After the successful launch of two Osaka Ramen noodle joints earlier this year, chef/restaurateur Jeff Osaka and chef Jesus Silva are ready to get the conveyor belt rolling at Sushi-Rama at 2615 Larimer Street, just a block away from Osaka's first ramen shop. When Sushi-Rama officially opens at 11 a.m. on Sunday, it will feature kaiten-zushi — small plates of sushi delivered to guests on a gleaming, stainless-steel conveyor belt. The tiny, brightly colored eatery seats 24 downstairs at booths and along a bar, where the conveyor belt makes a loop to deliver color-coded plates to customers, who can grab dishes as they go by or order off the menu. Another 20 seats upstairs offer table service only.
Silva, who was at Sushi Sasa for eight years before joining up with Osaka, has worked with sushi for more than half of his 25-year career in the kitchen. "The fun part about it is that you can taste more than half the menu," he says of the diminutive dishes on the belt, which feature just a few pieces of a roll, for example (you can order an entire roll off the menu). The prices range from $3 to $5 and are indicated by the color of the plate. Other hot and cold items — yakitori chicken or beef, edamame, salads — are also available from the kitchen.
The opening menu is intentionally small — a dozen rolls and a handful of other items — but daily specials and new dishes will be added once the crew gets through the opening weeks. Osaka will also have his own fish market in the building next door to bring in super-fresh items like Hokkaido scallops and live sea urchin. Once special items are added, they'll be served on stacked plates to indicate the price; for example, a $9 item would come on a green plate stacked on a blue plate.
Rolls run from simple combinations like grilled yellowtail with green onion to modern creations that combine Japanese and Latin elements, like the Hama Rama roll, with crab, scallop and yellowtail topped with kaiware, shishito peppers and house-made "macho sauce." Most of the menu is straightforward for those familiar with sushi in general, but a few Japanese ingredients — yamagobo, takuan and chuka ika, for example — might prompt questions. (Those are pickled burdock root, pickled daikon and squid salad, respectively.)
The drinks list will also be kept simple, with a beverage cart for mixed drinks (no multi-ingredient cocktails here), wine, sake and a few Japanese and American craft beers. General manager Michael Burbage explains that space inside Sushi-Rama is tight, so a full bar and craft cocktail program aren't possible, but a half-dozen premium spirits like Leopold Brothers gin and Buffalo Trace bourbon will be available for those in need.
Although kaiten sushi is relatively new to Denver, Sushi-Rama isn't the first in the region; Sushi Kaiten in Longmont has a similar setup and SnowFox operates conveyor-belt sushi inside the new downtown King Soopers. And there's always Sushi Train in southeast Denver.
After Sunday, Sushi-Rama will be open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to close; closing hours are undecided so far, but Burbage says the place should stay open until at least 9 p.m.