Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to Eat Free Food in Dallas on Wednesday

This article is part of my weeklong food blog series, "How to Eat Free Food in Dallas Every Day of the Week".

Wednesday is probably the best quality free food of the week: sushi! Steel restaurant is the kind of highly acclaimed sushi place that you might go to for a nice Saturday night date, but not for a Wednesday happy hour; and thus, we get free sushi happy hour Wednesdays!

Steel's Wednesday night free sushi happy hour has been going on for the past two years or longer. I haven't been since sometime in 2010, and the gig has definitely changed. Overall I think the changes are for the better, but there are some changes that could be construed for the worse.

What Hasn't Changed:

1. Unlimited Sushi: The servers literally (borderline rudely) shove plates of sushi in your face without you asking for more, sometimes before you're even done with the previous plate. You will definitely leave here full!

2. Poor Service: On free sushi night the restaurant is full and the waitstaff is overworked. At some point you will inevitably feel that your server has abandoned you. On this night, the bar took about 15 minutes to make my drink that I ordered right away. My free sushi was promptly delivered, and if I hadn't stopped eating it, I would have finished the first plate before my drink ever arrived. I didn't even get a glass of water until after the bar drink was delivered (and I had to ask for it).

3. Hours: Free sushi is only from 5–7PM, A.K.A. Happy Hour.

4. Reservations Required For a Table: If you want to sit at a normal restaurant table you will need to make reservations for either a 5pm or 5:30pm seating. If you have more than 2 people in your party I highly recommend the reservation route. However, this can be tough timing if you work until 5pm. If you are okay with bumping elbows in the bar and standing while holding your sushi plate in one hand and eating with the other, then feel free to waltz in unannounced after 6PM.

What Has Changed:

1. Drink Purchase Required: I always thought the old deal was that you had to buy two drinks to qualify for the free sushi, but my waiter on this night said there was no such requirement in the past. This resulted in too many freeloaders ordering just water and leaving no tip. (Come on, people!) Now the requirement is to purchase at least one alcoholic drink, unless you don't drink alcohol, then he said they'll make an exception for you.

2. No More Drink Specials: Their specialty cocktails used to be discounted to $5 happy hour prices, while the beer and sake were even cheaper than that. Now the drink menu spells out, in writing, that all drinks are full price, making my usual cocktails $9. They're still pretty great cocktails, and the whole night is still a good deal, especially since I thought the old requirement was two drinks at $5 for a $10 spend. Now I'm actually saving $1 with the one $9 cocktail (beer is only $5)!

3. The Crowd: Because there is a drink purchase required now, the waiter says the type of customers this night attracts has definitely shifted to more of their usual upscale customer and less freeloaders. I also noticed about 40% less people overall. Instead of every seat being filled and the bar 2-3 people deep, it is now just comfortably full. Quite nice!

3. Better Quality Sushi: I had grown weary of coming on Wednesdays (and stopped entirely for many months) because their free sushi was so hastily made to meet the demands of the HUGE crowd, that it didn't taste nearly as fresh and balanced in ingredient ratios as it did on a normal night. Now that the crowd is a more manageable size, the sushi tastes more representative of their normal high quality, although still not 100%. It was also nice to see the owner behind the sushi bar slinging nigiri with the rest of the chefs.

4. Changing Flavors: The free sushi used to be the same four rolls every week on every plate. You didn't get to pick and every plate had two of each flavor. Perhaps because the chefs have more time with a smaller crowd, they are turning out a greater variety of sushi rolls plus nigiri on every plate. You still don't get to pick your flavors, but it was a nice surprise to be served lots of different options. On this night I was served: Calamari Roll with Eel Sauce, Asparagus Roll (something for the vegetarians), Hawaiian Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll, Salmon Nigiri and (I think) White Tuna Nigiri.

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