miso-Sesame Dressing has been on my “to-whip up” list for a long while. Her site is one of my faves: www.koshercamembert.com.
Photo credit for Cabbage Slaw: Gayle Squires.
All sushi photos: Matthew Sowa, with permission from Beyond Sushi.
Cabbage Slaw with Miso-Sesame Dressing
From Gayle Squires, Kosher Camembert: I adapted this recipe from the sugar snap salad with miso dressing in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I skipped the sugar snaps and traded carrots for radishes, but kept the dressing in pristine condition (though you could add a few drops of hot sesame oil to finish things off). Dress the salad lightly a few hours before serving to allow the cabbage to wilt and soak up all the dressing, then add more dressing if necessary. I used regular green cabbage, which needs a bit more time to wilt; if you want to use the more tender varieties such as savoy or napa, dress the salad only thirty minutes before serving.
- 1/2 large green cabbage
- 2 scallions
- 3 carrots
- 3 T sesame seeds
- 1 T minced fresh ginger
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 T white miso (I use Miso Master brand)
- 2 T tahina
- 1 T honey
- 1/4 C rice vinegar
- 2 T vegetable oil
- 2 T toasted sesame oil
Slice. Slice the cabbage, scallions, and carrots as thinly as you can with a knife or mandoline (I used a knife for the cabbage and scallions, a mandoline for the cabbage).
Toast. Toast the sesame seeds for 5-8 minutes in a 300ºF oven.
Shake. Mix the dressing ingredients in a jar, cover, and shake well to combine. You may need to add a little water to loosen up the dressing as the tahina has a tendency to thicken, especially as it gets cold. The consistency should be similar to a thick honey.
Eat. Dress the salad a few hours before serving and toss. If using more tender cabbages (savoy, napa), you’ll only need to do this about a half-hour in advance. Just before serving, sprinkle the slaw with the toasted sesame seeds.
This scrumptious recipe is from fellow blogger gal pal, Gayle Squires. She blogs from Cambridge, MA., has a great sense of humor and sophisticated palate. Check her out at: http://koshercamembert.wordpress.com/.