Fish with Lip
By Bill Gerdes
Sushi has gotten tough over the last 10 years. I’m not talking about the cuts of fish, although sometimes that too, but the marketing of Japan’s culinary gift to the rest of the planet—raw fish. Sushi’s first battle in the U.S. was against its very strangeness to many Americans. “Raw fish?” asked Americans during the ’60s and ’70s in an age where medium-well meant almost burned. But then, in ways similar to later food manias, our hostility turned to curiosity and then a rush to try the latest thing.
Except dudes. Dudes weren’t big on the stuff. Men were, yuppies, bon vivants, preppies, hipsters, but regular guys weren’t having it, and thus the birth of the badass sushi bar, raw seafood with attitude and pluck. Fish with lip, if you will. A spectacular example of the transformation of the sushi bar to a place fit for regular Joes is Rawken Sushi in downtown Pomona, Bro sushi at it’s best and occasional not-quite-so-best.
It’s early when we walk in for lunch but there’s UFC on the television and we’re greeted warmly by the staff. The interior seems nice enough but we head out to the patio where we grab a table by the street and people-watch as we wait. We first sample the Garlic Edamame, which is edamame liberally slathered in garlic and butter. It’s hard to go wrong with garlic and butter and this doesn’t, but I do briefly wonder about why I’ve ordered such a sinfully caloric version of an inherently healthy snack. That is a hallmark of “attitude sushi,” extra calories, extra ingredients, extra sauces.
We shared a Rawken Party, a sampler of some of their basic rolls. Now this includes the Cali Roll—the sushi for people who don’t like sushi—and the Spicy Tuna Roll. Both were fine if a bit bland, but we don’t go out for bro-sushi looking for a simple California roll. No, these days were looking for something bolder, buffer, tougher, and so I present to you the Rawken Roll.
For the Rawken is a lip-smacking, tongue burning, monster of a tempura roll, a tempura roll that features not one but three heat-inducing ingredients that seem so overly amped up that it’s ideal beverage partner should probably be a 5-hour energy squirt. And it’s delicious. The holy trio of spice here includes a couple of thinly sliced jalapenos, a spicy mayo dollop with a concentric circle of Sriracha sauce on top. That, along with some cream cheese and a tempura Cali roll, and the Platonic ideal of “attitude sushi” awaits. Can you taste the actual fish in the Rawken Roll? No, but I suspect that may be the point.
It’s worth noting that the house salad at Rawken is quite nice and features a sprinkling of Rice Krispies on top, that the outdoor lounge area seems like a cool place to relax with a larger group, and that the Rawken Party turned out to be simply too much sushi after a couple of beers and an appetizer. I didn’t try their dessert menu but thought you might be entertained knowing this section of the menu is called Finishes. Whether this is an homage to the UFC or something else I’m not sure. Rawken Sushi is worth a look though either way.
Rawken Sushi, 135 E. 2nd St., Pomona, CA (909) 629-6800; www.rawkensushi.com. Mon-Tues, 11:30am-3pm, 4:30pm-9pm; Wed-Thurs, 11:30am-3pm; 4:30pm-2am; Fri-Sat, 11:30am-3pm, 4:30pm-4am. AE, D, MC, V.