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boulder: sushi tora

If you know me even a little bit, you know that I love sushi. Going to college in southern California sealed my fate in so many ways including sushi and Jeremy. My litmus test for my first dinner date with Jeremy was at a popular sushi bar in Pasadena. If he couldn’t handle the fish – out the airlock! But he loved it. Good thing too! When we first moved to Colorado, we were stunned at the number of sushi restaurants in Boulder. There are several – at least ten off the top of my head. But not all sushi restaurants in Boulder, Colorado are created equal. It didn’t take long before I zeroed in on my favorite.

sushi tora in spring

Sushi in Boulder is not inexpensive if your reference point is a major city on a coast. Once you get over the initial sticker shock, you come to learn that there is bad expensive sushi and good expensive sushi. Sushi Tora obviously boasts the Good Sushi. I’m no expert. I just know what I like. Their fish is consistently the freshest, best-prepared, and highest quality. I should note that I’m more of a sashimi and maki girl than a nigiri girl. It’s where I take out-of-town guests who have a hankering for sushi. It’s where I take my parents. They LOVED Tora and my folks are the first to wrinkle their noses and point out when a restaurant doesn’t serve satisfactory food (that’s where I get it from). I had to forgo sushi during my chemotherapy in 2008. Can you guess the first place we went for dinner when I got the all-clear from my oncologist? Tora, of course!

kampachi (amber jack) crudo with tobiko, orange oil, garlic, pepper

There have been some changes since I started going to Sushi Tora in 2006. Change in ownership for one. Change in head sushi chef too. For the past few years, my dining schedule has been pretty busy with so many places to choose from. I try to keep the variety alive and well. I’d go to sushi for more lunch meetings than anything else and that was always easier at the tables than at the bar. Sitting at the bar is the finger on the pulse of a sushi joint – sitting at a table is neither here nor there, but my white friends tend to prefer it. I saw the changes, but they didn’t register in my head until I was invited to come in and meet the new chefs last December. I’m slow on the uptake, okay.

beef short rib and cabbage fried wontons with sweet soy sauce and spicy mustard

pork and ginger gyoza with ponzu

Head Chef Ray Srisamer and Chef Brian plated up some of their newest dishes for Jeremy and myself when we sat down at the bar. There is no doubt in my mind that these gentleman know their fish, understand how to create a fine plate, and are very good at what they do. Ray asked us what we generally like to order (sashimi, please!) and he set to work on the first masterpiece. We began with the kampachi crudo, which kinda blew our minds. The flavors and textures were quite a deviation from the traditional, yet they worked and worked well together. The presentation was gorgeous. Art. Sushi is art.

cold-smoked maplewood hamachi (yellowtail), candied garlic chips, white soy, orange oil, yucca chips

Kate, the manager at Tora, brought out two appetizers from the kitchen for us to sample. These were new to the menu: deep fried wontons with beef short rib filling and the pork and ginger gyoza. I know I’m biased about gyoza and any form of Asian dumpling because I make these myself, so it’s no surprise that I thought they were fine… nothing mind-bending. But the wontons were terrific and different, filled with tender, succulent beef. I probably wouldn’t order them myself as we aren’t huge fans of kitchen menu items when we eat sushi, however these are sure to please. Next came the cold-smoked maplewood hamachi dotted with candied garlic chips (these were worth noshing on by themselves!), white soy sauce, orange oil, and yucca chips. I love hamachi. Yellowtail is my favorite. If a sushi bar can’t serve good hamachi, it is dead to me. I’ve had hamachi at Tora countless times before and I love it there. So it pained me to feel so lukewarm about this hamachi. The smoked flavor was great. The firm texture was just right. Combination of flavors and ingredients – lovely. But it wasn’t what my brain and tongue wanted. They wanted to appreciate that buttery smooth hamachi as it melts all over your mouth.

hon maguro zuke don (soy marinated blue fin tuna), fuji apple, fennel

Ray and Brian asked what sorts of ingredients we liked and what sorts we avoided. I set one basic ground rule: no cheese and no cream cheese on my sushi. That just doesn’t jive for me, but hey – I’m Chinese! They rolled out the hon maguro zuke don with thinly sliced fuji apple, and fennel. It was fine. I liked the apple and fennel more than the tuna because I prefer unadulterated tuna to the marinated kind which has a denser, drier chew to it. Our last dish for the evening, took some convincing, but Brian swore that goat cheese really lights up this plate.

maguro (tuna) with haystack goat cheese, fuji, pumpkin seed oil, soy-vinegar, sprouts

My one word for the tuna with goat cheese? Smooth. I think the pumpkin oil really tied it all together for me and because of that earthy flavor, the goat cheese worked. Certainly, it was worth it to try and I think these fellows create equally beautiful and satisfying plates. They are creative and new to me. But what I really want in my sushi bar is consistently fresh, high-quality fish that is well-prepared. I suffered notoriously awful service at my favorite sushi bar in South Pasadena for years because the fish and the chef were THAT GOOD. Jeremy and I left Sushi Tora that night feeling conflicted. I understand they wanted to introduce us to the new menu, that they are wanting to expand and set themselves apart from the other sushi bars in Boulder. That’s fine.

chef ray presents beautiful hamachi before serving it to a fellow patron at the bar

I think Tora did that exceedingly well in the past based on their fish alone. But who knows? The new menu items are so visually stunning and different, they may appeal to new customers. They may appeal to old customers. The dishes certainly took my brain and tastebuds on a fun and exciting ride, but they don’t appeal to me enough to drag my order away from my favorites. And I have a long list of favorites at Sushi Tora. I have since returned and reverted back to my old habits. Call me boring. You already knew I was a creature of habit. I develop strong loyalties and Sushi Tora is one of them.

ahh, lovely sashimi – don’t ever leave me

Kathya asked me on twitter one day who had the best sushi in Boulder and I replied without a doubt, it was Tora. She had a client shoot in town recently and I suggested we meet up for lunch – at Sushi Tora. No need to piddle with any of the other joints in Boulder because life is short and we don’t screw around. We sat at the bar and Ray expertly prepared our order. We shared some sashimi, maki, nigiri, and hama kama (grilled yellowtail collar) and we were sooooo happy.

maki and nigiri

Perhaps Sushi Tora is different things to different patrons. In fact, I’m sure it is. The new menu is nice and all, but you guys already won my heart on your old menu. I don’t mind if you have a little fun here and there as long as you keep coming home to me.

Sushi Tora
2014 10th St
Boulder, CO 80302
Ph: 303.444.2280
Twitter: @Sushitorabldr
Facebook: Sushi Tora fan page

Full Disclosure: Jeremy and I received a complimentary meal that included the first seven food photos above. I was under no obligation to positively review or write up Sushi Tora.

17 nibbles at “boulder: sushi tora”

  1. vanillasugarblog says:

    ohhh please. this post just kills me. avid sushi lover here and loving every lil morsel here

  2. Lisa says:

    I believe that you took us there once last summer when we were in Boulder. It certainly met our expectation. We had one of our Wine and Dine groups out at Soya last night. As usual, I had my Sashimi Special, but it had no comparison to yours. Most of the folks in the group had habachi instead. Service was slow b/c it’s Friday night.

  3. Nicole says:

    Oh my! I can hardly wait until August!

  4. Allison says:

    ♥ sushi, ♥ those photos of yours. ^_^ xo

  5. Shanon says:

    We ate there upon your recommendation at last year’s Food and Light. It was amazing, and one of the best meals we had in Boulder that trip. SO good!

  6. bekah jones says:

    Having always lived in land-locked areas, I have not had much exposure to sushi. Do you have a good resource for learning about the different kinds of sushi? Perhaps a primer of sorts?

    As always, your photos are exquisite!

  7. Denise-EPL says:

    Funny J and I just went to Tora last weekend and the menu changes were noticeable to us. We did order some kitchen items and I have to admit, they were super bland. They were missing at least a couple of flavor dimensions, best to put it as tasting flat.

    Our waitress was pushing some roll smothered in cream sauce and cream cheese inside and I flat out told her, that’s not my style. Hello I would’ve just sat down a few blocks away if that’s what I was after.

    I hope they don’t continue to deviate from the pure fresh experience I’ve always loved about Tora.

  8. Erin says:

    I haven’t been in years but oooh boy I miss Tora!!!!

  9. marla {family fresh cooking} says:

    Jen, thanks to your recommendations I had lunch at Sushi Tora when I was in Boulder last spring for Food and Light. I am also a sashimi girl. When I was there I indulged in a giant plate of sashimi and it was among the freshest, most flavorful fish I have ever had. I like a little side dish of ponzu sauce and that is all the embellishment I need. Candied garlic chips?? I could hang with those too.
    I can only imagine how freeing that plate of sashimi was after chemo – xo

  10. Ruthie says:

    Hey Jen – What do you talk about with sushi chefs when you sit at the counter? You know, if you’re at a new place or somewhere you’ve just been a couple times and they don’t already know your name. I’d love to be all chatty-chatty, but I feel like I’m awkwardly staring! I’m so white.

  11. Mrs Ergül says:

    I’m like you. I want my sashimi the plain old way. Nothing beats that so long as the fish is fresh and sweet! Have a good week Jen! xxoo

  12. ARC says:

    I’m curious about where you went in S. Pas?? Sadly, I only discovered sushi after I graduated from Tech so I missed out on a lot of good places in LA, I’m sure :( But I had 16 years of unadventurous eating to overcome :D

  13. Kirsa says:

    this sushi place sure seems to rock !
    Even if I live near a metropolis (Montreal), I wouldn’t say that we really have THAT many quality sushi places. Sure, there’s the regular sushi joint, where they will sell you sushis made of fish-from-the-day-before with heavilly brown spotted avocado, or the one now available at your regular food store (cause sushi’s hip, y’know ?)
    I’d love to have such a fine place nearby !

  14. eemilla says:

    The amber jack presentation is stunningly beautiful. Wow!

  15. Maggie says:

    What was your favorite Pasadena sushi bar? I’m a current student and am always looking for a good new spot.

  16. jenyu says:

    bekah jones – I don’t actually :( I just learned from trial and error. Mostly trial though! :) There are plenty of good online resources to tell you about the basic sushi on offer at most places. I bet if you went to a good sushi bar, sat at the bar, and asked the chef to introduce you to some sushi as a beginner – that would be neat.

    Denise – I hear ya. While it was interesting to try the different dishes (and they were fine, really) that’s not what I go to Tora for. I go for good, solid, fresh, excellent sushi. So hopefully they won’t lose their loyal customer base chasing after some other customer base that may or may not exist!

    Marla – good stuff, huh? :) I’d never steer you wrong, girlfriend xo

    Ruthie – well, that’s a good question. We don’t often chatter too much with the chefs, although we did with Fumito in South Pasadena because he was our friend (we also went about twice a week – at LEAST!). Ask where they’re from, what they recommend as fresh, what brought them to “fill in location”, etc. And if you really like your chef, you can purchase them a beer and toast them :) Also – I stare too! I love watching them make sushi :)

    ARC – We went to Ai on Fair Oaks. Their service is SO not good ;) But the fish was great and we loved Fumito and his other chefs. Fumito was also giving us samples of stuff to try out and experimenting with new and amazing dishes in the kitchen for us. He was awesome!

    Maggie – Ai on Fair Oaks in South Pas. Service is slow, but Fumito (the head sushi chef) is delightful. He flirts with ALL of the ladies ;) so funny.

  17. Saturday Six #56 - Misadventures with Andi says:

    […] The answer is simple. Sushi.  When I saw the photos in Jennifer of Use Real Butter’s “Sushi Tora in Boulder” post I was practically making my plane […]

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