Seeing a cadre of regulars with the same ethnic background as the restaurant you are eating at is always comforting. A good Mexican restaurant should draw Mexicans looking for food that reminds them of home. An Ethiopian eatery should pull in Ethiopians enjoying the authentic cuisine of their native country.
Yet when it comes to Japanese cuisine, it is hard to use that as a benchmark for a good dining experience since Coloradoans have jumped on the sushi bandwagon in droves over the years. Still, when taking a seat at Sakura Japanese Restaurant and considering Longmont’s long-standing history with its sister city Chino, Japan, we hoped to find a smattering of the city’s Japanese diaspora, not the decidedly suburban professional set filling the restaurant this day.
Luckily, this turned out to be nothing more than a harbinger for a very good, albeit Americanized, sushi den.
Decidedly minimalistic, Sakura features the requisite symbolic trinkets—colorful umbrellas interspersed with bulbous lantern shades, and images of samurais and kanji featured in framed pictures on otherwise bare white walls.
It sports cavernous booths on one side, with a shortened sushi bar butting up against the other. Tables are two-seaters mainly, set sparsely.
Aiming for privacy, we opted for a high-backed booth and began digesting the menu, which seemingly rolls on forever. From curries to bento boxes, it was perhaps a bit overwhelming.
My boyfriend ordered the Curried Beef Bowl ($7.95), usually a safe bet for those unaccustomed to Japanese cuisine. His mother ordered the Sesame Chicken, unsure of what “donburi” (rice stews) might be. I was with two Japanese novices.
Both of their choices are common enough in Asian take-out to be virtually ubiquitous. You expect the sesame chicken to be fried to a crisp and the beef curry to sit jaundiced in a chaotic heap of vegetables.
But Sakura is much better than that. The Sesame Chicken ($7.95) came sizzling on its own cast iron platter. Precut and drizzled with a savory, still bubbling teriyaki-esque sauce, it emitted an impressive amount of steam. As the owner quipped when it landed on our table, “You can give yo’self
The curried beef paired with a hodgepodge of fresh vegetables, nested in a bed of homemade, doughy, faintly yellow noodles. The curry—rife with the scent of turmeric—rolled across the tongue with less fire than expected. Not to be tossed casually aside as a mild version of what promised to be spicy, the bottom of the bowl held a thin broth harboring a wealth of spiciness, dominating the last few bites.
Then, the sushi. My two complementing orders—Quail Egg Sushi ($1.95) and a Fried Tiger Roll ($7.95)—were a true highlight. Wrapped in nori with a bed of rice to hold it up, the quail egg was rich, smooth and pure. The silkiness of the yolk saturated the rice, while the nori gave the entire creation an element of crunch. It was an unusual, pleasantly surprising feature.
If you order the Tiger Roll, go light on accompaniments—it comes in five large pieces (tempura-battered and deep-fried) topped with a healthy helping of orange salmon roe. Instead of a weighty mass of oil, the Tiger held a light crispiness you’d expect from tempura-battered vegetables. The fattiness of the oil gave the roll’s centerpiece—salmon and crab—ample richness that rendered it completely self-sufficient.
Hold off on dousing it in soy sauce, please.
Sakura does markedly well for a restaurant of its ilk. Most of the business here is takeout, but there are scattered regulars who enjoy bellying up to the sushi bar for rolls and a glass of sake.
Though I am still skeptical of its wide-ranging menu options, everything on our plates was good, if not delicious.