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The Goblin brings sushi to Detroit’s Mexicantown 

click to enlarge The Goblin’s “Firecracker” roll has an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vibe.

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The Goblin’s “Firecracker” roll has an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vibe.

Readers, how do you solve the perennial sushi problem? The chunk of roll they serve you is too big for one mouthful, but there's no way you can cut it in two with chopsticks. I feel sure the number of people who've ever asked for a knife in a sushi bar is zero. We just open wide and try to chew gracefully, lips closed.

If I've missed a technique, in my many years of enjoying sushi, let me know.

But that's a quibble, irrelevant to the joys of eating raw fish wrapped in sticky rice. The Goblin is a welcome anomaly on the Bagley Strip, otherwise made up solely of Mexican spots. It has sushi, nigiri, simple poke bowls, and a variety of Asian alcohols.

Drinks can be as simple as a 22-oz. Sapporo — "the Sam Adams of Japanese beer," according to a connoisseur visiting from California — or a Korean rice beer, Makku. I find in my notes both "artificial after-taste like building materials" and "I liked it," so go figure. It's also kind of sweet. Hitachino Nest is a family of canned beers from Japan. The company website says their white ale is brewed with wheat malt and flavored with coriander, orange peel, and nutmeg; they suggest a pairing: "The citrus profile is a nice interlude from the heat of the Crispy Spicy Tuna Roll. Refresh, spice, repeat!" Not sure we needed to be told that a cool beer goes well with spicy food, but yeah, it worked for me.

Korean rice wine Bekseju, on the other hand, has a smoky taste and is 13% alcohol, served in a Corona-style 375-ml. bottle with a plastic cup on the side. It was worth an experiment but not one I'd go back to. There's plenty of sake, as well, including Enter, which cook Ryan Tebbe describes as a good entry-level sake.

Tebbe apprenticed at the late Maru on Fort Street, where the aesthetic was "more is more" — like bacon, guacamole, or deep-fried sweet potato in your roll. The Goblin is more traditional and restrained, though it's possible to imagine it doing borrowings from Maru, like ceviche or a roll topped with pico de gallo. I mean, given the neighborhood ...

Among his dozen rolls now on offer, I'm always a fan of eel. Here it's barbecued, but not so much that the sea flavor is hidden, and there's eel sauce on top. I liked the Firecracker, despite its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vibe: shrimp tempura, crabstick, cream cheese, eel sauce, and spicy mayo. I found my Philadelphia roll was more cream cheese than salmon. "Crab salad" is another main ingredient in several rolls.

For the customer who hates seafood but has been dragged to the Goblin by friends, there's a chicken teriyaki roll, with cream cheese no less, to further distance the ocean. Maybe said land-based customer can ask the server to hold the eel sauce, too. Or maybe request a burger.

The sushi rice at Goblin is a bit sweeter than average, so you might consider nigiri or a bowl. All five of the Goblin bowls are three-ingredient: seafood plus cucumber and avocado. Since I'm not a cuke fan, I couldn't applaud this schema, but I admit that in theory the aesthetic crunch of cucumbers, the extravagant richness of avocado, and the redolent-of-the-sea essence of salmon or tuna makes a lot of sense. I went with eel for my bowl and was more than happy. You can also add spring mix, jalapeño, or scallions for an extra 50 cents apiece.

A chef's choice nigiri is usually a wise selection, for what chef doesn't like to strut his stuff? You get six pieces; I was enthralled by a torched scallop. Other nigiri options are cured mackerel, boiled shrimp, fried tofu, and sweet egg (tamago), but I was glad our chef did not go there and stuck with the various fishes instead.

For dessert, I loved the green tea cheesecake. The faint astringency of the tea is great with the very creamy cream cheese. The staff is also researching a mochi ice cream to add.

The Goblin's spot on Bagley, which has seen a bunch of restaurants come and go, is right across from Mexican Village. Tebbe says some customers are those who came down for Mexican Village, noticed a sushi spot across the street, and returned the next weekend to try it out. It's hard to imagine two such different cuisines, so good for them. If they become big fans, they can buy pink or blue hoodies with "The Goblin" in Korean characters.

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