The cool kid on the block

Read Bun Lai’s sprawling list of achievements on the Miya’s Sushi website and you’ll get a fairly good sense of what he’s all about. Eco-chef, seafood ambassador, award winner, renowned speaker, diver, sustainable farmer. But it really comes down to one thing…he’s just a cool dude. Amidst a pumping room of Restaurant Week feasters, Bun flits from table to table, sharing a tale or two as each guest hangs on his every word. He probably knows a handful or two of his guests, but they all appear old friends as he jokes and laughs his way around the room. His little boy effervescence is out of place with someone with a resume as lengthy as his, but it’s clearly a winning attitude.

I ended up in Miya’s on the tail end of countless stories told of the restaurant’s ‘awesome’ chef and intrigued by the temptation of fish-friendly sushi. First established in the early 1980’s by Bun’s mother, Miya’s has come to glory with Bun at the helm as the world’s first sustainable sushi restaurant. Don’t expect to find the old tuna and avocado rolls here… Most of the marine ingredients come from Bun’s 100-acre shell-fishing plot in the nearby Thimble Islands or from local sustainable fisheries. The vegetable matter is sourced from local farms – including the Yale Sustainable Food Project and Common Ground High School. As a leader in the sustainable seafood industry, Bun has moved and shaken the way people think – not only about food and flavour, but about what we do, and should, eat.

Beyond environmental sustainability, Bun sees his food as a tool of expression and unity. Just taste one of his exotic creations and you’ll see he takes the word ‘fusion’ to a whole other level. As we sample the restaurant week smorgasbord, I notice Bun swagger by and shout, “hey!” to catch his attention.
“Hi!” He chirps like an old friend with his big boyish grin.
“You don’t know me, but my name’s Tahria.”
“Oh, sorry, you had that familiar sound, I thought we knew each other!”
We’re off to a good start! Within minutes, he’s invited Dan and I diving at his shell-fishing grounds and is getting into the nitty gritty about the soul of his cuisine.
“Cuisine and cultures today are very segregated,” he says. “Sushi is a great medium to break those barriers down.” The way he sees it, sushi allows him to express the beauty and difference in the human race creatively. Consider it a platform to amalgamate all the world’s quirks into edible little package. After some lengthy chatting, he jokes, “Now can you speak American to me, please? How do you understand what she’s saying, man?!” Perhaps we’d be better off communicating through sushi.

The Restaurant Week menu actually afforded us the opportunity to try a bit of this, a bit of that, starting with a locally grown salad and Tokyo Fro – a twist on French fries that appears like a mound of sauce-splashed fried potato shavings. Both delicious, but altogether amusing to consume using only metal chopsticks. The sushi sampler that arrived next prompted much eye-raising and guffawing at our table. Here’s just a preview of some of the creations you can expect to enjoy.
Tilapia sashimi, farmed by Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquaculture School, sets fire to your mouth with Chinese firecracker sake, citrus juice and spices.
The Italian Stallion roll, contrary to its name, is a delicate yet decadent mix of fried calamari, mascarpone cheese, pistachios and orange marmalade.
The distinct flavour of shiitake mushroom enlivens the tempura udon noodles, hot peppers and black beans in the Killer Squid roll.
Rough flecks of coconut makes the Hot-Headed Cowgirl – cucumber, avocado, cream cheese, papaya, burdock and hot peppers – a visual and sensual feast.
Top everything off with the Seven Deadly Sushi, which teases your senses with its warm banana-hazelnut butter-strawberry-chocolate-homemade mochi-filled, deep fried roll topped with hand-churned rose petal ice cream.
Oh, and the sake. Some amazing, house-made sake, infused with delicate flavours – honey, lemongrass, wild sumac, hibiscus or white pine needles – or more “woah”-inducing chili and citrus (think his famous Chinese firecracker sake, complete with whole chili pepper garnish).

Whether in drinks or food, Bun introduces your palette to the most unlikely of flavours and convinces you that they work together. He also proves that you don’t have to rip up the earth to have a decadent meal. It’s a dining experience that makes you come out feeling as though, with people like him at the helm, there’s hope for the world yet. If you haven’t yet, drop into Miya’s and let Bun take you momentarily into his imaginary universe where world peace can be found wrapped up neatly in nori.

Miya’s Sushi
68 Howe Street
New Haven, CT 06511

(203) 777 9760

If you’re intrigued by Bun and what he’s up to, check out his personal blog here.

1 Comment

Filed under Seafood, Sushi

One Response to The cool kid on the block

  1. Julia Hatton

    I love Miya’s! I love that you can get quality basic rolls (salmon avocado, spicy catfish) for $3, or go more creative and upscale. Great write-up and great photos.

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