Sushi & Sake – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My Friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver Stands in Front of Sushi & Sake on Central Avenue

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.

The Expansive Dining Room

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 he or she thinks 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.

It used to be that the one Albuquerque sushi restaurant in which no true sushi snob would be caught dead was Sushi & Sake, which until its 2019 move back to Central Avenue offered an all-you-can-eat sushi concept which defies all the traditions to which food snobs hold fast. While some sushi snobs 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.

Array of Sushi

For up to a year, traditional training in the art of preparing sushi 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, Korean 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).

All You Can Eat Sushi

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.  There is also no scarcity of Mexican sushi chefs throughout the fruited plain, a fact relished by Anthony Bourdain who championed immigrants.

In the Duke City, the restaurant with arguably the most creative sushi offerings has been Sushi & Sake, the first instantiation of which closed its doors in 2018, another Nob Hill victim of high lease rates and an approximate 30 percent drop in business in recent years (can you say ART?)   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.  In 2019, Sushi & Sake returned to Central Avenue, just a few blocks east of its inaugural location.

Phat Joe, a Specialty Roll with Sweet Potato Flakes on Top

At its first two locations,  Sushi & Sake featured an “all you can eat (AYCE)” dining concept, but unlike American buffet restaurants, took precautions to minimize waste. Aside from having only one hour to consume all the sushi you can handle, you were permitted only one re-order and were charged for sushi left unconsumed.  The AYCE includes one “chef’s special” per person. The menu listed 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.

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.

Big Daddy, Another Specialty Roll

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. 

There’s more, much more, but you get the picture.  Sushi & Sake offers a delicious and inventive panoply of pretty maki rolls as well as thinly sliced sashimi appetizers.  The name “Sushi” on the marquee is certainly well earned.  So too is the “Sake” part of the restaurant’s name (though I certainly don’t know enough about sake to validate that).  Sushi & Sake offers a variety of hot and cold sake, a rice wine produced in the island country for more than two millennia.

Miso Soup

Not being sushi snobs, my Kim and I visited Sushi & Sake numerous times, indulging every visit in its all-you-can-eat sushi offering.   Though we often observed diners–particularly from the Land of the Morning Calm–luxuriating in umami-infused Korean foods, we seemed preternaturally drawn to soirees of sumptuous sushi.  Thankfully on one brisk October day, my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver was craving kalbi, Korean grilled marinated short ribs.  Next to chicken fried steak, kalbi may be Sr. Plata’s favorite indulgence.

23 October 2019: Kalbi is the first item listed on the “Korean Specialty Plates” section of the menu.  It also has a prominent place on a paper-based menu of dinner-for-two offerings where you can combine a number of Korean barbecue items served with “all the trimmings” and perhaps a bit of “sticker shock.”  Dinners for two are prepared by servers at your table on tabletop grills.  Specialty plates are served with Korean small plates called banchan (which literally translates to “side dishes”) and a bowl of miso soup.  Had it been served more than lukewarm we might not have found it so unremarkable.  All the usual ingredients (seaweed, bonito flakes, cubed tofu, scallions) are in perfect proportion and it’s less salty than some miso soup tends to be, but on brisk days, hot soup would be appreciated.

Bento Box

23 October 2019: After thoroughly perusing the menu, Sr. Plata determined the best combination of variety and value could be obtained by ordering a Bento Box (small house salad, miso soup, steamed rice, four pieces of tempura and your choice of two items: chicken teriyaki, beef teriyaki, bulgogi, spicy pork, kalbi, salmon teriyaki, daily sushi roll or five pieces of nigiri sushi).  Wisegeek describes a bento box as “the Japanese equivalent of the lunchbox, though it tends to be much more aesthetically pleasing, and varies significantly in what it contains.”

Not only did Sr. Plata’s bento box include a treasure trove of kalbi, another compartment on the box featured bulgogi, the marinated and grilled beef dish Americans often call “Korean barbecue.”  In retrospect, Sr. Plata wishes he had ordered two portions of kalbi.  As good as kalbi may be, there’s never quite enough meat on those scrawny short ribs.  The bone to meat ratio is certainly skewed heavily on the side of bone…and frustration if you haven’t quite got your fill when you run out.  A discernible sugar hit was the first thing we noticed about the bulgogi which was also served on the lukewarm side.  More conspicuous by absence were the caramelized bits of beef we both enjoy.      

Spicy Squid

23 October 2019: Other than Asian restaurants, it seems many eateries haven’t figured out you can do more with squid than serve it as deep-fried calamari.  Perhaps no one loves squid more than Koreans who prefer it stir-fried in a spicy and tangy Gochujang (Korean red chili paste) with fresh vegetables. Sushi & Sake’s spicy squid dish is one of the most esthetic and appealing squid dishes you’ll ever see, a veritable culinary work-of-art.  In Korea, spicy squid is served with a bowl of rice because it’s made too spicy to eat alone.  This fire-eater would certainly have appreciated more heat in my dish, but perhaps I’m an outlier.  A gentleman sitting one table over was perspiring profusely from the heat.  Ringlets and tentacles of perfectly stir-fried squid with a slightly elastic texture were pleasing, but the accompanied vegetables (white and green onions, green and red peppers) were most memorable.

23 October 2019: Contrary to widely-held belief, banchan (a term that is both singular and plural) are not appetizers even though they’re served ahead of the main course. Banchan represents a category all its own: snacks-within-a-meal that function as complements, contrasts, and condiments all at once. You can’t have a true Korean meal experience without banchan.  There are dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands of banchan options.  Six of them were served with my spicy squid.  They ranged from at least three types of kimchi (and there are hundreds of kimchi types) to a lightly sweet pickled radish that stole my heart.  It was my favorite bite experience at Sushi & Sake.

Assorted Banchan

Sushi & Sake is so much more than the two items listed on the menu. It’s got experiential aspects all adventurous diners should try–such as having your meal prepared on a tabletop grill.  It’s got Korean and Japanese items served in generous portions.  It’s got value and variety.

Sushi & Sake
4214 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 797-8000
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 23 October 2019
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Teriyaki Chicken Roll; Mexican Roll; Pizza Roll; Green Chile Roll, Spicy Squid, Bento Box (Kalbi, Bulgigi)

13 thoughts on “Sushi & Sake – Albuquerque, New Mexico

  1. Sr. Plata sits idly alone in “an expansive dining room” in a landlocked Sushi restaurant located over thousand miles from the nearest ocean. One wonders what existential thoughts may be flowing through his fertile mind beneath his de rigueur luncheon ball cap?

    St. Augustine said, “The reward of patience is patience.” Not sure of the meaning intended by the fifth-century Christian theologian and Neoplatonic philosopher, but I doubt it applies to a ravenous Sr. Plata awaiting his tardy Sushi order.

  2. Ya know…excellent review! 
    And don’t we miss Carlin!?
    I’m flummoxed RE Omakase: Haven’t we been schooled, that so-called “Specials” in fine dining joynts simply means the Chef ordered too much of “X” and its Use-By date is hitting the Date?
    Alas, if I were aspiring to be a Sushi Snob: I’m abhorred not finding 1 inclusion/reference to Musubi which is a sine qua non for fine dining Sushi! Alas and IMHO, Home-Making Sushi is a par excellence adventure akin to BBQing! Let your Creative juicesflow! This type of crutch…… I felt was least frustrating/most enjoyable especially when using Sea Weed and per using so labelled Sticky Rice for my artistry!!!Oh Oh…the knife! the knife! in my kit made it all happen! Well of course if ya included…(infused?)…traces of red flakes or green CHILE! in your rice….
    Turned off by the use of Raw fishies? Yo! I don’t think caviar are raw are they? Yo! You be the Chef!!!! The Master of Ingredients! “Kanpai!”  
    PS: I sure hope Readers consider joining some of us on the Penumbra of Gil’s Reviews as I can’t but help to think that such ‘2nd’ hand experiences support/add to the validity of a place and/or Gil’s Reviews. They certainly help me…Thanks!

  3. Yes, I agree that the Bento Box is the Best Buy for cost and quantity. I would have preferred double Kalbi beef ribs but I had hoped there was a lot more meat on them. We watched another couple get the $75 multi course meal, for $35/person, that would be a true bargain, a mass amount of food. One major draw back was it took a long time for our food, what made it worse was they brought mine out and Sensei waited another 15min, There was no happiness at our table. We saw this happen with others as well. I miss my going away lunch in Gardenia, CA where I had all-you-can eat and cook it at your table…

  4. 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….

  5. 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. 🙂

  6. 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!

  7. 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 😀

    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 🙂

  8. 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…’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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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