By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
The Chen brothers didn't just take on an awkward strip-mall space when they made their break from the chain and opened the renegade Fontana Sushi in Littleton (see review). They also picked up one of the more unusual Sushi Basho locations -- a former old-school IHOP at 2188 South Colorado Boulevard that dates from back when they were still built as freaky roadside A-frames and until recently housed a Genroku -- and have been operating since April as Blue Moon Asian Grill and Sushi Bar.
The place is rather pretty, in a fiercely urban and recycled kind of way. It ain't exactly a Zen garden, but the A-frame gives Blue Moon almost a pagoda feel, and the room is spotlessly bright and polished, the booths comfortable, and the walls (which appear to be made of varnished plywood where they're not taken up by ranks of windows looking out on streets, sidewalks, Crown Burger next door and the cracked pavement of the wraparound parking lot) hung with a random scattering of artwork. But for some reason (my guess: cheap pickin's at a bankruptcy auction), the chair backs all have cutouts of a stylized, steaming coffee mug.
Blue Moon is staffed by a friendly crew (both on the floor and behind the bar) who seem to like talking about food. Fish, in particular. The sushi bar is well-equipped, and the Chens have wisely forgone the ubiquitous, poster-sized sushi picture-glossary that is apparently a requirement for any minimalist Japanese restaurant in Denver. Instead, Blue Moon's offerings stand at near right-angled opposition to what they're doing at Fontana. Here the sushi menu is fairly standard (incorporating some of the non-traditional rolls being done in Littleton, but none of the really cutting-edge stuff), but the specials board is truly out there. I've had snow rolls (spicy tuna, yellowtail, cold seaweed, avocado, cucumbers and tobiko, all wrapped in white seaweed) and green rolls (crunchy tuna packaged in avocado) and, last week, a blistering spicy shrimp roll, done inside out, in a sauce the color of Pepto-Bismol but tasting like Cajun rémoulade. It was generously (if somewhat clumsily) assembled, laid out on a long, black plate, and so fresh that each piece snapped when I bit in. I followed the shrimp with a bowl of miso soup, an order of damp, cold but obviously handmade shuma dumplings too long out of the steamer, and then more sushi: another special, this one done with lemon-flavored tuna and yellowfin wrapped in nori, rolled in rice and topped with an avalanche of red tobiko that crackled like Pop Rocks when I ate it. I eventually scraped off most of the fish eggs: Pretty as they are, tobiko are not caviar, and I'm not all that impressed when they're served by the handful.
2188 S. Colorado Blvd.
Denver, CO 80222
Region: Southeast Denver
The bulk of Blue Moon's menu is dedicated to non-sushi Asian dishes -- Chinese egg rolls, Vietnamese spring rolls and Thai summer rolls, edamame and lo mein, Thai curries, kung pao chicken, lettuce wraps and beef in Sriracha. Everything was made fresh, amply dressed, and served beautifully arranged on huge white plates that might be better suited to some downtown, Pier 1-style yuppie magnet, but here seemed to symbolize the kitchen's overwhelming largesse. Nothing on the menu -- except for the sashimi -- tops $12.95.
The way I understand it, the Chens wanted Blue Moon to be a place where their best takes on Asian cuisines could get a fair shake -- and that's exactly what they've accomplished. The scene is cool, the crowds generally sedate, and the menu -- while not quite rising to the level of the straight-Tokyo weirdness of their Fontana Sushi -- is a border-hopping adventure solidly anchored in the sea.
Lounging around: Last week, Corridor 44 rolled out the zebra-print carpet at 1433 Larimer Street, in the old home of Josephina's (half of it, anyway, and that half has been completely renovated, with the bar up front restored and a 44-foot-long corridor leading to a chic lounge in back). Chef Eric Laslow -- who was brought in from a winning season in Portland by the folks at Larimer Square to tend Josephina's through its last days, then kept on for a place that would be all his own -- has put together a small-plates crudomenu (yeah, that means raw) meant for pairing against the by-the-glass champagne bar that's Corridor 44's driving concept. We're talking thirty plates, desserts included, running the gamut from raw diver scallop with salmon roe and pickled fennel to ceviche, tartare, charred asparagus with sea salt, and crab and roasted corn flan -- which sounds like the best thing anyone's thought to do with flan in forever.
And this Laslow fella ain't just some Left Coast cruiserweight looking to horn in on the good thing they've got going on Larimer, either. No, this guy is serious business. He had his first exec's gig at nineteen -- an age at which I was still tending bar at a Chinese restaurant and working the line at Perkins -- and while he was there, he got four stars in the Mobilguide. That's not quite Michelin, but it's nothing to sneeze at. Meanwhile, across the street at 1442 Larimer, the Champion Brewing space has been taken over -- finally -- by Cru Wine Bar(not to be confused with the former Denver Cruwine store at 1590 Little Raven Street, which recently changed its name to Little Raven Vineyards), an operation out of Dallas that's pushing to open before the end of the year.