Sake to Me

So, are sake lounges the next century's martini bars? Judging from my experience with the Mori-garita, maybe not. But Mori Japanese Restaurant (reviewed this week) isn't the city's first Japanese eatery to add a sake lounge. Domo, a country-style Japanese place at 1365 Osage Street, turned its lobby into a sake lounge last year after the hour-long wait to be seated turned ugly and eager, expectant diners began arguing over who was next in line. But Domo offers only 26 sakes -- which puts Mori, with 36, in the lead for serving up the most ways to drink yourself silly.

I have to confess that I don't get too worked up about sake, except as an alternative means to an end -- namely, getting a good buzz on. But I know that many sakeheads can't get enough of the stuff, both in liquid form and in solid information. If you fall into the latter category, check out John Gauntner's Web site at, where the longtime sake columnist -- hey, it's no different from a wine columnist here -- for The Japan Times gives some very down-to-earth and helpful info. He tells how sake is made, describes the different types, and even offers his picks for the top hundred sakes of all time. Still, after Gauntner discusses the four main methods of brewing the rice beverage and detailing all of the complicated factors involved, he admits that, unlike wine, sake types are really, really difficult to tell apart. Why, then, are there 1,800 sake breweries in Japan? He does not say.

Back here in Denver, Sonoda's (1620 Market Street and 3108 South Parker Road) pours over a dozen varieties of sake. Owner Kenny Sonoda -- who was working rather late when I called last week, hoping to catch a bartender -- says that of the 2,500 kinds of sake, only forty or fifty are available in this country. "It's like wine in France," he adds. "They keep a lot of the best of it for themselves. That's not to say that we can't get a few of the best kinds here, though."

And why was Sonoda there so late? "Oh, the restaurant owner never sleeps," he replies.

Give that man a sake.

If you order it from one of the city's other big fish, though, you won't have as much to choose from. While Sushi Tazu (300 Fillmore Street) has fifteen sakes on its menu, Sushi Den (1487 South Pearl Street), Sushi Wave (9555 East Arapahoe Road in Greenwood Village), Sushi Terrace (8162 South Holly Street in Littleton) and Japon (1028 South Gaylord Street) each pour between a half-dozen and a dozen.

Rice checks: Japon may not have the city's most extensive sake collection, but it may have the only staff that bills itself as "whimsical." My October 21 Second Helping about the restaurant drew a response from manager/chef Chris Selby, writing on behalf of the owner, who wanted to let me and my readers know that "Miki Hashimoto is the only owner; the others have gone on their own paths." Meanwhile, other sushi chefs are apparently beating a path to Japon's door. "You also might be interested to note that the core sushi staff at Sushi Den now work here at Restaurant Japon," Selby adds, "and we are doing some new and creative things, as the owner has given us creative liberties, where at Sushi Den, we were not allowed." Duly noted. And also for the record, although the restaurant is open seven days a week, on Sunday Japon serves dinner only, from 5 to 10 p.m.

More mail: My review of Casa Bonita ("Dive! Dive!" October 7) continues to draw comment from fans and foes alike. "I totally agree with your comments on Casa Bonita," writes Shawn Sallee. "The food is still just as terrible as it was ten years ago. My kids enjoy the place, but even they have elected not to go anymore because of the food. You'd think after all these years that someone would get the hint. I'm surprised that they have survived. It must be the atmosphere and the tourist crowd, because it sure isn't the food!" Yeah, but at least the chips are included with the cost of the meal. After reading my review of Papa J's ("Reddy, Willing and Able," October 21), Christine Anderson wrote to complain about the Italian restaurant's "atrocious and blasphemous" practice of charging for extra bread. "As a side note," she adds, "the same can be said for any Mexican restaurant that charges for chips and salsa (i.e., the Blue Bonnet). There are plenty of fine Italian (and Mexican) restaurants that do not engage in such parsimonious practices."

I was at one of those Mexican restaurants when I composed my rant about cell phones ("Wasting Away in Margaritaville," August 19), which prompted Tracie Scott to send this e-mail: "I can't check out the restaurants you review as I live a great distance from them, but I couldn't agree more with your comments about the idiots. Why can't people understand that cell phones in restaurants are rude? PERIOD. If you ever find a restaurant that has a strict policy on cell phones and unruly children, please let me know. I'd spring for a plane ticket just to go there."

A word of warning, Tracie: Don't show up at my place at dinnertime.

Scott might want to think twice about showing up at Busara (1435 Market Street), too. Although I've enjoyed my visits there, most recently for a 2nd Helping ("Thai, Thai Again," September 1), on the night one e-mailer tried to dine there, "it wasn't standing room only," he says. "Imagine my horror when, as a solo diner, I was turned away...and there were empty tables." And more bad service has knocked New Saigon (630 South Federal Boulevard) -- which I revisited several times for last week's review, "What's Old Is New Again" -- off the list of another longtime customer. "Although we'd been going there and for the most part loving it for the past three years," he writes, "we couldn't take it anymore, because the service was getting poor, and then we'd eaten a couple of really chewy seafood dishes. After reading your review, we decided to give it another shot. Sadly, our experience was completely different from yours. The service has gotten even worse -- they were completely understaffed, the waiter and busboy were downright rude, and it took twenty minutes just to get our tea. While the appetizers (spring rolls and hot-and-sour soup), as always, were fantastic, the service was just plain lousy. The busboy slammed silverware, glasses and dishes down on the table, and the waiter glared at us most of the time, left dirty serving spoons all over the table, and kept us waiting for service. We were used to poor but friendly service; this time, it was pretty much just hostile. Too bad. We used to be big fans of New Saigon, but there are just too many choices in Vietnamese restaurants for us to go back."

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner