Nay-saying economic analysts who perpetuate the notion that even neighborhood monopolies would take advantage of a captive market don’t know Carter, chef-owner of Sushi Xuan Asian Grill. Rather than taking an oligopolous stance as owner of the only restaurant in the entire West Mesa to serve sushi, Carter knows he’s serving his friends and neighbors. As a West Mesa area resident for more than ten years, he wants to serve them only the very best and would never remotely conceive the notion of gouging them.
Having been trained by a master sushi chef, Carter plied his knowledge and training in a number of sushi restaurants throughout the Duke City before launching Sushi Xuan. He prides himself on the high quality, freshness and creativity of the cuisine proffered at his restaurant, having fresh fish flown in three times a day. He filets it himself to ensure it meets his exacting standards then to ensure the fish is coupled with the freshest produce, he goes shopping every morning. This is certainly the kind of benevolent businessman we all want in our neighborhoods.
Sushi Xuan is situated in the timeworn Sequoia Shopping Center. Despite a storefront obfuscated from the high volume of traffic on Coors Boulevard, it’s earned a reputation that spans wider than its neighborhood. Much of that is courtesy of word-of-mouth, the very best and least expensive marketing technique any restaurant can employ. Because Carter’s reputation precedes him, guests visiting for the first time have high expectations and more often than not those expectations are exceeded.
In addition to great food prepared by an innovative and conscientious chef, Sushi Xuan prides itself in providing excellent customer service in a relaxed milieu. For the utmost in personal service, sushi savants will station themselves on the sushi counter where they can watch the gregarious Carter perform deft feats of prestidigitation with knives that put the “amazing” Ginsu knife to shame. Maybe it’s a good thing, several maneki-neko cats, a symbol of good luck, are strategically positioned throughout the colorful restaurant.
Despite the name on the marquee, the menu at Sushi Xuan Asian Grill is much more expansive than sushi. The restaurant carries a broad selection of Japanese, Korean, Thai and Chinese entrees and appetizers, but this is no “fusion” restaurant. Nor is it a traditional Japanese teppanyaki restaurant even though many entrees are grilled. If sushi is what you’re after, you might want to visit during “happy hour” seven days a week from 2:30PM to 5:30PM when sushi is twenty percent off.
As you’re contemplating the menu, your choice of one of three soups–miso, egg drop or hot and sour–will be delivered to your table. It’s a refreshing and very customer-oriented change to have your choice instead of the de rigueur miso soup. The hot and sour soup is among the very best in the city, but it’s available only in winter. It lives up to its name with lip-pursing qualities aficionados will enjoy. The egg drop soup is similarly an exemplar of excellence. Both are served steaming hot which means your enjoyment might be postponed briefly.
In Japanese restaurants, diners often forego appetizers and let the soup serve as a starter. Do so at your own peril at Sushi Xuan because the appetizer menu is a sterling model of authenticity and deliciousness, offering such timeless classics as edamame, gyoza, chicken Yakitori and calamari tempura. The menu also offers a number of salads including the Sunomono Salad (octopus, shrimp, squid with cucumber salad) and the ever-popular Viagra salad.
The sushi menu is extensive, belying the relatively small area in which Carter creates. There’s the requisite nigiri sushi (two pieces per order) as well as sashimi (six pieces per order) and hand rolls, but mostly there’s roll-type sushi, including a number of specialty rolls. Look for the latter on the Chef’s Special Roll and Chef’s Special Request menus. Specialty rolls, created in Los Angeles in the 1960s to attract more Americans to sushi, might be poo-pooed by purists, but they showcase the chef’s creativity and esthetic sense.
Among novitiates, especially New Mexican fire-eaters who believe pain is a flavor, there remains a mistaken notion that sushi rolls should provide an incendiary burn. They’ll use up all the wasabi and maybe even add some Sriracha to get the eye-watering, nose-running burn they want. This adventuresome lot would think the Screaming Roll is too tame. Inside the Screaming Roll you’ll find avocado, cucumber and crab while on top, the combustible quadrumvirate of salmon, tuna, tobiko, scallion and screaming sauce. Wasabi and Sriracha are wholly unnecessary. The screaming sauce, while mild compared even to some New Mexican chile, lends heat but not so much that you can’t enjoy the deliciousness of the other ingredients. That, not some masochistic thrill, really is the point of eating sushi.
As an Air Force veteran, my pride swelled at seeing an Air Force Roll on the menu. Carter invented this roll at the request of airmen from Kirtland Air Force Base who asked for all their favorite ingredients on one roll. My high-flying colleagues did me proud again.. The inside of the Air Force Roll includes shrimp tempura, avocado and cucumber. It’s topped with shrimp, tuna, crab meat and a crispy, crunch topping. The Air Force Roll is a concordance of flavors and textures wrapped in a beautifully artistic package. It may just send you into the wild blue yonder with delight.
Carter proves he’s no one-trick-pony with his terrific rendition of Thai and Chinese food entrees. As if to curry my favor, he prepared a very good version of Thai Curry Chicken, mostly white chicken and an assortment of vegetables (zucchini, onion, carrots, green and red peppers, cauliflower) in a yellow curry. The yellow curry is allowed to shine because coconut milk is used in moderation. This means a curry that’s not dessert sweet. Vegetables are perfectly prepared, crunchy to the degree they should be and very fresh.
One of the specialties of the house is coffee chicken, a dish invented by Carter’s father for Chow’s restaurant. It’s an award-winning dish frequently ordered when sweet and sour entrees won’t do. The flavor profile of this dish is mostly sweet with a faint hint of non-acidic roasted coffee for good measure. The chicken has a double-fried texture meaning it’s very crispy and crunchy, almost as if overly breaded. A few Thai bird peppers add just a hint of piquancy.
Sushi aficionados are torn as to what Albuquerque’s premiere sushi restaurant is. Sushi Xuan is almost always in the discussion. As long as Chef Carter is at the helm, this sterling sushi restaurant which offers so much more, will be on that short list.
Sushi Xuan Asian Grill
417 Tramway Blvd #3
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 19 January 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Screaming Roll, Air Force Roll, Thai Curry Chicken, Coffee Chicken, Hot and Soup Soup, Pork Fried Rice