East meets East
Since opening in September, Sushiya has gained a loyal following, and it’s easy to see why. The menu is a polished combination of Chinese and Japanese classics, with many twists—and some entire dishes—you probably haven’t seen before.
Tucked into a strip mall on Juan Tabo, Sushiya is almost impossible to spot. Crane your neck to the east and look for the red corner. Inside, the walls are also bright red, the color of lust and hunger. There are fresh-cut flowers in vases. Soft jazz and Muzak classics fill the air.
The sushi is unique, with many of the rolls forsaking seaweed in favor of thin-sliced cucumber or soy paper wrappings. They are drizzled with sauces, piled high with colored flying fish roes and artfully arranged with extra touches. The sushi garnishes are carved from vegetables, and the pickled ginger is a natural tan color. A cucumber garnish was particularly impressive: The watery, seedy heart of the cucumber had been carved into a slinky, and it was bent like an arch.
I'm not sold on cucumber as a sushi roll wrapper, however. The “Yankee” roll, in which three kinds of fish (chef's choice), avocado and Japanese pickles were wrapped in cucumber, was very difficult to manage with chopsticks, and fingers were required if I wanted to deliver it to my mouth entirely intact. The sheer size and complexity of many of the rolls, along with the many sauces, further decreased their chopstick friendliness.
Miso soup was pale, cloudy simplicity only interrupted by small cubes of tofu. A nigiri of Japanese scallop was similarly zenlike, a clean blast of the cold sea.
But they were carefully made and generous with fish and filling. Slices of the Treasure Island roll were piled high into a sculpture and drizzled with white wasabi mayo, eel sauce, honey mustard and Sriracha mayo. The soy-paper-wrapped pieces were dominated by the flavor of tempura soft-shell crab. The roll contained tempura-fried green chile, but because it wasn't roasted, the chile was mild and fruity—more like a bell pepper. The hot and sour soup is probably the best I’ve had in Albuquerque. It was clear and light, with a complexity of texture and flavor built from crunchy bamboo, soft tofu, fragrant spices, musky fungal tones and seaweed umami, with a sweet, spicy, symphonic aftertaste.
Miso soup was a polar yang by comparison—its pale, cloudy simplicity only interrupted by small cubes of tofu. A nigiri of Japanese scallop was similarly zenlike, a clean blast of the cold sea.
Elsewhere on the menu, a lineup of cooked vegetable dishes are dressed in several excellent house-made sauces. The “XO” sauce, served on chopped asparagus, combined the full sweetness of hoisin with the dark, fishy aroma of oyster sauce and tiny pieces of dried scallop and shrimp. A stir-fry of eggplant with basil was even better. Chunks of eggplant were big and sturdy looking, as if not well-cooked, but melted in my mouth. The house brown sauce it came in was amazing. A dish of sautéed spinach in soy-garlic sauce must have been a good-size pile before it cooked down. Any of those $6 veggie plates would make a light meal when eaten with a bowl of Sushiya's slightly sticky rice ($2 à la carte).
A highlight was a dish of orange peel scallops, a special request that diverged from the menu’s standard chicken, beef or pork offering. The scallops were in a deep, heavily reduced orange sauce with orange liqueur, zest, ginger and whole Szechuan chiles, and surrounded by a tight ring of broccoli that trapped the sauce and scallops.
Alongside this feast I sipped on a murky bottle of Nigori unfiltered sake, which I was instructed to shake before opening. Sweet, thick and a great pleasure to sip, the clouded sake combined beautifully with the food.
That, and the Muzak version of Elton John’s “Sacrifice,” made for a nice moment.