You’ve heard it here before and you’re about to hear it again: Go to your nearest strip mall and check out the restaurants. Ten bucks (which is a lot of money for me) says you’re gonna like what you find.
I’ve yet to find an unassuming joint in the corner of a shopping center anchored by a grocery store or some other Big Box thing that wasn’t wholly appealing, from the food to the atmosphere.
Example no. 318 (that’s completely made up) in Boulder County: Mr. Sake Sushi and Grill.
Now, I don’t know who Mr. Sake is, but I know I like the cut of his jib. The restaurant sits at the southeastern corner of the King Soopers Plaza in Louisville. After a few hours searching for hidden treasures at the two thrift stores in the plaza, Mr. Sake is there to quell the hunger.
The interior is clean and simple, about a dozen strings of colorful paper cranes hanging above the well-lit sushi bar and a couple of paper lanterns dressing the front window. Soft yellow walls and sienna colored flooring make the space warm and inviting.
The menu offers both Japanese and Chinese dishes, but doesn’t go overboard by offering too many choices. They keep it simple: there’s sushi, hibachi, noodles, teriyaki and traditional Chinese entrees.
The menu breaks down appetizers from the sushi bar from those prepared in the kitchen, offering nearly 30 options for snacks, which could offer a great option for a tapas-style meal.
While the kitchen appetizers offer tempting green muscles, egg rolls and gyoza, I’m a sucker for sushi.
I can be a bit simplistic in my love of sushi — I enjoy the flavor of fresh fish so much that I find myself drawn to sashimi and simple maki, but I never deny a rainbow or dragon roll if it’s on the table.
Feeling proud of my thrift store finds and more than just a little hungry, the crunchy spicy tuna appetizer caught my eye and won my favor, though I’ll admit to not knowing what part of the dish was actually going to be crunchy.
Turns out it’s the rice.
We’re not talking greasy deep-fried rice. We’re talking warm, lightly crispy rice, just crispy enough to offer a perfect contrast to a cool slice of tuna crowned with a slice of ripe avocado.
The tuna can take its heat from a variety of ingredients, but a chili sauce like Sriracha is the go-to for most recipes. Mr. Sake delivers a spicy tuna app that doesn’t overload the tastebuds with heat. Scallions and soy sauce mingle with the chili sauce (and a little spicy mayo and sweet ponzo drizzled atop) to create a savory, not hot, experience.
Best of all, Mr. Sake seems to know that great sushi depends on fresh fish. The best sign of fresh sushi is its softness. Truly fresh fish is so soft you could poke a finger through a raw fillet. Fish flesh is soft because they have the same density as water. They don’t have to use their muscles to bear their own weight just to hang out, thus their muscles only engage when they need to move.
All of that is to say the tuna at Mr. Sake melts in the mouth, just like it ought to.
Keep up the good work, Mr. Sake. I like your style.
Mr. Sake Sushi & Grill. 1387 E. South Boulder Road, Louisville, 303-604-9999.