In two visits to I Love Sushi, I witnessed four birthdays. Having never partied there myself, I asked a sushi chef to fill in the blanks on why the place is such a popular birthday destination.
He nodded with a sly smile, saying something about free ice cream and getting to wear a mask.
Its wild and crazy side notwithstanding, I Love Sushi is a well-oiled machine. Moments after sitting down at the sushi bar, a waiter slides bowls of soup and salad in front of you like a breakfast mama slinging coffee at a greasy-spoon diner. The soup is cloudy, white miso; the salad offers crisp lettuce leaves in a ginger-soy dressing. If you prefer a fork over chopsticks, you’ll have to ask—though I have a hunch the sushi chefs might poke fun at you.
One of my favorites was the mackerel nigiri. Usually served lightly marinated, most of the Japanese restaurants I’ve eaten at order it pre-seasoned from the supplier. I Love Sushi starts with the whole fish and marinates it in-house. The resulting saba had the creamy, dreamy flavor of hamachi. And while the hamachi used in sushi is almost always farmed, mackerel is wild. A nigiri topped with baby scallops in a smoky mayo sauce kept me busy as I ate them piece by piece with my chopsticks. New Zealand green-lipped mussels, baked in spicy mayo and topped with masago roe, were juicy and chewy.
The stumble was quickly forgiven, as the fun factor and overall high-quality food won me over. At the end of one meal, I caught my dinner date rereading the sushi list. “My mom’s still hungry,” I told our chef.
I Love Sushi starts with the whole fish and marinates it in-house. The resulting saba had a creamy, dreamy flavor.
Soon he handed her a roll with tempura shrimp inside. “You no like, no pay,” he said sincerely.
“You like, you pay triple,” he added, laughing heartily at his own joke, as if it were the first time he’d heard it. (I’d already heard it on a previous visit, from a different chef.)
Mom’s roll was awesome. The only other player was avocado, which was warmed by the tempura. Serving warm avocado is a risk, and it paid off here.
I’m always looking for examples of how local ingredients find their way into exotic foods. Many Japanese restaurants offer a roll with green chile in it, but sometimes it’s actually bell pepper, jalapeño or raw green chile. Even when true roasted green is used, its heat and flavor are usually too understated.
The New Mexico roll at I Love Sushi crosses this divide intact. Tempura-fried strips of spicy green chile—more than hot enough, more than green enough—commanded all the attention in this simple roll. I guess it isn’t surprising that I Love Sushi does justice to green chile. For all of the restaurant’s undeniable Asian authenticity, it manages a New Mexican ambience that feels like home.
When I further prodded my sushi chef about the birthday parties going on in full view, he offered, "You get a prize." He didn't tell me about the birthday coupon on the website for 15 percent off. But that's OK. At least he didn't charge me triple for mom’s deep-fried surprise.
The Alibi Recommends:
• Mackerel nigiri
• Amigo roll
• New Mexico roll
• Deep-fried surprises