When I join my friends for sushi, they always wonder aloud whether there will be enough for me to eat. We vegetarians know, however, that there are plenty of vegetarian rolls available. In fact, I consider the humble avocado roll to be one of humankind's greatest gastronomic creations. It is true that the other food at Japanese restaurants can be problematic, because of the seeming omnipresence of dashi, the broth made of dried fish and seaweed that lies at the heart of almost every Japanese dish. Fortunately, at Williamsburg's Bozu there are plenty of vegetarian dishes on offer, as well as some interesting sushi.
A good start would be an order of tsukemono ($5.50), assorted Japanese pickles. The different vegetables all featured individual tastes and textures. Clockwise from the top you see: celery, crunchy and slightly spicy; tomatoes, soft, acidic and herbal; cucumbers, sour and crisp; and burdock root, chewy and slightly stringy, salty and spicy. In the center a ball of pickled cabbage, bland on its own but a nice counterpoint to the other vegetables. Save some of these as an accompaniment for your meal.
Another interesting appetizer is the kinpira ($4.50). Here thinly sliced lotus root is smothered in a sauce of sesame, each crisp layer offset by the creamy dressing. It reminds one of cold sesame noodles, without the noodles, and with a lot more crunch.
We also ordered one of the seasonal specials, vegetable kakiage with tempura oyster mushrooms ($8, pictured at the top of the page). Kakiage is similar to tempura, though it is made up of strips of vegetables fried together into something like an irregular fritter. Breaking apart the clumps of carrot, onion, asparagus, and mushroom yields a moist interior to contrast the crisp exterior. The accompanying tempura oyster mushrooms (pictured directly above this paragraph) are large and meaty and excellent. As with most tempura, everything benefits from a quick dunk in the provided sauce.
Unfortunately the guacamole roll ($6) did not live up to the standard of the aforementioned avocado roll. It turns out that avocado does not benefit from the addition of corn and tomatoes, at least in sushi. The good news is that our other roll was much better.
The yakko roll ($5.50) is made with housemade tofu, and is much creamier than the guacamole roll. With the tofu lending a texture similar to cream cheese, and herbal notes from shiso, this roll is something special.
When reading Bozu's website I saw many mentions of Japanese "tapas", which made me worry that the food might be more about fusion than flavor. Thankfully, with the exception of the guacamole roll, the food was all executed with balance and restraint. This is the true essence of Japanese food, and it's good to know that even we vegetarians can partake.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.