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Thursday, November 26, 2020

Chikyū review: Vegan sushi dreams made real

Vegan sushi gets a facelift with Chikyū, a new branch of a restaurant family that recently opened in Las Vegas, Nevada.

How does elevated vegan sushi that’s available all seven days of the week sound to you?

If you’re a Las Vegas local, it probably sounds like an absolute dream come true. Enter Chikyū. The brand new, entirely plant-based sushi bar and izakaya brings refreshingly original tastes, smells, and looks (the dishes are stunning to the eye) to Japanese cuisine.

Imagine beautiful edible flower-topped specialty rolls, perfect marriages between sweet and pungent flavours, and a satisfying variety of options, even for a diet-limited menu.

Perhaps equally as impressive, Chikyū opened for business in the midst of the pandemic, not shying away from the uncertainty that Covid-19 has heaped upon small business owners and restaurants in particular.

So what exactly can you expect from this brave, bold-flavoured vegan restaurant?

A solid foundation

 

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Chikyū might be a new vegan restaurant in Las Vegas, but it didn’t come onto the scene out of nowhere. Chef and owner John Le was one of the first sushi chefs at Shizen, another plant-based eatery in San Francisco, before relocating to Las Vegas and bringing with him a plan to entertain Sin City’s taste buds with a new high-end vegan sushi concept.

Chef Le, together with Shizen co-founder and experienced ocean activist Casson Trenor, adds the newest in a successful family of vegan sushi restaurants with Chikyū, and folks are eating it up (literally).

Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya

It all started with Shizen. The vegan sushi bar, opened in 2015, has attracted positive attention from all over the world, including receiving Michelin awards and ‘Best of’ recognitions. Called “an experiment in ocean conservation through responsible dining”, Shizen wows diners with a vegan eating experience that prioritises sustainability without sacrificing any flavour. The inviting wooden interior and quick service certainly don’t hurt either.

Tane Vegan Izakaya

Tane, yet another positively received plant-based izakaya in the restaurant family, makes a home in Honolulu, Hawaii. The restaurant, founded by original Shizen partner Chef Ken Lui, serves vegan sushi with a “Hawaiian twist”. With hundreds of overwhelmingly positive online reviews, it’s clear that this branch of the vegan sushi dining family leaves very little to be desired.

The best vegan sushi to order

chikyuVegan sushi in Las Vegas isn’t a new thing, but Chikyū offers something quite unlike the current plant-based options. 

All of the menu’s dishes — not just the rolls — are a work of art. Chef Le crafts each offering with the highest level of care and detail, making for a higher-end experience than you might find elsewhere in the city.

Almost the entire menu is gluten-free, and a few dishes, including some of the nigiri, Wakame sunomomo salad, and Shishito peppers robata, are oil-free as well.

Although the restaurant’s menu is an abridged version of its planned fuller menu once it’s able to open for dine-in service, you’ll have plenty of options to keep your tastebuds thoroughly satisfied.

Here’s what we recommend getting as part of your first order:

Starters

 

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It’s really hard to go wrong with any of the starter small bites or salads on the menu, but it would be wise not to skip the newly added Stuffed Yuba: deliciously fried tofu skins filled with onion, carrot, corn, and shiitake mushroom. Get the gyoza too, for Chef Le’s mouthwatering version of the classic appetizer, pan-fried to perfection.

Tempura

 

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Tempura is usually a no-go for vegans, since the batter traditionally includes eggs, but Chikyū gives tempura-missing vegans what they’ve been waiting for with three lightly-battered gluten-free dishes to choose from. The Shizen Shiitake, which is stuffed with tapioca and shredded tofu, is a must. 

Specialty Rolls

las vegas vegan
Photo: Chikyū/Facebook

The restaurant’s classic and traditional vegan sushi rolls are undeniably appetizing enough to excite any eater, plant-based or not, but Chikyū’s specialty rolls are what really shine.

According to the menu, the specialty rolls are “Named in honour of the local wildflowers that add such life and colour to our beautiful desert home”, evident in titles like Desert Gold, Mariposa Lily, and Goldenhead.

Speaking of Desert Gold, it’s bound to be your favourite roll. It’s probably the most popular dish ordered so far, and for good reason. The near-addictive tempura fried tofu and tapioca roll is topped with spicy tofu, sesame, negi, ito togarashi, microgreens, and finished with a secret sauce.

Snapdragon, another much-loved Chikyū specialty, is a great order to pair with Desert Gold for its mind-melting flavour profile that places serrano pepper, pickled pineapple, sweet shoyu and habanero sauce atop a roll filled with mushroom tempura, spicy shredded tofu, and avocado.

A third go-to is Sunray, which is on the sweeter side with its inclusion of sweet potato, mango, and tomato. No matter what rolls you opt for on round one of your Chikyū experience, the creativity and utter tastiness will keep you coming back for more.

Enthusiastically received, even in a pandemic

 

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Chikyū opened in May 2020, not letting Covid-19 delay the hard work behind bringing Las Vegas a new model of vegan Japanese dining.

From the restaurant’s Facebook page: “We cannot allow this pandemic to grind our visions and dreams to a halt. We must move forward, as best we can, to serve one another and inspire each other as we grow through this global experience together. This restaurant is part of our team’s larger mission to promote sustainability, compassion, and peace, and it is time for it to open.”

With the careful decision to open for takeout only and postpone dine-in service, Chikyū has been able to delight vegan foodies and even thrive despite the risk of opening a new business in an even more uncertain time.

The restaurant has a five-star rating on both Yelp and Google, with happy customers describing positive first impressions with the menu’s unique flavors, beautiful presentation, and pleasant interactions with staff. Five out of five stars is certainly appropriate for this thoughtful sustainability and flavour-focused restaurant.

Chikyū is currently offering contactless pick-up orders only and is open every day from 4pm to 9pm.

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