By MARSHALL MA
New in town, Sushi Freak in ABQ Uptown attempts to prove that sushi can be convenient. Is it fast-food? Is it sit-down? They don’t really make it clear.
My first impressions on walking in to this restaurant was that they were trying to go for something unique, something fresh. The interior décor and style of the building were both very urban and casual. When you enter the restaurant, you will not get seated. Rather, you will find your place in a line and go through the bar, where the employees will make your sushi right in front you. This style is reminiscent of convenience restaurants like Chipotle. The restaurant even features “sushi burritos,” in which they make a burrito but use seaweed as the wrap.
“It’s basically like paying for a sushi roll, but mostly just getting rice,” said Nicole Reyna, another La Cueva student who recently tried the restaurant. Sounds cool, right? I, along with everyone else I knew, had very high expectations for the restaurant upon hearing about its concept of “convenient sushi.” But after visiting over five times– each time hoping for a better experience– the only thing Sushi Freak is really accomplishing is proving that sushi simply can not be rushed.
I first visited during opening week. Though I was excited, I could not help but notice that everything was incredibly disorganized. The employees lacked attention to detail in cooking, did not know the menu well at all, and were rather anxious. Visually, sit-down customers received over-barren plates featuring sushi that was not at all aesthetically pleasing. The experience of having your sushi made right in front of you was actually not cool or interesting either…it was just awkward. Even at the most basic level, making sushi requires many more steps than slapping together a sandwich, or throwing ingredients into a bowl.
An experience that was supposed to be a fast and unique breeze down the sushi bar left customers standing and waiting at one spot in the bar for numerous minutes at a time, watching the employees make the sushi as fast as possible (but still taking long), dismissing as much unnecessary detail as possible.
What’s good is that the employees have great focus. The downside is that they are too focused to make conversation or give you any attention. So you just stand there in the quiet, watching stressed out workers make a rather lackluster sushi roll, not necessarily faster than any other sushi restaurant.
Finally, you get to the register to pay for your “fast-food” sushi roll. Then you end up paying a not-so-fast-food price for a roll that is indeed “fast-food” quality.
But since I was so excited to try the restaurant, I gave Sushi Freak the benefit of the doubt as they did just open. I went back multiple times hoping for improvement. Each time, I encountered a new problem. My first follow-up, the register worker actually did not know how to work the register. The visit after that, no one cleaned the tables all night. After that, the air conditioning had the place unbearably cold. After that, a worker was extremely rude and actually spoke judgement on the ordering choices I made, sarcastically announcing, “That’s a lot of food, man.” And the most recent time I went, one worker was manning a personal sized fryer since the industrial one was broken, and the girl who was helping me was so focused on literally slapping fish onto my roll that nobody noticed a giant pot of eel sauce overflowing in the background.
One might say that Sushi Freak is understaffed. But it’d also be valid to say that the staff are inadequately trained, so hiring more people would not necessarily help. But maybe the staff isn’t the problem at all. Perhaps the reason that “fast-food sushi” has never been done before is because it can’t really be done well. My rating of Sushi Freak is 2 stars out of 5 since they do have one unique item that’s worth the money. Their sushi style nachos actually come with a lot of fish and are pretty tasty.