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.
All of the festivities went down across the room from my perch at the sushi bar, in a teppan area inhabited by hot, table-sized griddles. Manning the grills were puffy-hat-wearing chefs who weren’t afraid to throw fireballs. As one grill master arranged piles of meat and veggies on the teppan (which means "iron plate"), patrons leaned on its wooden bar as if it were a piano. A reveler in a Mardi Gras mask shook a tambourine as their unexpectedly rowdy waitresses led the party in song. From where I was sitting, you’d have thought there was a bachelor party going on.
Not surprisingly, the sushi is more efficient than flamboyant. The selections are well-executed renditions of finely tuned dishes with clever flavor equations, many of which you may not have encountered before.
I Love Sushi starts with the whole fish and marinates it in-house. The resulting saba had a creamy, dreamy flavor.
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.
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