Bruce Li wants to do for sushi in Baltimore what Bruce Lee did for martial arts. That means creating the kind of dishes that haven’t been seen before in town—elaborate concoctions like his Japanese burrito—shrimp tempura, crabmeat, spicy tuna and avocado wrapped in “soy paper.” Or a lobster roll of baked lobster meat and mozzarella cheese(!) served atop a California roll. “When people think of sushi in Baltimore, I want them to think of Bruce,” he says.
His South Baltimore restaurant, Shoyou Sushi, has been open since late fall, and it’s already found a devoted following of raw fish lovers looking for something a little different. (Just check out the stellar reviews on Yelp!)
The restaurant is a classic hole-in-the wall with just five stools at a sushi bar and three tables. All told the restaurant accommodates just 15 diners. In the kitchen, it’s only Li, a helper on weekends and a single server. On busy Friday or Saturday nights, he sometimes has to turn away takeout orders as the wait can exceed more than an hour. But Li’s not ready to expand yet. “I always dreamed about opening a small restaurant,” he says. “This is perfect.”
1. House special: “A sushi restaurant without good tuna is like the Lakers without Kobe or the Heat without LeBron,” says Li. Three kinds of tuna are presented on the Omakase Special, including white tuna, yellowtail and albacore. (There’s also shrimp, salmon and snaper.)
2. Look sharp: Li honed his knife skills serving fusion sushi at restaurants in Los Angeles, where his brother is also a sushi chef.
3. The chef: Li, 35, was born in South Korea, and helped out in his father’s restaurant as a kid. He moved to Baltimore from Los Angeles a year ago, choosing the city because the water reminded him of his native Busan.
4. All rolled up: Li’s specialties are his creative rolls. The How Dare You Unagi(Eel) Roll combines half an eel atop a bed of California rolls. Dried garlic shavings and the chef’s house-made eel sauce get sprinkled on top, while two octopus suction cups give the eel its “eyes.”
5. Atmosphere: Intimate. You might have better luck ordering takeout on weekend nights than finding a seat, but then you’d miss out on Li’s charming commentary. And remember to BYOB.
Bottom line: Look out, fish, Bruce Li has come to town. 1504 Light St., 410-685-2989 —Joe Sugarman