Rolling with noodles in Lafayette

Clay Fong | Boulder Weekly

The brief email arrived late on Saturday afternoon from old friend Daniel, who I hadn’t seen in years. It was a summons to Lafayette’s Udon Kaisha, which he deemed “the best!” Not one to turn down such an invitation, I soon found myself in a strip mall chockablock with undiscovered (to me, at least) Asian restaurants.

The decor is minimal in this narrow 40-seat eatery, which features several tables and a tiny sushi bar in the back. I noticed a fair number of Asian families dining here, always a good sign. Noodle offerings including thick udon, as well as more svelte ramen, are available in a variety of broths. Sushi selections are simple, eschewing such exotica as sea urchin roe in favor of crowd-pleasing staples like salmon and tuna. Japanese-style spare ribs and miso cod are also on tap.

We began by ordering some of Kaisha’s reasonably priced $5 sushi rolls. Typically, if I’m dropping this little on sushi, two things are true. First, something’s gone horribly awry and I’m on the brink of starvation. Second, I’ll pay for this fare going through a 15-items-or-less express line. Neither of these truisms, apply to the sushi here, which is of much higher quality and greater quantity than prices would indicate.

Daniel and I ordered two rolls, an eel and avocado number, and one combining yellowtail and scallion. Both tasted fresh and arrived wrapped in properly crisp nori, and the eel sushi was particularly rife with creamy flavor. A little less of the sweet brown sauce would have made this unagi darn near perfect.

The yellowtail’s clean flavor and silky texture was balanced out by the crisp sharpness of green onion. Never have I paid so little for eight pieces of high-quality sushi that would cost double at a tonier spot. One can easily make a meal of the rolls, and next time I might splurge on one of the $12 selections like the jumbo spider, or soft shell crab, roll.

Daniel’s main course was the $8 chicken teppan yaki, pan-fried noodles available with either ramen or udon. Dotted with Napa cabbage, bean sprouts, onions and carrots, the thick noodles of the udon version evoked the flavors of one of my favorite Chinese dishes, chow fun. This plate arrived piping hot, so as to best show off the benefits of expert stir-frying, which made for crisp tender veggies, al dente noodles and moist poultry.

My selection was the $7 shoyu udon noodle soup, featuring a soy sauce-based broth. Having shoyu as a base makes it impossible to conceal this soup’s inherent saltiness, but the sodium level didn’t detract from the overall balance of the ingredients. The udon added heft, and while the two pieces of shrimp tempura were heavily battered, this weighty coating prevented these tidbits from getting too soggy from immersion in the broth. Fresh spinach contributed brightness, and fish cake slices offered a mellow counterpoint to the shellfish.

Udon Kaisha doesn’t purport to offer high-end Japanese fare. Yet the offerings that Daniel and I sampled wouldn’t be out of place at a more expensive eatery in a more glamorous locale. In Boulder County, I’d be hard pressed to name a Japanese restaurant offering so much quality for so little money.

Udon Kaisha, 191 W. South Boulder Road, Lafayette, 303.665.1713