SANTA FE, N.M. — Izmi Sushi, once tucked away in a shopping center off St. Francis Drive, has moved downtown. The food has improved, and the restaurant is focused on what it does best: sushi. Sure, you can find tempura and teriyaki here, too, but sushi is the star attraction.
The upscale look of the place reflects its new address. The restaurant is beautiful, complete with soft lighting, soothing colors and comfortable seating. The space is small and tables a bit close, but that adds to the excitement. If you time it right, you might get one of the few seats at the sushi bar overlooking the chef as he cuts and positions the ingredients that soon become someone’s snack, appetizer, lunch or dinner.
Our hungry party of three set out to sample the menu. We started with gyoza, otherwise known as potstickers or Japanese dumplings. We enjoyed the tasty little treats, about a bite each, with mild ground pork inside and a crisp brown envelop of thin pastry outside. ($6 for 5) We also shared the “Tuna Tataki,” ($8), a small serving of cubed fresh tuna, seared and tossed with olive oil, rice wine and a touch of black pepper. Fish has to be totally fresh for this dish to work. It was, and we loved it. The soy vinaigrette dipping sauce offered a nice salty contrast.
WHERE: 105 E. Marcy St., Santa Fe, 505-424-1311
FOOD: Japanese. Beer and wine available.
HOURS: Lunch 11:30- 2 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Dinner beginning at 5 p.m. nightly
AMBIANCE: Beautiful, sophisticated.
PRICES: Entrees starting at $11. Sushi starts at $4.
The starters include egg rolls and tempuras such as soft shell crab, oysters, calamari steak, shrimp and vegetables –– including green chile if you request it. Jalapenos stuffed with spicy tuna and cream cheese, accompanied by sesame peanut butter sauce sounded interesting, to say the least. You’ll also find healthy edamame and tofu teriyaki. Izmi offers five fish and/or seafood salads and a house salad –– but no miso soup.
If you eat at a sushi place, you ought to have sushi. And all the sushi we tried was great. Sushi can be as simple as a “Nigiri,” a piece of meticulously fresh raw fish on a pad of rice with a bit of wasabi (Japanese horseradish). Or it can be rolled and fancy. Izmi offers the standard Nigiri as well as a great assortment of fancy rolls. An asterisk on the menu lets diners know which rolls feature cooked fish rather than raw. The waitress recommended the Ichiban roll, a beautiful combination of shrimp tempura on the inside, a bit of rice, and then layers of fresh red tuna, pale pink yellowtail that was especially delicious, soft ripe slices of avocado and an icing of salty black caviar. The roll is presented with shrimp tails at either end. It’s a feast for the eyes as well as the palate, a meal in itself and a lovely dish to share ( $17).
The “Spider Roll” was another creative combination of flavor, textures and visual appeal. The core is fresh soft shell crab in a light tempura batter, surrounded with avocado, cucumber and Daikon radish sprouts arranged so that the ends of the rolls looked like a fresh salad. ($9) Sometimes, sushi is a rice ball with a little fish; here, it’s fish with a little rice.
Although sushi is Izmi’s last name, those who want dinner with a cooked entree have six choices. Chicken or salmon teriyaki with rice and either egg rolls or vegetables, a tofu vegetable stew available with optional shrimp and Bulgogi, a Korean beef stir-fry. They all sounded good, but we settled on the tempura sampler ($15). This meal was served in a box, and featured shrimp and salmon tempura along with rice, a few tasty dumplings and egg rolls. The shrimp were the best, hot and juicy inside a crisp batter. The salmon grew mushy in the cooking process although it still tasted good. I’d like this combination better with tempura vegetables instead of the oily egg rolls, which I found short on filling.
We finished with mochi ($5), Japanese ice cream balls wrapped in thin rice paper, and apple rolls ($6), delicious apple pie filling wrapped in thin pastry fried crisp and served warm with whipped cream. The reasonable portions matched the reasonable price.
The restaurant wasn’t busy the night my friends and I visited. Sometimes, this can be difficult for servers. The staff, not having enough work to keep busy, forget you’re there or mill around restlessly, pestering you. Neither was the case here. We had the right amount of attention and quick service, but never felt pressured. Our waitress answered questions graciously and a second staff member followed up at the end of the meal to make sure everything had been to our liking.
In addition to beer and wine, Izmi offers premium saki in two different tasting flights, great way to try something new.