This isn’t my first time visiting Sushi Pop in Winter Park, an off-Park offshoot of the original Oviedo restaurant that opened in 2019. For myriad reasons – please check events from the past two years – that review was never published. But I remember thinking at the time that the Winter Park restaurant was a mere shadow of its Oviedo self, both in terms of the quality of the food and the overall experience.
I still feel that way.
When it opened, in 2011, Sushi Pop really did pop. It was fun, not only for the diners who were enjoying having good quality sushi in a part of town that was still inundated with bland American chain restaurants, but also for the staff, who seemed to delight in wearing costumes and sporting wildly colored hair, all while still offering good service.
There is none of that at the Winter Park SP, and maybe it’s no longer the case in Oviedo, either, but I missed it.
The Winter Park store isn’t exactly staid in the manner of a traditional sushi restaurant. A hot red neon sign blaring the words “come what may” adorn one wall over wall hangings that look sort of like pool noodles. And music – pop, naturally – plays, a tad too loudly, throughout.
But no one seemed to be having a good time, least of all the staff, and especially the sushi chef who appeared to be the lead. He scowled and avoided making eye contact with any guests, including those seated directly in front of him. It is customary for both guests and chefs to acknowledge each other at the beginning of the meal; his dismissiveness was rude. (Another chef, on the other hand, smiled at me and my guest when we were seated at the sushi bar and was happy to answer questions.)
Most of the food I sampled was fine, with one very notable exception: the hiramasa belly nigirzushi was inexpertly fashioned and fell apart when picked up.
Of the rolls I tried, I liked the Kissed by Fire, which had lump crab meat and smelt roe with an asparagus spear, a garlic aioli and another fashioned with chili bean sauce. The roll gets its name from a blowtorching of the salmon, but this one didn’t seem too singed. Maybe it was Air-Kissed by Fire. Still, it was a satisfying presentation.
I also had the Drama Queen (be nice), which featured spicy tuna, jalapeño and avocado rolled and topped with hamachi, drizzled with a salsa of cucumber and fennel and garnished with micro greens. The spicy tuna and spicier jalapeño added nice notes.
Our sashimi selection of mukimi scallops arrived well after we’d finished our rolls. But the raw, crosshatched mollusks were a perfect temperature and had a pleasant tender-firm texture that was complimented by a dab of citrusy yuzu kosho. Whether it was worth the $18 charge is a discussion we’ll have to save for a time when restaurant pricing gets back to prepandemic levels.
Our server, who wore no costume and had his natural hair color, had a pleasant demeanor and delivered our food as it became available.
I can’t help thinking that my assessment of the Winter Park Sushi Pop might be different if I hadn’t experienced the original first. But I did, and it just seems to be less than what it could be.