There aren’t a lot of purple foods, but those that lie somewhere between red and blue tend to be vibrant and surprising. Think of the complex purple of grapes, the nearly black purple of an eggplant, and the unexpected purple found in some varieties of cauliflower, carrots, and potatoes. The pigments responsible are called “anthocyanins,” and they also have a role to play in making a type of rice appear black in its raw state and purple after some time in the rice cooker. That black / purple rice is a key feature at Harumi Sushi in Downtown Phoenix.
Despite an official address on Adams, Harumi’s entrance is actually on First Avenue. The restaurant is halfway between the Van Buren light rail stations to the north and the Washington / Central (westbound) and Jefferson / First Avenue (eastbound) couplet to the south. From any of those platforms, the restaurant is an easy walk of no more than two blocks. For those who arrive via bicycle, parking meters with side loops for bike lock-up are found across the street on the east side of First Avenue, as well as around the corner on both Adams and Monroe.
The space is box-shaped, narrow and long. There’s a small sushi bar along the side of the room and tables stretching far into the back on the space. A counter, used mostly by solo diners at lunchtime, faces outward toward First Avenue. The decor is neat but minimal. The walls have a few simple art pieces and a video screen touting the health benefits of the restaurant’s signature dark rice, but there’s no kitsch or trendiness in the restaurant’s interior. At night, the restaurant operates in full service mode with a friendly staff seating customers and taking orders.
The selection of appetizers includes standards such as seaweed salad, miso soup, and edamame. Dumplings come pan fried, eight to an order, and stuffed with minced chicken. Other starter choices include small plates of sashimi, sushi, and tempura. More unusual choices include jalapenos stuffed with tuna, crab, and cream cheese, along with a “sexy crab salad” of radishes and avocado combined with a bit of imitation crustacean meat. These last two items lean in the direction of contemporary fusion food, something echoed among the special rolls.
All rolls and nigiri, whether traditional or trendy, incorporate the restaurant’s signature style of rice. The result is sushi much darker than is typically seen and a slightly nutty taste due to the black rice. The flavor and texture of Harumi’s rice are as distinctive as its color; however, they never overpower the clean, simple, and fresh taste of the fish. Chef’s selections of sushi and sashimi are good choices for those who don’t want to pick and choose a la carte. Harumi also offers the option of chirashi, an assortment of fish, vegetables, egg, and roe over sushi rice.
The a la carte menu of sushi and sashimi offers the usual staples: salmon, albacore, yellowtail, and mackerel are consistently good and distinguished not only by the suppleness of the fish, but also by the vibrant pigment of the rice underneath. If there’s ever any doubt if Harumi has appeal beyond its colorful rice, the sashimi selection should prove the fish has plenty of appeal of its own. In fact, the oasis roll is an entirely rice-less preparation. A core of tuna, salmon, and avocado is wrapped in thinly sliced cucumber instead of the usual outer layer of grain.
Most of the rolls, whether classic or creative, include rice. The mango crunch roll combines tuna and salmon with the world’s most widely consumed fruit. The “crunch” comes from little tempura flakes. The spicy salmon roll shines by never letting the added ingredients overpower the fish. The rainbow roll is clever with a standard California roll wrapped in an outer layer of fresh fish: salmon, tuna, hamachi. A meatless choice is the asparagus roll, a simple, light creation of asparagus and cucumber unencumbered by cream cheese or other heavy ingredients.
During the lunch hour, Harumi operates under a fast-casual model. Customers order at a front counter, wait for their numbers to be called, and bus their own tables. With the exception of udon noodle soup, everything offered at night is available during the day, and customers can mark up a sushi menu or order hot foods from the kitchen in any combinations they might choose. Nevertheless, many customers stop at the grab-and-go case to pick up sushi assortments prepared that day. Others select bento lunches, a popular option offered only at midday.
The bento boxes begin with white or fried rice. The second step is choice of chicken, spicy chicken, or tempura shrimp. Finally all sorts of garnishes are added. The result is either a bento box to go or the same food on a platter to eat on site. Each comes with rice, steamed vegetables, pickles that look like carrots due to an orange sauce, some salad, a piece of grilled tofu, and some sweet potato tempura. The teriyaki chicken is straightforward and satisfying,the spicy chicken is a not-too-fiery Japanese curry, and the shrimp are prepared in a tempura style.
Harumi keeps it simple by offering only ice cream and mochi for dessert. Although there is a liquor license, the beverage selection is limited to a modest selection of beer, wine, and sake. There are some nice flourishes like real wasabi for two dollars more, but for the most part, the focus is on the fish and, of course, the rice — the black-turns-to-purple rice that stands out at Harumi. Anthocyanins explain the rice’s color, and antioxidants account for its nutritional appeal, but the basics of good fish make the restaurant an appealing stop for sushi and sashimi.
January 8, 2016 update: Harumi has discontinued the bentos mentioned above and switched to full service at lunch.
114 W Adams St., Phoenix AZ 85003
Van Buren / First Avenue or Jefferson / First Avenue stations (westbound)
Van Buren / Central or Washington / Central stations (eastbound)