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Thursday, March 24,2011

The return of succulent sushi

By Clay Fong

About a year ago, I was dismayed to learn that Longmont’s Ichiban was suspending its sushi and sashimi service, as this was perhaps my favorite spot for variations on the raw fish theme. I was out of sorts until learning that a retooled version of Ichiban reopened late last fall with sushi Sensei John back at the helm. Ichiban’s new iteration features updated décor and an expanded menu, although ala carte faves like rice bowls are still available, under a new name, Sushi Kaiten.

What’s in a name? In Japan, Kaiten refers to an establishment offering sushi served on a conveyor belt. Diners at the bar simply pluck off what they want from the belt, and at the end of the meal, the waitstaff tallies up the color-coded plates to calculate the tab. Unfortunately, this service method can lead to hijinks, like when a friend and I didn’t let a single piece of salmon elude our grasp, much to other diners’ consternation.

At dinner with friend Amy, we staked out prime real estate at the front of the sushi bar. The $4 poke on cucumber slices was the first thing off the belt. Poke is Hawaiian sashimi, tuna lightly marinated in oil and seaweed, with a smattering of pepper. While decidedly spicy, the seasonings permitted the sparkling taste of fish to shine through. Next up was a $4 variation on a California roll differentiated by the addition of seared tuna. While I enjoyed this roll, I’m still partial to simpler, made-to-order preparations.

For example, one of the finest sushi creations I’ve ever experienced is Kaiten’s $4 spicy salmon handroll. The savory counterpart of an ice cream cone, this treat consists of textbook crisp nori wrapped around luscious salmon chunks lightly drizzled in creamy yet peppery sauce. A couple of these creations and a cup of sencha tea would make for a perfect Japanese meal. Another can’t-miss is the $5 house-smoked salmon dusted with green tea powder. Possessing a meatier texture than lox, this preparation masterfully balanced salt, smoke and a whisper of sweet. Salmon, in any form here, is of uncannily consistent high quality.

Timing is crucial at Kaiten, and one is best served by getting the tempura-fried calamari and scallops as soon as they hit the belt. Missing my opportunity for these seafood morsels, I asked gracious John for a $7 platter of fried smelt. A marked improvement over the Chinatown deli product of my youth, this fish was covered by a gossamer-thin tempura crust. Inside, the fish was moist with a subtle flavor resembling soft shell crab.

The evening’s piece de resistance was the $10 toro with jalapeno slices and a sprinkling of yuzu and wasabi dressing. This fatty tuna had a decadent flavor profile more akin to prime-grade steak than anything from the sea. In lesser hands, the pungent and citrusy dressing and pepper would overwhelm the fish; in this case it provided a finely balanced complement.

Sushi Kaiten is the rare restaurant where I can’t recall having tasted a single item that I’ve regretted ordering. This strip-mall establishment is one of the few restaurants that I’ve actually thought about not writing about so that I can keep it all to myself. But that would be selfish, and unfair to the legions of sushi aficionados.

Sushi Kaiten 2055 S. Ken Pratt Blvd., Unit A, Longmont 303-485-9848

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

Clay’s Obscurity Corner

Blues benefit for Japan

It’s impossible to think of Japanese cuisine without contemplating how one can help in the aftermath of the recent disasters that have befallen the Asian island nation. Local bluesman, friend and dining companion Jack Hadley has teamed up with fellow musician Doug Yoshimura to put on a benefit performance supporting Red Cross relief efforts for Japan. Blues for Japan takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 26. The venue is the Edgewater Coffee Company, located in Edgewater at 5224 W. 25th Ave., near the intersection of Sheridan and W. 25th Ave. The phone number for the venue is 303-237- 4383.

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There are several excellent places in Longmont to get Sushi. East Moon and Sushi Hana have been established in Longmont for a while now and thier Sushi bars are fabulous. I have eaten at many top Sushi restraunts around the world including several times in Japan and although nothing in Longmont rivals the tops, Kaiten is mediocre at best. Their heavy reliance on sauces and mayonaise ruins the experince of eating somthing as delicately flavored as the fish. It's true in America we tend to over do everything in our food, too much salt, to much seasoning, way to much sauce and maybe Kaiten is just trying to appeal to the masses but for this sushi lover, I want to enjoy the Sushi, not the Best Foods slathered all over it. 

 

@Big B -- If your sushi experiences are limited to East Moon and Sushi Hana, then you aren't eating authentic sushi but rather Americanized versions of it. Having lived in Japan for two years, I can tell you that the Japanese LOVE (and are possibly obsessed with) mayo and that includes on some sushi dishes (the tasty but fairly cheap Bacon Sushi springs to mind). Huge difference in sushi in the U.S. and in Japan. I haven't been to Kaiten yet (I did eat there several times when it was Ichiban) but I'm betting that this is close to authentic as you can get.

 

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Big B, I would disagree with your comment-- perhaps you haven't visited the restaurant since it has re-opened under the new name. Admittedly, the sauce on some rolls can be a bit too much for sushi connoisseurs like yourselves, yes...But to be quite frank, this is what many locals do like (myself included). There are also plenty of other options, should you choose to go for sushi types of more "cleaner" palate. If the sauces and other add-on's are too much for me, I usually just ask the chef to go easy on them and he's very happy to oblige.

 

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There are plenty of plain nigiri and sashimi options on the belt garnished with just miso or watercress depending on the kind of fish.  There are a lot of options with no sauces, though, personally, I prefer the ones with various sauce and added ingredients, the roll with deep fried garlic garnishing it is amazing.  This is by far the best sushi we've had in colorado.

 

 
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