In the wake of the Impossible Burger comes another buzzy vegan substitute in New York City.
Tomato sushi debuts on the menu at healthy food chain Fresh&Co on Oct. 11.
The vegan product was developed by San Francisco-based chef James Corwell, who was looking to make a sustainable alternative to bluefin tuna. Atlantic bluefin tuna is endangered, and just last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it is reviewing Pacific bluefin tuna for Endangered Species Act protection.
Fresh&Co, which has 14 locations in Manhattan, is the first chain to offer the tomato sushi, which is available in two salads, a wrap and a bowl.
“We’ve played with other meat alternatives as the vegan trend grows,” said George Tenedios, owner of Fresh&Co, which also has Beyond Meat’s faux chicken on the menu.
Tenedios said he happened upon Corwell’s product about a year ago while researching other protein alternatives.
The tomato sushi features sous vide Roma tomatoes marinated in soy sauce and other ingredients that mimics the appearance, taste and texture of raw tuna. (A gluten-free version is also in the works that should debut before the end of the year).
“It’s really a remarkable product,” said Tenedios, who, like Corwell, was inspired to use a tuna alternative after visiting a Tokyo fish market and learned more about tuna shortages and the threat of extinction from overfishing.
“Mainstream I don’t think people are aware of the threat of extinction of tuna, but our customers eat and breathe this type of lingo,” he said. “Fresh&Co was built around healthy, sustainable eating. Tuna doesn’t fall in line with our standards.”
Fresh&Co chef Mike Roberts developed the four menu offerings featuring the tuna sushi. They include two custom-made items: a grain bowl tossed in a yuzu sauce ($10.50) and the Aloha salad with charred pineapple and cashew ($10.50). Both also feature hijiki, a sea vegetable prominent in Japanese dishes that’s also new to the Fresh&Co menu.
Two grab-and-go items featuring tomato sushi include a collard greens wrap with hijiki, cucumber, avocado and brown rice ($8.95) and a poke side salad with cucumber, mango, avocado, quinoa and cashew ($6).
“The craze right now in New York is focused around poke,” Tenedios said. “Sushi has been trending for 15 years, this is just another alternative to keep sushi interesting.”
The challenge of vegan alternatives is mimicking the taste and feel of the real deal. For instance, the appeal of the Impossible Burger, which is currently on the lunch and brunch menus at Momofuku Nishi, is that it “bleeds.” For Fresh&Co, the tomato sushi — which is even rolled to look like raw tuna — passes the test.
“It really tastes like tuna and mimics tuna,” said Roberts, who previously had trained with two sushi masters before joining Fresh&Co.
Tenedios is charitable with his assessment.
“If you’re an avid tuna eater you can tell,” he said, “but if you close your eyes, you can pretend.”