Whenever I get to talk to Ferdian Jap, the co-owner of Zukku-San Sushi Bar & Grill on S.R. 56, it seems that he and co-owner and executive chef Gia Tran are always talking about their next venture.

Zukku-San’s original location, known as Zukku Sushi, is located in Armature Works near downtown Tampa, and is definitely more of a fast-casual sushi bar concept than Zukku-San’s more formal, sit-down dining room equipped with a premium full bar.

Even as our Zukku-San was opening, however, Ferdian and Gia were already opening another Zukku Sushi location in Charlotte, NC. 

And, sometime shortly thereafter, the first-ever location of the fast-casual concept restaurant known as Ato was opening in Lakeland, even though the second location of Ato also was getting ready to open in the KRATE at The Grove container park here in Wesley Chapel.

Ato opened here a couple of months ago and it basically combines a nice selection of Zukku-San’s appetizers (more on them below), along with both curated and make-your-own poké bowls and what the partners have dubbed “sushi burritos,” which are basically like super-sized sushi rolls, complete with seaweed (nori) wraps filled with sticky sushi rice and an assortment of available fillings.

Those Delicious Starters!

You long-time readers already know how much I love the appetizers available at Zukku-San, so please excuse me for repeating myself, as the starters at Ato offer a nice cross-section of the ones I love at Zukku-San.

First of all, while I still can’t eat shrimp (curse you, shellfish allergy), photographer Charmaine George loved Ato’s shrimp tempura appetizer served with the already-famous house-made ponzu sauce.

Speaking of shellfish issues, Ato head chef Walter Ruiz cautioned me that there is a possibility of cross-contamination in virtually everything served at Ato, but if you let them know you have an allergy, they will make sure to change into a fresh pair of gloves to prepare your food. That may not be enough for some of you to risk it, but after dozens of visits to Zukku-San and now four visits to Ato, I’ve never had my reaction after eating at either location.

Both the pan-sautéed (in egg and a sweet brown sauce) Zukku dumplings and the fried pork gyoza dumplings are nothing short of sublime.

The super-crisp vegetable spring rolls are served with the same slightly spicy orange chili sauce as at Zukku-San, but I like them better at Ato because the sauce is served on the side, which keeps those spring rolls cracklin’ crisp. At Zukku-San, the spring rolls are served atop the sauce, which does get them a little bit soggy. 

I personally have never been a big fan of crab Rangoon, but the crab-and-cream-cheese pillows are very popular with the folks we’ve seen eating them at Ato. Other starters include wakame (seaweed) salad, ginger tossed salad, miso (tofu) soup and edamame (soybeans).

Bowling You Over   

Ato also features a variety of big poké bowls already curated for you and also offers you the opportunity to “Express Yourself” by creating your own poké bowl.

My favorite of the curated bowls is the tuna poké, with fresh tuna, pickled red onions, masago (smelt roe/eggs), mixed greens, carrots, roasted corn, scallions, wonton chips and sesame seeds topped with a zesty, but not spicy, poké sauce. Charmaine and I both also enjoyed the spicy salmon poké bowl, with salmon, scallions, masago, wakame, cucumbers, mixed greens, carrots, grilled pineapple, pickled serrano peppers, togarashi (spice mixture), spicy nori (dried seaweed) and a not-too-spicy sriracha vin sauce.

Other curated bowls include the “Dynamite Bowl” with tempura shrimp, avocado, spicy mayo and veggies; the “Tiger Bowl,” with panko-breaded chicken, crab mix, broccoli, spicy mayo and sweet eel sauce; the “Trio Bowl” (salmon, tuna and hamachi, or yellowtail); and the “Florida Bowl,” with tuna, salmon and avocado.

There are three sizes of “Express Yourself” bowls, made with your choice of “Canvas” (sushi rice, brown rice or mixed greens), your choice of the proteins mentioned previously, one sauce per protein and lots of “Embellishments” (including asparagus and edamame beans) and “Finish It Up” options that include salmon bacon, teriyaki shitake mushrooms, cilantro and more.

The curated burritos include “The Buddha” (all veggies), the “Land & Sea” (with panko chicken and tempura shrimp), “The Godzilla” (spicy tuna, hamachi, tempura shrimp and crab mix) and “The Kraken” (salmon, crab mix, cream cheese, serrano peppers, pineapple and more). 

Ato also offers hot and cold sakes, pinot gris, pinot noir, Sapporo Japanese beer on draft and non-alcoholic drinks like fountain sods, coconut water, rotating flavors of Ramune Japanese sodas and certified organic Tractor beverages, including cold brew green tea, hibiscus and Mandarin orange & cardamom.

In other words, if you haven’t tried Ato yet, I think there’s a great chance you’ll love it when you do!

Ato is located at 5816 Goldview Pkwy., Suite 102, at the south end of the KRATEs. It is open from 11 a.m. every day until 9 p.m. Mon,-Fri., until 10 p.m. on Sat. and 7 p.m. on Sun. For more info, visit AtoPoke.com or call (813) 602-2015. Online ordering is available but delivery currently is not.

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