There are three sushi restaurants within a three-block radius in downtown Boulder — and each of them is almost always full. One caters to college kids who come for fusion rolls and cheap drink specials, another attracts crowds with sake bombs and a wide selection of nigiri. And then there's Sushi Tora, which has long been considered the best place in town for raw fish.
The restaurant opened nearly two decades ago and built its reputation with master sushi chefs and fish imported directly from Tokyo's Tsukiji Market. But two years ago, after some of those chefs had begun to retire or move on — like Tsukasa Hibino, who left to start Sachi Sushi in 2005 — the place changed ownership, falling into the hands of Mara and Peter Soutiere, who also own Tahona Tequila Bistro. The Soutieres have made some updates: They recently hired Ray Srisamer, who comes from a more contemporary Japanese restaurant in Texas and plans to roll out a menu that melds Japanese flavors with more European techniques — the yin to the yang of the traditional lineup that Sushi Tora has offered for years.
But right now, the space is much the same as it has always been, a light, quiet spot outfitted with pale woods and manned by a team of attractive college students doing the bare minimum required of them. When I sat at the bar recently, I sampled a broad range of the sushi offerings: a rectangle of vibrant orange salmon striped with fat, a ruby-red block of tuna, a rosy butterflied shrimp. They were sliced clumsily but generously, the long, supple cuts draped over pats of rice. The master chefs seemed to be gone completely from behind the bar, leaving a less skilled team working with excellent fish.
But there are plenty of fish in this sea, and Sushi Tora needs a little work if it's going to keep swimming ahead of the rest.