According to the US Census Bureau, more than half (49.3) of all Americans reported they did not “dine out” between Fall, 2009 and Fall, 2011. That’s the lowest percentage since 2007 and could be indicative of the pervasive economic malaise or perhaps of the uncertainty as to what constitutes “dining out.” The Census Bureau did not define the term so it’s conceivable “dining out” was interpreted as a meal at a “fancy restaurant” with table service and a wine menu as opposed to say, a meal at a fast food restaurant or picking up a burger from a food truck.
One data point the Census Bureau did not research is the percentage of people who don’t like sushi. A sushi chef acquaintance tells me sushi isn’t something people merely just “like” or are indifferent to. They either love it or hate it. He contends that most, not all, people who claim to hate it have never tried really good sushi. A quick perusal through Google seemingly contradicts his theory, revealing numerous sites and Facebook pages dedicated to the derision of sushi. In almost all cases, the haters had tried sushi and found it not to their liking (to say the least).
Not surprisingly, one demographic which loves sushi is white people. Confirmation of this “unimpeachable” fact can be found in the amusing Stuff White People Like Web site. Before you accuse me of xenophobia or racism, the author–a self-admitted “veteran white person”–employs generalizations and stereotypes in a humorous manner to poke fun at the most prominent American demographic to which he belongs (in other words, he’s trying to be funny). The author contends that “regardless if you are vegetarian, vegan, or just guilty about eating meat, all white people love Sushi. To them, it’s everything they want: foreign culture, expensive, healthy, and hated by the ‘uneducated.’
He further observes that there is a definite hierarchy of sushi loving white people, ranging from the “spicy tuna/California roll eaters” (who don’t really care about the authenticity of the sushi as much as they do the experience of eating it) to the “white sushi snobs” who “only sit at the sushi bar, will try to order in Japanese” and will complete the authentic experience by washing their sushi down with sake. One sushi restaurant which will appease all white people is the aptly named I Love Sushi restaurant at the Del Norte Plaza shopping center on San Mateo.
White people or not, visitors to I Love Sushi will be greeted with a warm “Irasshaimase,” the Japanese word for “Welcome.” I Love Sushi has been making everyone feel welcome since it opened in 2000. The 36-seat restaurant, a multiple-time “best sushi” award-winner in Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual poll has become one of the most popular Japanese restaurants in the Duke City. It’s been that way practically since it first launched, its popularity further cemented when in 2004, a teppan grilling station was added.
While many diners visit I Love Sushi to watch the prestidigitation of the knife-wielding teppan chefs, most seem to gravitate toward the sushi bar where they can commune with the restaurant’s owner and sushi chef Tom Yun. As personable a restaurateur as you’ll find in Albuquerque, he’s all business when deftly creating unique maki rolls, the likes of which few restaurants will attempt. A wall of faux river stones and a stuffed marlin backdrop the sushi bar in which chef Yun plies his craft.
Shortly after being presented with the sushi menu, an attentive server will bring to your table, a warm bowl of traditional miso soup and a salad with orange-ginger dressing. Neither are particularly exciting, but then you’ll probably be so eager to get to the sushi that they wouldn’t leave much of an impression even if they were noteworthy. Appetizers are much more interesting, albeit fairly standard: Chicken Yakitori, Egg Roll, Fried Calamari, Vegetable Tempura, Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura Aged Tofu, Edamame and Gyoza. The vegetable tempura is excellent, each succulent vegetable crispy on the outside and perfectly cooked inside.
The menu offers sushi, sashimi and a variety of maki rolls, but it’s an illuminated hand-scrawled menu by the sushi bar where you’ll find chef Yun’s most creative work. This includes the aptly named Burrito Roll: spicy baby lobster, avocado and Kanpyo (gourd strips) encased in a warm egg roll skin and served with Sriracha, a semi-sweet and piquant Japanese chili sauce made from sun-ripened chilies. The impression of “burrito” is more visual than it is from a taste perspective though the Sriracha does bear a resemblance to some New Mexican salsas. The burrito roll is quite good.
The Amigo Roll is another unique offering on the non-traditional menu, a beauteous maki roll made with tuna, salmon, red snapper, crab and roasted green chile. The green chile is more piquant than the green chile offered at many New Mexican restaurants. The uniquely named Yummy Crunch is even more unconventional. It starts with a Japanese “nacho,” a single “chip” topped with tuna, salmon, cucumber, avocado, cream cheese and a “special” sauce. It’s as much fun to look at as it is to eat. Then there’s the “football,” spicy scallops inside a sweet fried tofu skin.
There are a number of more traditional maki rolls on the menu and for purists who dismiss roll-style sushi as a flight of fancy, the nigiri-style sushi (particularly the mackerel, unagi (eel) and tuna) is fresh and delicious. In the hands of a true master sushi chef, you don’t have to be a white person to love I Love Sushi. It’s one of the Duke City’s best for sushi.
I Love Sushi
6001 San Mateo, Suite F-4
LATEST VISIT: 29 October 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Burrito, Tuna Tempura Roll, Spider Roll, New Mexico Roll, Amigo Roll, Yummy Crunch, Salmon Tempura Roll, Football, Mackerel, Unagi, Tuna