Restaurants live and die based on reviews. If the staff is just having an off night and a critic decides to darken their doorway that evening, it could spell disaster. Customers trust reviews (sometimes too much). If your restaurant is panned by a reviewer, customers might not show up to try your food for themselves. No customers means no money. No money means it’s time to start playing Semisonic’s 90s-era hit song “Closing Time” because it won’t be long before you shutter those doors for good.
Even for well established eateries, a harsh review can be jarring. Just look at the zero-star skewering of Roy Choi’s Locol or the two-star takedown of Thomas Keller’s Per Se — both written by Pete Wells. Both chefs were so affected that they had to do interviews about how they healed from the trauma of Wells’s words, as if the critic had robbed their homes at gunpoint.
Now “Punisher Pete” has turned his glare on the most beloved sushi joint of every actor who has appeared twice on CSI: Miami and gets residuals from a three episode arc on How I Met Your Mother. For Angelinos, Sugarfish is one of the toughest seats to get in town (they don’t take reservations), and this in a city that knows its sushi.
A few months ago, a branch of the well-known sushi restaurant opened in New York. It was only a matter of time before the New York Times’ Pete Wells got a chance to write a review. But, it wasn’t easy. It seemed like he had quite a bit of trouble getting into the restaurant. When he finally did, he was… underwhelmed with his experience.
Here’s just a sampling of some of the lines from Wells’s scorched earth missive (and is there anything more fun than food critic jabs?). You’ll notice that he starts off with subtle insults before going for the throat.
After Wells questioned whether Sugarfish is the answer is for people hoping to get high-quality inexpensive sushi:
“It’s not, but enough people believe it is, or want to believe, that getting inside this four-month-old restaurant on East 20th Street can be a test of patience.”
Referencing the stories that it’s owner Kazunori Nozawa has been known to yell at people who douse their sushi in soy sauce.
“Nobody yelled at me at Sugarfish, but the staff didn’t seem all that eager to feed me, either.”
Wells points out that making good sushi usually takes time…
“Each course zooms out of a window in the kitchen where sushi is made with unusual speed.”
Finally, the gloves come off as Wells throws a subtle “neg” — straight from the red pill handbook.
“The fish is uniformly soft and pretty, but none of it tastes much like fish.”
Wells appears flabbergasted that Sugarfish doesn’t have any sea urchin for him to sample.
“This has to be the only sushi restaurant in New York that can’t get its hands on sea urchin.”
Wells doesn’t hold back his feeling on the sushi restaurants version of ‘wasabi’.
“Sugarfish lets you apply your own from some concentric bloops of stuff that tastes like watery horseradish and looks like a green version of the poop emoji, without the smile.”
The piece ended with Wells explaining just how bored he was with his experience.
“If Mr. Nozawa had suddenly materialized to yell at me, I would have given him flowers.”
If the review has any effect it will probably be that it’s a little easier to get a seat at Sugarfish now. That’s what we like to call a silver lining, especially for people who don’t need a full omakase menu experience. More importantly, it’s a reminder: Good sushi for cheap is impossible because sushi SHOULD be expensive. Perhaps its a chance for us all to better understand the value of good fish.