By Gretchen Kurtz
By Mark Antonation
By Cafe Society
By Kristin Pazulski
By Chris Utterback
By Cafe Society
By Jamie Swinnerton
By Jamie Swinnerton
I checked the clock nervously, willing the car in front of me to step on the gas.
"GO!" I yelled, six inches from the guy's bumper. Mercifully, there was a break in the traffic and I zipped around the old white sedan, resisting the urge to cut it off entirely. It was 6:45 p.m. on a Sunday, and according to the Japanese man I'd spoken with on the phone earlier that day, Sachi Sushi would close in fifteen minutes.
I'd been on the hunt for authentic ramen for months, craving the hearty, chewy wheat noodles in a savory broth studded with slivers of pork, scallions, dried seaweed and half of a poached or salt-boiled egg. The dish, which originated in China, arrived in Japan sometime near the beginning of the twentieth century, and as its popularity increased, ramen took on regional variations. But it was only after instant ramen noodles were invented in the 1950s that the soup became ubiquitous. Some Japanese suggest that those instant noodles were the most important invention of the twentieth century.
The instant ramen of my elementary-school lunchroom was my first experience with the noodles; I'd suck them down, burning my mouth because I was so eager to eat the sodium-infused soup that I couldn't wait for it to cool. That midday meal was nothing compared to the authentic ramen I found while in school in California, but I didn't become truly obsessed with the dish until I was living in New York City and friends took me to Ippudo for the first time. From the moment I curled the first clump of thin, springy noodles around my chopsticks and stuffed them into my mouth — along with a spoonful of cloudy, rich broth, creamy with velvety pork fat but as delicate as lace — I was hooked. Ippudo was the restaurant I missed the most when I packed up my Brooklyn apartment and came home, and it's still among my favorite restaurants in the world. And almost as soon as I stepped off the plane at DIA two years ago, I started looking for a noodle shop that would come close to measuring up.
I chased a lot of false leads, ducking into a Japanese restaurant if there was even a whisper of a rumor that the ramen was stand-out. But I never found anything more than light broths and noodles, a dish more reminiscent of my childhood lunchroom than anything at Ippudo. I eventually made do with the lobster ramen at Bones, which is delicious and fantastically rich, but still wasn't the porky soup I craved.
A few weeks ago, though, I heard about a spot in Niwot that made real Japanese ramen once a week, on Sundays. So I cut a weekend in Denver short to make the drive north. It took me longer than I'd anticipated, and by the time I was running through the doors of the Niwot Market, the grocery store where this Japanese eatery was reportedly housed, I was crossing my fingers, hoping that I'd made it in time.
My desperation grew as I made laps through the aisles, trying to find the elusive spot. Finally, an aproned employee of the market took pity and pointed me to a back corner of the store, cordoned off by strategically placed shelves of dry goods. At 6:53, I stumbled into Sachi Sushi.
Behind a small counter, the owner stood cutting fish, occasionally stirring pots. He was aided by an assistant, who took orders, ran food and cleared a handful of lacquered wooden tables, adorned with fake potted plants and crammed with diners. I approached the register, quivering with excitement. "Ramen," I whispered.
The grinning owner gave me an apologetic look. "Sorry," he said. "We were very busy today. No more ramen. Come back next week."
Hungry and desperate, I ordered a bowl of salmon chirashi. As I ate the fat pieces of velvety orange fish mixed with wasabi and a healthy dose of soy sauce, I tried not to think about the gas and time I'd wasted. The salmon was good, but something I could have had in just about any decent sushi joint along the Front Range. Including Sushi Tora, the former employer of Sachi Sushi owner Tsukasa Hibino.
A native of Osaka, he's been in the United States for thirty years, many of which he spent cutting fish at Sushi Tora, a Boulder mainstay. Five years ago he decided to open his own restaurant, which he put in a small corner of the Niwot Market. Here he offers nigiri, sushi rolls, donburi (Japanese rice bowls) and specials from his home country, including ramen.
Hibino often runs the place by himself, making all the dishes and chatting up his customers in heavily accented English. Although he had help the day I first visited Sachi Sushi, Hibino's good-natured presence was enough to make the humming coolers, the fluorescent lights and the bakery that shares the wall with Sachi melt away. Despite not getting a taste of ramen, I was charmed.
The next Sunday, I didn't want to risk missing the ramen, so I called ahead, and Hibino assured me that he wouldn't be running out of soup that day. I wasn't taking any chances, though, so a friend and I headed there for lunch.