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Like so many other great culinary creations -- cheese, jerky, prosciutto, pickles -- sushi was invented as a way of preserving food. In early Japan, slices of raw fish were sandwiched between layers of heavily salted rice, with a stone then placed on top. Months later, the rice/fishwich was ready for consumption.
7310 W. 52nd Ave., Unit R
Arvada, CO 80002
Region: Northwest Denver Suburbs
It was likely a great deal less tasty than today's sushi. In the late eighteenth century, when lengthy fermentation was no longer fashionable, some smart chef decided to experiment with the sushi rice. A little sugar, a little rice vinegar and a lot less salt -- and the now-traditional addition of kombu, a type of kelp used to flavor the rice -- gave sushi rice the characteristic flavor it still bears. And as sushi evolved, so did a host of rules regarding how the fish should be cut and the components assembled, as well as the proper way to eat it -- chopsticks for sashimi (the raw fish alone), fingers for sushi, and never, ever, a knife, since that implies the fish is tough.
Because sushi -- both making it and eating it -- has so many formalities, sushi chefs take their jobs seriously, as they should. Still, sushi bars can be intimidatingly stiff, so it's a pleasant surprise to find a few that are more laid-back and accommodating. And I have yet to come across a sushi bar more tolerant, more relaxed than Genroku, the funky, eight-year-old Japanese restaurant that sits in an old IHOP space on Colorado Boulevard. It's casual, it's kitschy; in fact, it looks like a Japanese IHOP with a small, crowded sushi bar jammed into the center. Many sushi fans remember Genroku fondly as one of the first sushi bars they ever visited, but as hipper places have popped up, this one may have gotten lost in the shuffle. As a result, business can be sporadic -- bad news for the owner, perhaps, but good news for families that want to linger over their sushi, instructing the next generation of sushi eaters.
Ghen Yuan is the sushi chef as well as Genroku's owner. "I do a little bit of everything, actually," he says. "The recipes are mine, and so I watch over the kitchen and, you know, the dishes sometimes need someone to wash them, too." But it's Yuan's up-front smile that makes the sushi bar so inviting, and he's particularly attuned to children. "They will try most things once," he explains. "But if you scare them with too much wasabe or a piece of fish that is off, they will never try it again."
Chances are that if they first try sushi at Genroku, though, they'll become lifelong fans of eating it raw. Yuan slices up some fabulous fish, in both sashimi and sushi form: It's high-quality, impeccably fresh, artfully carved, nicely presented and considerably cheaper than at some of the town's big-name sushi joints. We inhaled supple slices of maguro ($3.50), or tuna, and its fatty counterpart, the toro ($5.50); hamachi ($3.50), the sweet-fleshed yellowtail; firm cuts of salmon (shake, $3.50); and saba, the stronger tasting of the two mackerels ($3.50). The tamago ($3.50), or egg omelette, was on the sweeter side, but not too much, and the roe-filled options -- smelt ($3) and salmon ($4) -- were packed to nearly overflowing with perfect eggs.
Genroku does well by its generously portioned rolls, too. The California roll ($4.50) was cut into eight thick pieces, with all of the ingredients blending into a well-melded bite. Even the often strong-flavored spicy salmon roll ($5) was more mellow here, with just a hint of heat to enhance the moist fish, rather than overpowering it. You can also pick-n-roll, creating your own combo out of whatever the chef has on hand, with Yuan setting a fair price. We experimented with salmon, fatty tuna, plum paste, avocado and cucumbers, and were charged a mere $5.50 for a mighty big, mighty fine roll.
But sushi isn't the only thing cooking at Genroku. The kitchen makes an excellent tempura, which was nicely displayed on a mixed-seafood platter ($14.95) that included lobster, shrimp, scallops, squid and a nebulous white fish, all coated in a thin, pale-yellow batter that had turned into a crispy shell once it hit oil. The succulent grilled-beef teriyaki ($12.95) boasted a thick, sweet sauce that coated very thin slices of meat; the heavenly scented sukiyaki ($10.95) arrived in a hot pot filled with a flavorful broth, at once sweet and savory and brimming with beef, tofu and vegetables. And the yakizakana ($9.95), a seemingly simple dish of broiled fish with "a touch of salt," was actually a deliciously salty fillet of mackerel that had the chewier exterior of a preserved fish and the tender, moist interior of a perfectly cooked specimen.
A sound, tofu-packed miso soup comes with most of the meals, along with Genroku's lettuce-and-tomato salad dressed in a sharply tangy vinaigrette, and, of course, plenty of rice. Although the entree portions are large, a few appetizers are still worthy of note. For example, the gyoza ($4.50), filled with fried chicken and minced vegetables, and the shumai ($4.50), beautifully steamed dumplings packed with seasoned pork ($4.50), were both top-notch. When Yuan saw the kids at the next table scarfing up an order, he sent another out for free.
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