Hui Guo is a humble and unpretentious individual. Family. Friends. Community. All are important to him. Guo is also the owner/manager/chief chef for the Grey Whale Sushi and Grill located in downtown Lincoln’s Grand Manse building.
The affable Guo opened the Japanese restaurant in 2016, wanting an establishment that was close to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln downtown campus. He admits that he has a soft spot in his heart for students, as well as the desire to offer students and others a relaxed dining experience that tastes good and is affordable. Also, his sister was a student at UNL.
In the intervening years, the Lincoln community became more important to him – one of Guo’s daughters was born in Lincoln, and his restaurant was successful enough to open a second eatery even closer to the UNL campus, the Grey Whale Poke Bowl at 1317 Q St. Guo said that the restaurant was the first to offer poke bowls in Nebraska. The Grey Whale Poke Bowl features ready-made or build-it-yourself bowls.
But it is the Grand Manse location where one will find Guo offering up a wealth of different Japanese maki and hand rolls, sushi, sashimi, yakisoba and bento boxes. With a dozen years of experience as a sushi chef, including stints in New York City, New Orleans and other locales, Guo is proud of his variety of dining options at Grey Whale.
He said that he likes to create variations of Japanese staples with slight twists to the customary – “Each sushi restaurant has its own distinct differences and individual flavors.”
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Guo emphasizes that through his experiences in the food industry, he has developed some close contacts on both coasts, which has yielded the restaurant overnight shipments of the necessary food items the Grey Whale requires to produce good Japanese food. “Fresh food is the most important thing for a restaurant,” he said.
The restaurant’s interior is crisp and simplistic – polished wood floors accented by large windows and dark wood trim – mirroring Guo’s preference to have his culinary creations impress his customers.
The Grey Whale’s lunch crowd usually consists of business and office professionals, vacationers from area hotels and downtown apartment dwellers. In the evening, it is “all kinds of people from young adults and college students to families.”
According to Guo, the Grey Whale menu is updated regularly, with Guo bringing in new menu items and asking staff members and patrons for feedback on the offerings’ quality and taste.
With an exhaustive menu, Guo likes to highlight the restaurant’s Happy Hour bargains – a component that underscores his desire to provide quality, good tasting food at an affordable price. Grey Whale’s Happy Hour times are all day on Tuesday and Sunday; 4-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 3-6:30 p.m. Saturday; and late night after 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Most Happy Hour menus offer up a limited number of choices, and that is also, in a way, the case with Grey Whale. However, given the copious number of regular menu Grey Whale items, its Happy Hour menu is much larger than most.
With 19 options, Group One of Maki rolls range from $3.50 to $5.50 and include offerings such as Spicy Yellowtail, California Roll, New York Roll and Hamachi Jalapeno Roll. Group Two is a ditherer’s nightmare with a total of 32 roll choices with costs ranging from $4.50 to $13.95 and including such choices as Monkey Jump Roll (shrimp tempura and crab, topped with eel sauce, spicy mayo and green onion), Corn Huskers Roll (tempura-style eel, asparagus and salmon with eel sauce, spicy mayo and sriracha), Rainbow Roll (crab, cucumber and avocado topped with tuna, salmon, white fish and shrimp) and Mango Tango (shrimp tempura, cream cheese avocado topped with spicy salmon and mango).
Appetizers on the Happy Hour menu include Edamame ($4), Crab Rangoon ($4.50), Gyoza ($4.50), Seaweed Salad ($4.50), Curry Gyoza ($6), SUMO Crunch Sushirrito ($12.50), Latin Ninja Sushirrito ($12.50) and Flaming Hot “Cheetorito” ($12.95). Beer, cocktails and Sake also have special Happy Hour prices.
Grey Whale’s regular menu is quite large with several categories. There are nine Sushi Bar Appetizers ($6.95-$10.95); 13 Kitchen Appetizers ($5.75-$9.95); two soups ($2.50); eight salads ($4.50-$8.95); 19 Cooked Maki Roll or Hand Roll [maki – cylindrical and cut in pieces; hand – cone shaped and eaten with hands] ($5-$7.95); 10 Raw Maki Roll or Hand Roll ($6.50-$7.95); eight Vegetable Maki Roll or Hand Roll ($4.50-$5.95); 42 Sushi Chef Special Roll ($8.50-$13.88); four Fire Roll ($13.50); 29 Ala Carte Sushi and Sashimi ($4-$14); seven Kitchen Entree ($9.95-$13.88); 13 Hibachi Choices ($11.99-$20.99); eight Bento Boxes ($10.95-$16.95) and four Yakisoba [stir-fried noodles with vegetable and protein] ($10.95-$13.95).
Liquid refreshments include soda, tea, domestic, imported and craft beers, white and red wine, a variety of sake and cocktails.
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According to Guo, customer favorites are the Monkey Jump Roll ($6.95), Crazy Sisters Roll (named for his two daughters – avocado, crab, cucumber and cream cheese, topped with sriracha, eel sauce, green onions and sesame seeds, $6.95) and Grey Whale Roll (shrimp tempura and mango, thin slices of avocado, fresh tuna, two types of tobiko on top and served with chef’s special sauce, $12.95).
Guo said he enjoys bringing new dining items and tastes to Lincoln … new ideas that he adapts … creating unique sauces, trying different ingredients and making new dining experiences.
“I want to try to make people happy,” he said. “Everyone who works here works hard to provide diners with a positive dining experience, so that they are happy with food, service and cost.”
So, where did the name Grey Whale come from?
Cracking a smile, Guo responds … “Well, it sounds real fishy!”
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