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Shaka Burrito brings waves of tropical vibes to New Brunswick

<p>“Tamarindo,”a Costa Rican-inspired dish comprised of pineapple barbecue chicken wings with chipotle ranch sauce and thinly-sliced scallions.</p>

“Tamarindo,”a Costa Rican-inspired dish comprised of pineapple barbecue chicken wings with chipotle ranch sauce and thinly-sliced scallions.

Surf’s up! Shaka Burrito is making waves on Albany Street with healthy, organic surf-inspired creations.

As I walked down Albany Street in search of dinner, the glowing aquariums inside Shaka lured me in.

I was welcomed in with an “Aloha,” a common greeting used in the Hawaiian language. The bamboo-lined walls, surfboards hanging on the ceiling and tiki bar temporarily transported me from New Brunswick to a tropical island.

“Shaka” is a greeting gesture associated with surfing. According to the restaurant’s website, it takes on meanings from “all right,” “cool” and “smooth” to “hello” and “goodbye.” It is also used to convey the “Aloha Spirit,” which includes friendship, understanding and thanks.

While surfing on Hawaii’s North Shore in 2007, Phil Sciortino came across a burrito and shaved ice stand. He brought the concept back east to his native Jersey Shore, where the original Shaka still stands in Long Branch.

Since then, the business has been sold to current owner Mustafa Coskun and aims to serve organic food at affordable prices.

The man behind Shaka’s New Brunswick location is executive chef and manager Adam Livow. A chef for 12 years, Livow has worked in hotels, banquet catering and fine dining. After a short time in California, he returned to New Jersey after being contacted by a past co-worker and friend.

Livow’s friend, Michael Norris, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris, also happens to be the operations director for all Shaka locations. Norris pitched Shaka’s concept to Livow knowing it would be right up his alley.

“I have been active in sports all of my life, and nutrition and food quality has always been an important part of my life,” Livow said.

While the restaurant’s Hawaiian theme is certainly prominent, it strives to encompass famous surf locales from all around the world. Flavors from Costa Rica, Chile, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, California and Indonesia can all be found on the menu.

“We set out to make region specific dishes that were [are] both healthy and flavorful, all while maintaining the precedent of cross-utilization,” Livow said.

I started off with the “Tamarindo,” a Costa Rican-inspired pineapple barbecue chicken wings appetizer served with chipotle ranch sauce and topped with thinly sliced scallions.

The appetizer came with three wings and three drumsticks coated in a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce that was finger-licking good. The scallions cut through the richness of the chicken, which was moist and juicy with a slightly crunchy skin.

I also ordered the “Bundoran,” which ended up being one of my favorite dishes. The Irish roasted salmon marinated in organic honey and Irish whiskey — served with buckwheat soba noodle slaw, mustard cress and meyer lemon crema — had a nice seared crust. The fragrant lemon crema provided an acidic touch to the fish. 

The noodle slaw was coated in a light sauce, and the crunchiness of the carrots and red and yellow peppers provided a bite that contrasted with the soft noodles. 

The restaurant uses fresh, all natural ingredients from both local and international vendors, proving the priority it places on the preparation and sources of its food. 

In addition to Irish salmon and Pacific Mahi Mahi, Shaka uses 100 percent grass-fed New Zealand Beef, which can be found in their rice bowls, burritos, taco and quesadillas.

“We import our meat from New Zealand because they practice 100 percent grass feeding,” Livow said. “They graze their animals in a manner called random pasture grazing. This allows the animals to graze naturally and get the maximum nutritional value from the pasture grazing.”

The South African-inspired “J’Bay” entrée features grass-fed beef with a cinnamon-rubbed Teres Major steak served with coconut-infused mashed sweet potatoes, adobe black beans, sautéed peppadew, onions and Shaka steak sauce.

Shaka’s motto, “Represent the Positive,” comes through in many aspects of its business operation, from being eco-friendly to donating to local charities. Its buildings are constructed from recycled and sustainable products like bamboo and reclaimed wood. Even more, all its to-go packaging is made from recycled paper, cardboard or sugarcane pulp. 

Its disposable plastic utensils and cups, made by a company called Vegware that uses cornstarch to produce its products, which contain no plastic at all and are 100 percent compostable.  

“Almost every food product … allows us to maintain a lower margin on food cost, to reflect in the prices the guests are paying and minimizes our trash output on a daily basis,” Livow said.

Representing the positive also includes donating 10 percent of all profits to earth-friendly charities and organizations including the Surfrider Foundation and Clean Ocean Action.

One of the most popular items on the menu, the “Big Kahuna” burrito, combines chicken, beef, jack and cheddar cheese, cabbage, guacamole, pico de gallo, adobe beans, cilantro brown rice, onions and corn salsa.

The burrito is made with a toasted whole wheat tortilla and served with tricolor chips and salsa. The cubed meat was tender, and the rest of the ingredients were evenly spread throughout the wrap. Although everything was cooked well, I felt it could have used a little more seasoning.

The Shaka medium hot sauce did the trick. Made with vinegar, carrot, guava paste, onion, tomato paste, garlic, habanero pepper, lime juice, salt and soybean oil, this hot sauce is the perfect balance of sweet, spicy and tangy.

As college students with busy schedules, Shaka allows the option of having a quick meal that is healthy, filling and guilt-free.

“The college-age generation seems to be very in touch with newer and healthier food trends,” Livow said. “They seem to be gearing away from the saturated fat, ‘stick to your bones’ kind of food and more toward putting better fuel in their system.”

In this day and age when multinational corporations serve fast food made with traces of pesticide and hormone-laden ingredients in an attempt to reduce costs, Shaka is a breath of fresh air. 

“It’s a shame that in order to eat well people have the preconceived notion that they will go broke,” Livow said. “We hope to change that conception one location and one meal at a time.

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