Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
When it comes to the much-expanded brave new world of takeout, most of us are simply craving anything we can count on, time and time again, to just taste good. Bonus points if it is packaged well, still warm by the time we get it home and beyond our own culinary skill level.
Enter Sushi 8 Hibachi & Sushi, a fast-casual spot that opened in November on the south side of the newly rebranded Paso de Luz on the Plaza. Sushi 8 is in good company: owner Sani Zeng’s successful sister restaurant, Dumpling Tea & Dim Sum, opened last year across the way in the indoor arcade formerly known as the Plaza Galeria. After the departure of The Beestro, Zeng gave the Sushi 8 space a sleeker look, adding small wooden café tables and a sparkling aquarium tank in the back dining room. We can’t enjoy the dine-in experience for a while, though, since, per the governor’s order, the restaurant is currently open only for takeout, curbside pickup and delivery.
I took the consistent quality of the Chinese offerings at Dumpling Tea as a good bellwether for Sushi 8. Before my first takeout order from manager Jason Zeng, though, I was transfixed by an impressively expansive menu that ranged from the usual suspects (seaweed salad, sushi, sashimi, California and Alaska rolls, hibachi chicken, shrimp, salmon, scallops and steak) to the over-the-top (miso soup with crab, shrimp and tofu; rolls with such fillings as sweet potato tempura or crawfish or baby lobster; filet mignon; udon noodle soup with seafood).
To add to the ordering paralysis, Sushi 8 features 11 sushi and sashimi combination entrées, and just as many fried appetizers: gyoza, harumaki, calamari, crab Rangoon, coconut shrimp, and even chicken nuggets and French fries for whoever’s picky – or tiny – in your household. I sprung for the Sumo Sampler ($9.95), an array of crispy delights: four pork dumplings, two jumbo shrimp tempura, two rolled veggie spring rolls and four large crab Rangoon. All were light, crunchy and delicious, accompanied by containers of sweet, creamy tomato- and mayo-based Yum Yum sauce, though I did pause to wish for a ponzu sauce for the dumplings and rolls.
If the miso soup ($3) lacked the deeply flavored broth I’d hoped for, it came with more tofu and seaweed than most other places in town. A seaweed salad ($5.50) was unexpectedly complex and fresh, layered with crunchy ribbons of cucumbers and radishes below the sesame-dotted seaweed. Another appetizer of nicely seared tuna tataki ($8.95) was beautifully laid out on another bed of greenery.
A word on eating sushi in the high desert: following the FDA guidelines for parasite prevention, the vast majority of sushi restaurants – even if they’re perched on the ocean – freeze their sushi-grade fish. So there’s no need for much hand-wringing about freshness, even if we’re a few days out from the sea. That being said, given some recent high-profile closures, Santa Fe has not lately been much of a sushi destination.
But, by the time I got to the five-piece sushi sampler ($7.95), I was sold on Sushi 8. Each slice of tender, jewel-toned fish – salmon, tuna, red snapper, super white tuna and yellowtail was expertly cut and laid beautifully over lumps of sticky vinegared rice. And the sampler, as with nearly every other neatly packaged order, bore a loving garnish of maraschino cherry, sliced lemon and bushy green parsley – a humble testament to Sushi 8’s commitment to hitting every mark.
The slightly spicy crawfish roll ($12.95) was wrapped in a pretty light-green soy paper and laden with flaky fish, crabmeat, avocado, cucumber and small orange tobiko that popped excellently on my tongue. A Fancy Rainbow roll ($13.95) was a riot of colorful fish: salmon, tuna and cucumber slivers inside, then more salmon, tuna, white tuna, red snapper and bright roe on top.
Another day, I journeyed to the hibachi end of the menu with an order of hibachi steak ($18), a glistening sweet-and-savory mess of cubed and seared beef, mushrooms, zucchini and carrot matchsticks accompanied by two heaps of black-and-white sesame-spiked white rice. A side of plain fried rice ($4, with corn, green beans, carrots and scrambled egg) and a satisfyingly crunchy asparagus tempura roll ($6.50) thoroughly sated the vegetarian in my life.
We can’t travel much during these dark days. But having opened in the worst phase of the pandemic, the Zengs and their intrepid Sushi 8 are to be commended for offering us more chances to go abroad, palate-wise. The other night, I drove by and eagerly eyed the mostly empty parking spots on Water Street behind the restaurant, which make a quick curbside pickup easier than ever. That seafood soup is calling my name.
Sani Zeng opens second restaurant in downtown Santa Fe