Monday, January 22, 2007

Dining critic candidate No. 21


I’ve just gotten back from cavorting in warmer climes, visiting Costa Rica and Los Angeles, and hearing about the snow and freeze pounding the Springs I was truly afraid to come home. I envisioned having to dig my car out from under feet of a virginal, white blanket covering the airport long-term parking lot. I had little with me for the job, not even gloves! I should have brought back palm fronds to whoosh it off. I looked for an ice scraper near the airport in L.A. The Walgreen’s’ staffer looked at me with pity but no product. Happily, the snowfall was not as hyped and I easily pulled my forgiving Toyota out of the lot and hurried home.

The cold, however, was not overly exaggerated. But, after being away so long, cold couldn’t keep me from heading out to meet with missed friends for dinner and then see Bill Bowers at the MAT. Figuring a meeting spot between friend’s downtown location, my southwest digs and the MAT, in Manitou, we usually settle on Saigon Grill on west Colorado. The last time we were there it wasn’t up to par, so I suggested a new sushi place in the same strip mall, facing down the red neon signs shouting KFC, NAILS, TAN and LAUNDRY. Amidst the screaming wattage was a very cool font subtly calling out, SAKURA, Japanese sushi and grille!

I’d noticed the sign months ago and figured this was finally an opportunity to stop asking myself, “I wonder if they’re good” and check it out. There are a few good ‘destination’ sushi places here; one is run by a fellow I call “the sushi Nazi.” He’s the most irritable sushi chef I’ve ever met and will discontinue making your plate if you so much as look at him the wrong way. It takes hours to get your sushi and admittedly it was great, but hey! So, hopes were high as I layered on the clothing and got old faithful warmed up for the new adventure.

Entering Sakura you’ll find a crowded sushi bar (not by people but by ‘stuff’) and a longer room which looked like it might have been an old pizza parlor owned by Applebee admirers. Worn, industrial gray carpeting and booths upholstered in grandma’s floral are set against pine wainscoted walls. Each booth featured a Japanese touch of a spin-the-bottle Asahi beer wall fixture that could help in your sushi-ordering gamble or, for ‘sushi-newbie’ enlightenment.

60’s Asian muzak played while a silent TV was on. I was greeted by the sushi chef with the expected, traditionally loud welcome, but my friends I hear were not. We had the most eager to please, charming blonde waitress. My three friends had arrived and were already seated. We were the only diners. I ordered a chardonnay, as my friend was drinking, but she had gotten the last glass. The staff was clearly upset that they couldn’t provide what I wanted and brought samples of other wines, but most too sweet for me. I opted for a small sake.

The menu was standard with combo teriyaki/sushi/sashimi/tempura combinations. Prices for dinner entrees served with rice, salad and miso were from $9.95 for the chicken teriyaki to $15.95 for the beefsteak version. The rest fell in between. Add about another $1 or $2 per plate for a combo dinner and lunch prices are cut in about ½. Sushi averages at $3.50 per two slice order. Sashimi is six-pieces and runs from $8.25 for salmon to the highest, $12.00 for whitefish.

One, in our party of four, wasn’t feeling well and didn’t order at all. The other three of us decided on ordering a little sushi and a few rolls to share. We got yellowtail and eel sushi and a Tiger Roll (shrimp tempura w/avocado, steamed shrimp topping), a Volcano Roll (California roll with scallops) and a Spicy Tuna Roll. A fragile miso for all came with it. In retrospect, I realize they may have brought us a Fire Cracker Roll (deep fired jalapeño crabmeat, cream cheese-but it didn’t seem deep fried). How we didn’t catch that switch with a Volcano is beyond me! Call it blind concern for the one, un-well friend.

Our first dish arrived carrying all but the Fire Cracker/Volcano. Nicely presented, but no major wow factor, the Tiger roll was shaped to resemble a long fish with shrimp tails at both ends. Colorful and inviting but too much rice and each slice fell apart in chunks while eating so the sticky element was missing and seemed to have more ‘lump factor’ than it should. Still, it was edible and okay. Two slices to an order of sushi left the three of us playing ‘musical fish.’ I only tried the untouched yellowtail, which spoke well for the eel. It was decent but nothing to write home about. The spicy tuna went before I could get my hands on a piece, but I didn’t feel I was missing anything. The Firecracker/Volcano (which ever it was) dressed up like a Mexican party with what seemed to be to be colorful tortilla strips topping a balancing act of the sections. Were it the piñata it appeared, I wouldn’t have known what to expect to pop out. It proved to be a yummy little mosh of tastes, with a spicy twang and creamy textures juxtaposed by the crispy-strip toppers. I dug its life force and it was the biggest crowd pleaser, even if it wasn’t what we ordered. The bill came to $50.00 and change w/ two bar drinks and tea.

As I left I noticed there was another, very large room to one side with booths and tables, in the same décor, devoid of humans. As we exited, the waitress and staff saw us off and seemed hopeful for our return. A couple, coming all the way from Cascade, was entering in to dine for the first time, so the staff could busy themselves once more. I felt sorry for their lack of customers, as I always do for striving restaurants, as it’s so hard to make them work successfully. It made me wonder if I’d really want to review eateries in case I should, in some way, assist in their demise. I would feel truly awful! My friend reminded me it is a service to Gazette readers to inform and also an opportunity for the restaurants to expand their customer base by making some adjustments they may not have been aware they needed. I agreed. Happily I can say about Sakura, in closing, is that even if this was not a ‘destination spot’ for a dining experience, as maybe Jun’s on Centennial is, it is indeed a fine, comfy, neighborhood joint when you want sushi and you’re in that ‘hood (or, if you live in Cascade!)

Sakura, 3117 W. Colorado Ave 632-7866


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not bad.

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First two paragraphs are pointless to the review of the restaurant.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree about the first two paragraphs. We read reviews for info on the restaurant. And we prefer if they get to the point.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Submission Reviewer said...

The finest part of a good review is the lack of a novel in front of it. Good location and atmosphere description, excellent pricing, but no hours listed. The wordy meandering tone of the review made it difficult to want to finish. The food description was good, but lost since it comprised only 1/8th of the review.

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One word about this review. PRETENTIOUS!!!

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too long. Couldn't make it.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Warren Epstein said...

FYI. "submission reviewer" is not associated with the Gazette.

10:16 AM  

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