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Sushi and Sake – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sushi  & Sake, all you can eat sushi in Nob Hill.

Sushi & Sake, all you can eat sushi in Nob Hill. There's a second Sushi & Sake on Academy

If white wine goes with fish,
do white grapes go with sushi?
George Carlin

A reader once asked Washington Post humorist Gene Weingarten what he was a snob about. His reply, “I am also a snob about food. The other day, in Baltimore, I passed a sign outside a restaurant that said “Sushi Buffet!‘ and laughed out loud because it occurred to me that “sushi” and “buffet” are two words that should never appear together.”  His sentiment resonates strongly with sushi aficionados who adhere to the strict rules of etiquette which governs the way in which true sushi snobs enjoy sushi.

It’s a given that a true sushi snob would never eat at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant nor would such a snob ever be found mingling with the rabble who sit in booths or receive table service.  Sushi snobs will only sit at a sushi bar in as close proximity to the sushi chef as possible.  They like to converse with the sushi chef, hoping to ingratiate themselves by asking the right questions to demonstrate they are savvy connoisseurs and not “trough-divers” like most of the crowd.  They treat the sushi chef like Magellan, their esteemed navigator on a culinary adventure.

Who says sushi chefs have to be men?

Who says sushi chefs have to be men?

Rapport with the chef established, sushi snobs will generally order Omakase, a term which translates literally from Japanese to “It’s up to you.” More specifically, omakase means the menu is left up to the chef. This gives the sushi chef the opportunity to showcase their skills, to serve what they think is good. Omakase tends to be quite expensive, giving the restaurant a nice profit margin. For the true sushi snob, this is all well and good. They accept that being a sushi snob ain’t cheap.

One Albuquerque sushi restaurant in which no true food snob would be caught dead is Sushi & Sake, an all-you-can-eat sushi concept which defies all the traditions to which food snobs hold fast. While the sushi snob may adhere strictly to tradition and etiquette, it is no longer a “losing face” taboo for sushi chefs to defy centuries old traditional path. Even sacrosanct training methods are starting to fall by the wayside. Perhaps it’s because these traditional training methods are so strictly regimented and rigorous.

Caterpillar roll (inside-out maki roll with avocado on the outside) and Shrimp Tempura Roll

For up to a year, training involves nothing but properly preparing sushi rice before a chef candidate is even allowed to clean fish. Cleaning and filleting fish involves comprehending the differences in the flesh and texture of each species. This phase of training can also take up to a year. By the time these chefs prepare their first piece of sushi, they will have mastered techniques designed to bring out the very best in each fish in terms of texture, taste and presentation.

Over the past quarter century or so, sushi’s burgeoning popularity has meant the dilution of the product. You no longer have to visit a Japanese restaurant for sushi. In Albuquerque, you can find passable to good sushi served in Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese restaurants. You can even find sushi in local organic food superstores throughout the city. It’s highly unlikely this sushi is prepared by chefs schooled in the traditional ways. This does not mean the sushi is inedible (although a true sushi snob could never choke any of it down).

"Silly Sushi" - not after you taste it.

Contemporary sushi chefs, even many from Japan, craft their own creative variations to their sushi, in essence creating the antithesis of the “purity” for which traditionalists strive.  Another sushi tradition which has started to fall by the wayside is the prohibition of female sushi chefs. Several reasons, the most plausible having to do with traditional gender role assignments, are given for the scarcity of female sushi chefs.

In the Duke City, the restaurant with the most creative sushi offerings is Sushi & Sake on Central Avenue. It’s also one of only two sushi restaurants I’ve seen employing a female sushi chef.  In 2010, a second instantiation of Sushi & Sake launched, the scion being located on Academy where Tomato Cafe once held court for more than a decade.

Ornately decorated sushi

Ornately decorated sushi

The Central Avenue Sushi & Sake occupies part of the building which houses the Korean BBQ House and is owned by the same people. It launched in January, 2005 and has been a very popular draw as it probably will be for a long time.  The restaurant features an “all you can eat (AYCE) in an hour” dining concept, but unlike American buffet restaurants, takes precautions to minimize waste. Aside from having only one hour to consume all the sushi you can handle, you’re permitted only one re-order and will be charged for sushi left unconsumed.

The AYCE includes one “chef’s special” per person. The menu lists twelve chef’s specials, each one seemingly a greater departure from tradition than the other. A picture of each special illustrates just how creative and colorful sushi can be when taken beyond traditional boundaries…far beyond in some cases..

The pizza roll.

The pizza roll.

Okay, I’m not talking sushi with peanut butter or chocolate here, but when is the last time you had sushi with mango. Mango is the featured ingredient on Sushi & Sake’s “Mango Tango” maki roll. Nestled inside its rice bed is tempura battered shrimp, but atop the rice are strips of tangy mango sprinkled with Masago, the small eggs of a smelt-like fish. These eggs are a different, almost luminescent, shade of orange than is the mango.

The dressing accompanying the Mango Tango is a citrus and wasabi combination. A tangy sweetness is the prominent taste on this roll. It’s probably not one you would want to dip into your wasabi and soy sauce mix and maybe not even one you might order a second time, but it’s a very interesting piece of sushi.

Sushi & Sake's second restaurant, on Academy

Sushi & Sake's second restaurant, on Academy

Another unique special from the chefs’ fertile minds is the Amigo roll, perhaps the sushi equivalent of a chile relleno. Get this–a New Mexico green chile (spelled “chili” on the menu) is actually stuffed with crab meat then nestled within sushi rice. No wasabi is necessary to spice this one up. It is served with a spicy dressing that seems to include both wasabi and chile.

On yet another maki roll chicken, not fish is featured–and it’s pretty darn good. So too is the “pizza roll” which is actually a California roll with salmon on top and which is baked in a small casserole dish. The “pizza sauce” seems to be a caramelized teriyaki sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds. Take it slow with this one because it comes straight out of the oven and can singe your tongue and the roof of your mouth.

Crunchy Munchy Roll (Spicy Tempura, Crab Meat Topped With Spicy Crab and Crunchy Tempura Flakes) and Hot Mamma Roll (Spicy Tuna and Cucumber, Topped With Spicy Crab with a Spicy Dressing)

The “Albuquerque special roll” looks more like a Vietnamese spring roll than it does a hand roll. It features crab, shrimp, avocado, cucumber and lettuce enveloped in egg roll wrapper.

Perhaps as if to ingratiate itself upon local diners, Sushi & Sake also serves a Green Chili Roll in which the flavor of roasted green chile is prominent despite the restaurant’s abhorrent spelling: “chili.” For some reason, the roasted green chile effect seems so much more pronounced on sushi than on most New Mexican food dishes.

Spicy Tuna Hand Roll and Four Pieces of Unagi

The two-page AYCE menu includes many of the standard sushi items you’ll find at almost every other sushi restaurant in town, but you’ll also find some uniquely prepared and distinctively non-traditional pieces of sushi. The traditionally schooled sushi chefs might not approve of some of them (and the sushi chef never would), but Albuquerque diners seem not to care. It is, after all, sushi and it’s all you can eat.

Sushi and Sake
3200 Central, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM
338-2425

LATEST VISIT: 18 June 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Teriyaki Chicken Roll; Mexican Roll; Pizza Roll; Green Chile Roll

Sushi and Sake on Urbanspoon

  • R says:

    Because of this place, I haven’t been able to each sushi for a year. The sushi chefs failed to deshell the seafood before rolling it up in the roll and, mind you, it wasn’t one of those decorate pieces that stick out. Because they failed to give us napkins, I couldn’t spit out my food discreetly. So I tried to swallow it and almost gagged. I tried to eat the other rolls, but my dinner was ruined. So I left and got an ice cream next door to get the taste out of my mouth.

    March 31, 2009 at 3:08 PM
  • Ian says:

    All things considered, this is BY FAR the BEST sushi restaurant in NM! Way to be, Chef Koji :)

    April 1, 2009 at 10:55 AM
  • CAL says:

    This is our family’s favorite sushi place. They have a large, inventive and delicious variety of sushi items. Most of them are wonderful. They do a large business and it always tastes fresh. The wait staff has a lot of turnover and could be more attentive, but there is no waiting on the food.

    June 20, 2009 at 11:51 PM
  • LJ Ross says:

    One of my favorite sushi places in town. Consistently inventive and the wait staff – including the sushi chefs are very knowledgeable. For those who enjoy a variety of creative “rolls” – this is the place. The AYCE at lunch is especially good if you’re with a group – for a little over $20/person it is a bargain and has never failed to satisfy.

    June 24, 2009 at 9:19 PM
  • Hiroyuki Sakaguchi says:

    Let me first say that I have never in my life been treated so poorly at a restaurant that I’ve actually taken the effort to find a site and give it a review so as to deter other people from being exposed to such poor service. It was my birthday and a couple of friends and I went to Sushi and Sake to get some sushi, right? This was my first time there, so I didn’t know what to expect. My friend had said the sushi was quite high-grade and it was all-you-can-eat for $20. It sounded great. Before I start on the rant, let me say that the food isn’t the problem. The sushi is quite good, and they have a lot of unusual, non-traditional varieties on the menu. So we enter the building…..it’s a pretty busy place I see. Before we open our mouths, a waiter at the front says in a snappy voice, “How many?”. We answer, and without even saying anything she leads us to our seats. We explained that 2 of us wanted the all-you-can-eat. We had already sat down, but upon hearing this she gestures at me and commands, “Okay, you come sit here.”. Apparently, she wanted me to sit on the same side of the table as the friend who was also getting all-you-can-eat, so they could keep an eye on us and make sure we weren’t sharing with the other two. She actually SAID this. When we ordered she made the friend and I order off the same sheet. The AYCE came with choices of sides. We ordered our drinks and sides. I ordered green tea, which came in a kettle. She then proceeded to explain that I couldn’t share my tea. Um, ok….When she came back she forgot my sides, and my friend’s drink. When I told her this in a polite voice, she glared at me and went to retrieve them. Well, we ate and it was delicious. I ordered A LOT, it being AYCE and all. I mention this because it becomes relevant later. We finished eating and paid, I noticed that my bill was over $24….for a $20 meal…..but whatever, I thought. Apparently there was an “18%” included gratuity. Not knowing if it actually went to the waiter, and despite the HORRIBLE service, I left a $5 on the table. So did my friend. Having been a waiter, I knew how important tips were, and I though if shown kindness, maybe this crone will mend her ways. Talking to my friend ’bout the horrible service afterwards, I find that our waiter was actually the OWNER! Ok, now I was quite angry. How can the OWNER treat her patrons so horribly!? I dismissed it and moved on with my life….Alright, now what makes me write this review….I and the same group went back ’bout a month later. The owner is there again. Let me skip the particulars….she was even RUDER this time. When it came time to order, she let us know of a few new “rules” regarding AYCE. A bunch of items were restricted to a limited amount, and you could only re-order once within the hour. Alright, I could live with it…..I ordered a great deal on my first order, knowing you could only re-order once. When she picked up my order, she glanced at it and replied rudely, “I cannot accept this order.”. I was stumped. “Why?” I asked. “You order too much, no one can eat this much.” I informed her that I could. She then told me ’bout the rule (that was posted on a tiny piece of paper on the wall, in sharpee, and barely visible) that dictated if you left anything uneaten you would pay for it. I was getting angrier ’bout all of this, but I agreed, knowing that I could finish all of it. After this entire exchange….she STILL refused my order. SHE JUST WALKED AWAY FROM US. I then realized what this was all about. The most DISHONEST business practice I had ever witnessed! Apparently customers that order too much on the all-you-can-eat, make her lose money. They’re too effective at getting their money’s worth. That is why she disliked me, I ate too much. We just got up and left. Had some delicious sandwiches at Schlotzky’s Deli where, I’m happy to say, we were treated like human beings. Bottom line, don’t give your business to such a dishonest woman.

    July 23, 2009 at 2:48 AM
  • Nicole says:

    Hiroyuki Sakaguchi: hahaha. hey. erm… i’m from malaysia and don’t worry, EVERYONE is like that :) i just migrated here and at first i thought everyone wanted to rob me or something being so friendly, then i realised everyone WAS supposed to be like this. it’s great, but just know that in malaysia (and most asian countries) some waiters and waitresses don’t even come to you for your orders, they just sit down and chat by themselves in a corner (i think they were probably trying to avoid working): you’ve gotta get up and call them over. and when you do call them over, they talk exactly like the woman you mentioned :) but most of them are like that, don’t take it to heart! ASIA’S like that. they dont mean to be rude or anything, it’s just how it’s done.

    about her dishonesty… we-ell, it sounds like asia again! don’t be angry about it. and i’m sure she doesnt mean to be rude. i mean that’s probably how she acted back in japan or wherever she came from, and now she works there she probably cant understand why westerners are so picky and stuff. cos back where i came from you dont judge a restaurant by it’s waiters and waitresses (every restaurant’s gonna fail then) you judge it by it’s food, and the time the food takes to reach your table. and also, even if you like it’s food no one ever goes and compliments the chef, you just go back again and supply them with more business :D

    it’s the same in the markets. you just pick whatever, and when you ask the price they bark it at you and go back to whatever they were doing (like reading the paper). it’s not rude, just that no one can be bothered with you. if you try to ask the other customers/people beside you, they’d probably stare at you and walk away. hehe.

    dont be too angry! i hope this helps and you understand now :)

    January 13, 2010 at 2:46 PM
  • juniper berri says:

    Hi

    I was a Nob Hill sushi hoe (waitress) before going back to college a couple years ago.
    My first was Sushi and Sake, and they did not want to hire me but ran out of excuses.
    Yes, I have experience in sushi. Yes, I can work double shifts everyday, yes I know how to bend over and, well, and so on.
    The owner is from Korea and what Nicole is saying about the asian rude factor is true, especially in Korea!
    OMG, that women! She screamed at me everyday. I do think she is above the norm on wound up tight and extremely dense about customer service and just plain mean. But, every night after closing we all sat down family style to an amazing dinner and talked and laughed.
    It was weird alright. I just learned right away not to take it personally. Okay, so I lasted about 3 months before another waitress, who barely spoke english and had started a few days before me, tried to stab me with her pencil as she screamed at me outside the front door. Petty power trips. We both got axed.

    Now, this gets interesting as I still go in there with my boyfriend, who is 160lbs but eats sushi like he’s 3000lbs. and my tall, not skinny skinny teenage son. She hates us and at one point tried to charge us more for extra wasabi and just generally glare and make us very unwelcome. The waitresses always say “this is alot food” when they pick up our order. Now we just hand it to the chefs. Strangely, I never saw anyone order more or eat more then tiny asian 20 year olds! They come in regularly.
    We have not been deterred by the owner because
    1) The chef specials are too damn good and can’t be found anywhere else
    2) with the company I keep is is our most economical choice

    We went in around mid Feb and (being a celebration and the fact we were slightly tipsy) proceeded to do several saki bombs with the chef (Jin is her brother and co-owner). It was super fun, our specials were enhanced, the mean owner lady was all smiles and next time we went, a week ago, she actually told my boyfriend she was glad to see him when he went inside for something. Wow.

    BTW: I immediatly got a job at Crazy Fish after getting fired fron Sushi and Saki
    YUM, their garlic sashimi is truely heaven. I love it there also. But personal advice, never sit at a table-sit at the bar. Better service, more fun.

    Happy Sushiness!

    April 16, 2010 at 2:25 PM
  • Lynn (NM Enchantment) says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for featuring my favorite sushi place! When my husband and I lived by UNM we went here twice a week for all-you-can-eat. I love this place! (And it’s so conveniently located next to Cold Stone for dessert…) Like Juniper Berri I highly recommend sitting at the bar. Absolutely the best sushi in ABQ, in my humble, land-locked opinion. :)

    June 20, 2011 at 11:36 PM
  • Valencia says:

    Icky….That’s all I’ve got to say. The calamari was so rubbery, I couldn’t chew it. I’ve had lots of calamari, but this cut was sub par. It looked as though they had attempted to tenderize it by scoring it all over. The service was okay, but I really wasn’t impressed. My udon noodles were overcooked. The veggies were cooked just right…Food was a bit salty….

    November 5, 2011 at 10:46 AM

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