Sakae Sushi is Betting That You Care More About Fun Than Value
******************THIS PLACE IS NOW CLOSED***********************
What kind of price do you put on having a fun meal? It’s not a new question. For example, are you willing to pay $50 to eat mediocre roast chicken with your hands? That doesn’t sound like a good deal. What if there are grown men jousting in the middle of the restaurant? Hello! Or perhaps you’d like some chicken and steak stir fry for $30? I can get that for $7 at any food court. What if a “Japanese” guy named “Jimmy” prepares and cooks the food right in front of you, throwing the shrimp tails into his giant chef’s hat? Now that sound likes fun!
In the end Sakae Sushi is no different then Medieval Times or Benihana. They’re asking how much extra are you willing to pay for sushi when it moves around the restaurant on little colored plates. Not enough fun? Let’s throw in computerized ordering! This sounds awesome. I love conveyor belt sushi! And, I also love weird rolls. And mayo. And I don’t have to know what I’m eating to eat it. And that’s what Sakae is all about. If you like crazy rolls that pair fried stuff with cooked stuff, topped with raw stuff and smothered in some mayo based sauce, then you’re golden.
Loves conveyor belt. Check. Loves weird rolls. Check. Loves fun. Check. I should have loved Sakae Sushi. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. All the reasons why, after the jump…
The prices of things should not have been a surprise. I had the mammoth menu in advance, and even posted it here on the site. I had ample time to look it over, see what kind of strategy I was going to use to try utilize to maximize food, while keeping the price low. But then, you are there, sitting next to the conveyor belt, super excited to start taking food, and you’ve just sat down, and boom- before you know it, your wife has grabbed this off the belt…
And then it clicks. All items on a Pink plate = $3.90. Inari on a pink plate? Inari = $3.90. We felt like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. “That’s just rice and tofu, right? They don’t put raw fish in in it or nothing?” There are a few things that happen when something like this occurs. First, confusion. “Can we put it back? What a mistake. Why did we take it so quickly without looking at the plate. We can put it back, right?” Then, anger. “Why does this cost so much!?!? So ridiculous. I hate this place.” Followed immediately by guilt. “Maybe it’s my fault. I should have known. I was too excited, and wasn’t paying attention to the plates. It’s not their fault, they clearly mark the plates, and I should have known better.” And then, resignation. “You know what. Who cares? It’s conveyor belt sushi. We’re here to have fun! Let’s try to forget that first misstep and have a good time!”
The problem is, that’s not the only thing we had to forgive during the meal. It was clear pretty quickly that it was going to be difficult, if not impossible to turn this place into a Midtown Lunch. $10 is a pretty low bar, and the portion to price ratio made it even more restrictive. For example, all of the rolls (with the exception of the super small tuna and salmon rolls) were $6.90, a price that would have been acceptable had they a) been large (they weren’t), b) had a good rice to sushi ratio (they didn’t) c) were of equal quality to what you’d get at a sit down, moderately price sushi restaurant in Midtown (they weren’t).
$3.90 for two pieces of sushi is not a terrible price, so we decided to try what we thought were scallops, but actually turned out to be squid. It tasted like they had come pre-cut out of a plastic bag. Rubbery, incredibly tough, and cut into a perfectly rectangular shape. Very suspect. Of course, that’s what you get for trying to beat the system. Scallops should not be that cheap… We should have stuck with the tuna or salmon.
Aside from the scallop, most of what we tried tasted fine, if not good- but we couldn’t shake the suspicion that we were getting cheated. The best deal of the menu is the regular tuna or salmon roll, which clocks in at unbelievably cheap $1.90. It’s the only item on the menu that is less than what you would pay for it at a regular sushi restaurant. You could even get away with ordering four of those, and calling it a Midtown Lunch- but where’s the fun in that.
In order to compare freshly made to conveyor belt items (and to maximize the fun)- we decided to order a few things off the computer screen. Despite reading that food ordered on the computer screen comes out very quickly, ours took forever and one of the items they forgot about entirely. We had to ask twice and never did get the roll we ordered (eventually we had to get back to work.)
All in all it’s tough to have fun at conveyor belt sushi when everything is just a little more expensive than it should be. The rolls are not big enough to be $7, and most of the small plates are $4, or $2 a bite for sushi that is slightly better than deli take out, but not quite as good as a moderately priced sit down sushi bar (think Taki or Kikku). It’s just too much money.
Having a conveyor belt is supposed to make the operation cheaper, so things should not be overpriced. That’s the beauty of conveyor belt sushi. You can make things slightly cheaper, because in the end you’ll make your money back when people start having too much fun, lose control, and take things off the belt they normally would never order. When you make things *more* expensive, it makes people more cautious and takes the fun out of the whole thing.
So, as much as I tried, I don’t think Sakae Sushi quite fits into the mold of a Midtown Lunch. I can forgive a lot, and if a place is truly unique, with a high quality product I can ignore the $10 price tag. Sakae just didn’t quite make the cut. It’s sad too. If things had been just a little cheaper, or the rolls a little bit bigger, I probably would have lost control, taken more than I should have, and possibly helped to put Mr. Sakae Sushi’s kids through college.
- It’s conveyor belt sushi! I love conveyor belt sushi!
- The small plates allow you to order a wide variety of things
- They have a lot of weird and interesting rolls
- If you only take things off the conveyor belt, it can be very quick for a sit down meal
- They have computerized ordering for anybody who wants their food made fresh
- You get all you can drink free green tea. A huge plus.
- Great place to go with a big group of friends, and just let loose
- Most of the food is too expensive for what it is
- The quality of the sushi is slightly better than pre-packaged deli sushi, but not as good as any of the sit down sushi places in Midtown
- With all the lunch specials at decent sushi places, it’s hard to justify eating at Sakae
- Conveyor belt sushi relies on everyone taking things off the conveyor belt, so there is always fresh and brand new items being put out. In a restaurant this big, when you offer computerized ordering the food is not freshened up as quickly as it should be.
Sakae Sushi, 405 Lexington Ave (43rd btw. Lex+3rd), (877) 725-2387