Cafe Society

A Cut Above

From my spot at the sushi bar, I can’t see outside. The windows are frosted, decorated with pictures of geishas and stalks of bamboo. I can’t hear anything from the outside, either, because they have the radio tuned to some kind of Asian soft-rock station—Tokyo’s version of Kenny G toodling away on the sax and singing (I assume) of pretty girls, sunsets and long walks on the beach. And since no one else from the outside is coming in, for the moment I exist inside my own little bubble of Japan.

My own little bubble of delusion, really. I know nothing of Japan except what I’ve picked up from Saturday afternoon kung-fu movies, late-night anime, video games. I’ve never been to Japan, and I’m afraid I will be disappointed. How could reality possibly live up to the fantasy I’ve built in my brain of a place where there are ninjas in the rafters, robots walking the streets and nightly Godzilla attacks? It can’t.

The one thing I do know for sure are Japanese restaurants -- the lure of Japanese food, the heady complexity, the Zen calm.

The only Japanese I speak is kitchen Japanese, which means that if I ever do get there, at least I won’t go hungry. The only Japanese culture I understand with any sort of instinct is the culture of the dining room, which is, no doubt, where I would labor to stay.

In this week's review, I take my obsessions out for a spin at Sushi Katsuya, the five-month-old sushi bar that opened in one of the nameless strip malls out in Aurora’s Little Whatever. The neighbors there are all alien: cafés with indecipherable names, lunch joints offering rice balls, bars existing only behind smoked-glass windows and scrawls of neon. Still, I’ve come to feel more at home in these ‘burbish ethnic cul-de-sacs than in Denver proper -- feeding among the yuppies, drinking with the hat-boys and righteous LoDo skanks. I take solace now in places where no one speaks my language unless forced, where it is obvious -- from the color of my skin, the words in my mouth—that I am there only for the food.

Also, it’s pretty cool when the restaurants themselves live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. And Katsuya did.

For those uninterested in Godzilla, sushi or where I choose to spend my down-time, there's also news from the front lines: about human trafficking in the restaurant business, about the perils of restaurant ownership and the new bloom of business on South Broadway.

And for dessert? A revisit to Osaka Sushi, winner of this year's Best of Denver award for Best Neighborhood Sushi, so that I could cram even more delicious raw fish into my already overstuffed sushi-hole. -- Jason Sheehan