When I heard about U-Sushi, a new quick-service sushi spot on Market Street that uses "state-of-the-art robot automation" to make sushi-rolls to-order, I'd be lying if I said visions of R2-D2 squirting wasabi out of a tube didn't come to mind. Sadly, when I arrived for lunch on Friday, no Star Wars cast members were there to streamline my sushi experience, but the speed sushi operation was defininitely drawing a crowd.
The people behind U-Sushi are Jeremy Umland and Yo Matsuzaki, two of the current key players in the Bay Area's Ozumo outposts. Their next concept plays into two big new business trends right now: casual, quick service and DIY. It works almost exactly how the make-your-own-salad places like Mixt Greens and Pluto's do. Hopping down the assembly line, you tell the first person your choice of rice (brown or white) and wrap (soy or seaweed, which they call "traditional"), the next person adds fish (your standard tuna, salmon, unagi, etc.), then veggies, dressings and garnishes. There are no seats inside, so I imagine most customers are blazing through the line here and taking their sushi rolls back to their desks.
Oh yes and the robots. Well, they're definitely more like machines. One at the beginning lays out what looks like a perfectly even sheet of rice on paper, and another one at the end cuts everything into even sushi pieces. Everything else is done by humans, wearing rubber gloves.
We ordered two one-fish rolls for $7.50 a pop and ate them at the outdoor seating at Chipotle next door. I "made" a yellowtail-avocado-crunchy pickle roll with wasabi soy sauce and tobiko. My friend had tuna with avocado and spicy mayo. Most diners probably don't know what goes with unagi sauce, and for those folks, there are pre-decided "u-classics" available, like shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and dragon rolls. There's even a passable miso soup and edamame beans if you want to make a fuller meal.
The thing that's great about U-Sushi is the total transparency: you can see all the ingredients, and everything looks totally fresh due to continuous turnover. With all those choices, not many of them are sustainable or local, which isn't going to sit well with those conscious of food sources. U-Sushi puts speed, healthiness and cleanliness first—and for that—I think the Financial District will reward them consistently with long lines.