Raw Passions

Hapa doesn't list a roll in the hay on its menu -- but close enough.

Our order read like the trailer for a porn video. Some foreplay, please, and 69 would be great. We definitely wanted a multiple orgasm (who wouldn't?), and the rock 'n' roll and magic mushrooms, too. And could we finish that off with a climax?

If your average porn flick doesn't involve miso soup and soybean pods, hey, that's just because the producers aren't using their imaginations. If a hip sushi joint can connect the dots between raw fish and sex, then Candy Samples should be able to work some seaweed salad into her act.

Since it opened four months ago, Hapa has become not just one of the town's most popular Japanese restaurants, but one of its hottest meat markets. Stop by any weekend night, and you'll find both the sushi bar and the sake lounge packed with beautiful people indulging their raw passions as great tunes play in the background. (Imagine eating a pile of octopus while a female singer intones in the background, "I saw you there shaking your ass.") The restaurant's own good looks are part of Hapa's undeniable appeal: The once-awkward space is completely unrecognizable as the former Modena. The dining areas feature sturdy tables and chairs made of dark wood and metal -- a few clever six-tops allow larger groups to face each other -- that are offset by an exotic fountain and lots of birds of paradise. The simple sushi bar is adorned with more flowers and plants, as well as some of the most unconventional-looking sushi chefs you'll ever see, including a woman with a shaved head and groovy neck tattoo and a surfer dude with a chunk of his dark hair dyed blond. (If you can't get a date with a fellow customer, a member of the hip, hot waitstaff might be worth a shot.)

Wild nights: Indulge your secret sushi fantasies at Hapa.
Mark A. Manger
Wild nights: Indulge your secret sushi fantasies at Hapa.

Location Info


Hapa Sushi

2780 E. 2nd Ave.
Denver, CO 80206

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Central Denver


Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday
11 a.m.-midnight Thursday-Saturday

Multiple orgasm roll: $12.95
Hamapeño: $5.75
Foreplay roll: $7.50
Climax roll: $7.95
69 roll: $9.50
Moo moo roll: $7.95
Orgasm roll: $8.95
Spider roll: $9.50
Hapa roll: $6.25
Salmon (two pieces): $3.80
Mackerel (two pieces): $3.50
Magic mushrooms: $5
Gyoza: $5
Chicken yakitori: $8
Broiled yellowtail: $7
Edamame: $3
Toffee banana bread pudding: $6
Five-spice chocolate cake: $6

2780 East Second Avenue

Dennis Page, a Navy brat who's part Japanese and spent his formative years in Japan, worked as a sushi chef at various Boulder spots through the 1990s; by the end of the decade, he'd concluded that the whole setup was just too stodgy. "I started to get the sense that even though sushi bars were opening up all over the place, a lot of people were not familiar with or were uncomfortable with sushi," he says. "So this idea I had was to introduce it in a fun, sort of progressive atmosphere that wouldn't be pretentious." When Page, Lori Hon and Mark Van Grack opened the first Hapa in Boulder's Fox Theatre in July 1999, their goal was to make the food fun. Not only did that attitude carry over to the second Hapa they opened five months later on the Pearl Street Mall, but it survived the trip to Cherry Creek North as well.

Hapa may not want to seem too serious, but its sushi is seriously satisfying. In fact, all of the items with those sexy names are as likely to make your eyes roll back in your head as the real thing. The multiple orgasm, which arrives looking like many little Os in a row, is actually a roll constructed of cream cheese, crab, tempura-wrapped smoked salmon and what's billed as a "luscious cream sauce," a description that doesn't begin to do that item justice. Sort of a cross between a thin béchamel and hollandaise, it had been ladled over the roll, which was then baked until the sauce formed a thin, dark-brown crust. Each bite of the roll was bursting with warm, gushy sweetness; cream escaped from the corners of our mouths, as did a few moans. It all started to make sense.

The multiple orgasm was included on Hapa's list of "advanced" sushi rolls, elaborate concoctions that didn't bother trying to resemble authentic Japanese creations and instead just married interesting flavors. The hamapeño, for example, combined yellowtail (hamachi) and just enough jalapeños to light a fire on your tongue without extinguishing the flavor of the fish. The foreplay roll added the oily slickness of raw salmon to a traditional California roll; the supple salmon had been wrapped around the roll, creating an appealing texture for the tongue that just might seem reminiscent of, oh, something else. The climax roll substituted smoked salmon for the raw, giving the roll an even oilier, softer texture. For the 69, shrimp tempura, crab and cucumber had been packaged in more salmon and topped with that cream sauce for a roll that was a little bit crunchy, a little bit warm, and plenty gooey. The moo moo roll was tamer -- paper-thin slices of raw beef mixed with sautéed onions, garlic and scallions -- but still potent with flavor. After a few bites of that, no one would want to kiss you, let alone share an orgasm (a foreplay roll baked in cream sauce).

For diners who aren't ready to go all the way, Hapa offers "beginner" rolls. Anyone who thinks roasted peppers, eggplant and portobellos wrapped with rice are what sushi's all about probably eats his Mexican food at Applebee's; these beginner versions didn't even contain wasabe. Things got more serious with the "intermediate" roster, solid versions of more standard rolls. The spider roll tucked a crispy soft-shell crab alongside cucumber, avocado and burdock root, and the Hapa roll was a nicely spicy take on a spicy tuna roll.

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