Mall wonder

For more information, visit http://santacruz

I’ve loved burritos since the ’70s, and my love of sushi sparked in the late ’80s. Still, when I first heard about a “sushi burrito,” I have to admit I was less than intrigued. A big ol’ burrito is a big mess of starch, protein, vegetable and spice packed into a more-or-less convenient package you can eat on the go. It’s not elegant, but it gets the job done. To me, sushi invokes a more delicate image wherein skill, technique and aesthetics work together to create edible art, even at the all-you-can-eat level. I can easily make a burrito, but it’s a stretch for me to make true-to-form sushi.

With this in mind, I decided to give Santa Cruz Sushi a go. Inspired by the sushi-burrito craze popularized in the Bay Area, these folks are working hard to transcend their shopping mall food court surroundings. The service was quick and friendly, and the creativity and attention to detail exceeded my expectations.

Although the menu refers to its signature item as a “sushi wrap” ($10), there’s no tortilla involved. Layers of seafood, vegetables and herbs are laid out on a sheet of dried seaweed and rolled up in the same manner as a sushi long roll, just a lot larger. The result is then wrapped tightly in paper and sliced in half, making it easy to share with a friend. There are several ingredient combinations listed on the menu board—including chicken, beef and veggie options—and you can customize the wraps to suit your taste.

My worry was that there’d be a lot of rice, but the balance of ingredients was actually quite nice. We ordered a rainbow wrap featuring salmon, tuna, yellowtail, spicy crab, flying fish roe, avocado, cucumber and carrot, but substituted cooked scallop for the tuna. The ingredients tasted very fresh and the combination was delicious. A variety of sauces are available on the side, allowing you to customize every bite.

As much as we enjoyed the wrap, some of the items from the small bites menu were even more interesting. An order of fish tacos ($6 for four) was enough food to be a meal by itself. Shells made of deep-fried won ton wrapper are filled with spicy cabbage, tuna, scallion, sweet chili and teriyaki sauces, sesame seed and mayo. The shell was very crunchy and a lot more sturdy than your average crispy taco shell. I really liked these, and though not usually a fan of fresh tuna, my wife thoroughly enjoyed the unique combination of flavors and textures.

Even better was a serving of jalapeño poppers ($5 for four) that bore no resemblance to the bar food favorite. The peppers were sliced open and laid out flat, coated and fried in tempura, then covered in layers of cream cheese, avocado, teriyaki, spicy mayo, and a huge pile of spicy crab. They were a bit messy to eat by hand, but so worth it. This dish was both the tastiest and best deal of anything we ordered.

Everything on the tempura platter ($5)—featuring zucchini, asparagus, white onion, carrot and shrimp—was about average, save for one issue. One asparagus spear was cooked just right and probably the best thing on the plate. The second piece was woody, fibrous and completely inedible. Similarly disappointing were orders of miso soup ($2) and baked mussels ($5, for six). Though full of tofu, scallion and sesame seeds, the soup seemed a bit small and was served lukewarm. The mussels—dressed in scallion and spicy mayo—were overcooked, dry and a bit tough. Perhaps these were just the wrong things to order near the end of the day.

The things that worked really worked, so I now have an incentive to go to the mall. If you’re in the mood for sushi and short on time, these wraps make for a quick and delicious meal on the go.