A good chef is like a tour guide.
Just as a guide brings a new city to life, a chef combines flavors in complementary, and sometimes unexpected, ways.
The folks behind Yuzu at White Star Market are culinary masters. Their other counter at the food hall, Chow Yum Phat, creates great bowls of ramen and bao buns by designing complex dishes with premium ingredients that build upon one another and intertwine flawlessly.
Yuzu, which opened late last year, serves poke, a Hawaiian invention consisting of bowls of sushi-grade fish or shrimp — or cooked chicken — and rice or noodles with vegetables, fruits and other toppings.
But Yuzu is neglecting to guide diners. You fill out a laminated dry-erase list of all the ingredients you want in a bowl ($10.95, plus $1 for premium add-ons), and the cook assembles it. There are no featured bowls that combine the chef’s tested and refined creations.
On my first trip to Yuzu, I approached the bar and searched for a menu above the counter. I was directed to a bin of checklists and a marker. I checked off a few safe ingredients — jasmine rice, tuna, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, pickled corn, edamame and a premium topping, avocado. This was dressed with Yuzu’s aioli, a tangy, oily sauce.
The bowl of poke tasted fine. All the parts interacted well, but there was nothing special about the collection of starches, fruits, vegetables and meat.
Because the ingredients are all fresh and impeccably prepared, the poke bowls are very good. However, it takes a bit of education for a diner to design something great, a multifaceted meal in which the flavors all complement one another. Many Baton Rouge-area residents have already tried poke at other restaurants, but the concept is still fairly new.
When I returned to Yuzu a week later, I decided to try something less safe. I chose a base of zoodles and topped them with salmon, tomatoes, cucumbers, edamame, pickled squash and corn. I chose a green curry vinaigrette to dress it and topped it with a sprinkling of spicy nuts and seeds they have named Crack Crunch.
The bowl was bright and appetizing, a jumble of primary colors with a drizzle of yellow-green sauce.
The first bite came with a shock of tart curry vinaigrette, so I scrambled the beautiful bowl to spread the dressing around. I was disappointed that my interesting assembled parts did not lead to a satisfying whole. The pickled corn and squash clashed with the dressing, and the cold zoodles carried little taste.
Yuzu seems like a work in progress. On one visit I asked whether they had sushi, which had been mentioned when the counter opened in December. The clerk said the owners were planning to expand the menu.
I hope they do. Yuzu has so much potential.
This article is part of a series of reviews of White Star Market Vendors. Look for more in future issues of Red.
Inside White Star Market, 4624 Government St.
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Pros: Premium, well-prepared ingredients
Cons: No chef-created bowls. Too many choices.