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Thursday, November 15,2012

A well-designed and hospitable Kasa

By Clay Fong

You’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant in Boulder with a more conscious design aesthetic than the Japanese eatery known as Kasa Japanese Grill. Decor here is anchored by leafy trees painted monochromatic white, setting off light hardwood floors in a cheerful, sunlit space. The attentive employees enthusiastically greet diners upon entering, setting a hospitable tone from the get-go. Both atmosphere and people combine to build a comfortable, welcoming experience.

Kasa’s menu is exactly what you’d expect from a standard Japanese restaurant. There’s a sushi bar, of course, and the standby mix of noodles, donburi rice bowls, fried tempura options, teriyaki entrees and yakitori skewers. Even with the ancillary items, such as a $3.50 serving of sencha tea, the most popular variety in Japan, there’s obvious attention to detail. The tea arrived in an attractive ceramic pot, piping hot, perfectly steeped and ready to drink.

For an appetizer, friend Joe and I began with $5.50 agedashi, fried tofu cubes, in a soy-based sauce sprinkled with the fish flakes known as shaved bonito. A properly prepared agedashi lets bean curd put its best foot forward; Kasa’s version doesn’t disappoint. The sublimely thin fried coating gives way to a hot custardy interior, and the savor of fish and balanced salt of the soy livens up the relatively blank canvas of tofu.

Like most Japanese restaurants in the West, Kasa offers miso soup as a run-up to the main course. Included in both our meals, this restaurant’s take was remarkably satisfying, tending more towards sweet than salty. It perfectly captured that elusive taste quality known as umami, not quite salty, but hauntingly brothy. Joe’s lunch also came with salad, a fresh-tasting and fresh-looking blend of greens more sophisticated than the iceberg and unsubtle ginger soy dressing once common in Japanese restaurants.

Joe selected a staple box lunch, or $10.95 bento, featuring shake, broiled salmon. The main event consisted of skewered fish glazed with teriyaki sauce. Texturally, the salmon was meaty and firm, but not overcooked. From a flavor perspective, the salmon was more strongly flavored than other preparations of this fish might be, and these skewers may not appeal to those desiring delicacy. Joe’s side dishes were quite appealing though, and these included a vegetable croquette featuring zucchini and tempura-style breading, as well as a light potato salad and bright, gingery sprouts.

When I’m not opting for a meal exclusively consisting of sushi, I often order a chirashi bowl, a mix of various sashimi cuts and egg scattered atop lightly vinegared short grain sushi rice. Kasa’s $19.95 take is a little expensive for what you get. Given the restaurant’s emphasis on design, the symmetrical presentation of the raw fish was pleasing. But the mix of tuna, salmon, yellowtail and omelet-like egg prepared tamago-style didn’t distinguish itself from more inexpensive sashimi. Not to say there was anything inherently wrong with the fish, it’s just at that price, I would expect the flavors and textures to be demonstrably above average.

On balance, Kasa presents a pleasant Asian dining experience. Dishes like the agedashi, and even some of the sides in the bento boxes, have few rivals. But there’s still some space for improvement on more expensive choices, especially given the prices on items like the chirashi.

Kasa is located at 1468 Pearl St. in Boulder. Call 303-938-8888 or visit www.kasainboulder.com.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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