Saturday, January 06, 2007

Kura Japanese Restaurant, Colorado Springs

Kura Japanese Restaurant (no link to website because as far as I can tell, they don't have one) is one of those hidden gems you stumble across every so often.

Located in a strip mall in the back of beyond in northeastern Colorado Springs, their menu isn't outstanding - in fact, it reads like pretty much every other middle of the road Japanese restaurant's menu: teriyaki, tempura, donburi, sushi. The difference is that they do these things very, very well.

We found this place on a whim: we were searching out a Chinese restaurant recommended by a restaurant owner who happens to work out at the same club we do. As I suspected, it's a restaurant we'd tried before and had been unimpressed by. Rather than have another mediocre meal, we looked across the parking lot and spied Kura in the spot where Sushi Joe's used to be, a restaurant we'd always meant to try but never got around to. (In Colorado Springs, it pays to eat at places early on. Most of them won't be around long enough to try later.)

Kura's space is small but warm and inviting. The walls are a warm terra cotta color, with a slate covered accent wall in the back and black ceilings. A short sushi bar runs across the back wall. There are roughly a dozen and a half tables of varying sizes, with reasonable space between them.

As I mentioned earlier, the regular menu is pretty much the standard Japanese fare offered in this country. The sushi menu reads like several of the higher end sushi places in town: the standard fishes, and lots and lots of rolls, mostly variations on salmon, tuna, avocado, and cucumber. Since this was our first visit to the restaurant, we decided to try a couple kinds of sushi as an appetizer, and order a cooked dinner each. I added the California roll to my dinner, since it was only $1.00 extra.

Miso soup comes with the dinners, and alongside was a small plate of in the shell edamame to start. I love edamame - it's a great bar snack, healthy and tasty - so I was already won over. The miso soup came with spoons, which is pretty common in Colorado. I guess folks here have some issues drinking straight from the bowl. The miso soup was quite good, not outstanding, but warm and not watery.

The California roll, maguro (tuna), and tamago (egg) sushi arrived next. The maguro served was a beautiful, fluffy light pink. It was only a few shades darker than the albacore I had years ago that was so beautiful it convinced me that eating raw fish might not be such a bad idea. And it was GOOD. Soft in texture and complex in flavor, that's when I knew this was going to be a good dinner. If a sushi place can't serve a good maguro, which is relatively easy to obtain, just forget about the rest.

The California roll was good and flavorful. It's another of my benchmarks: it's so easy and so popular, it's easy to cut corners and make a dull version. And the tamago, even though it was missing the characteristic brown streaks, tasted of egg and soy and mirin.

I ordered a bento box with teriyaki beef, tempura, and salad. It also came with small dollop of a cold mashed potato dish which was outstanding - I could taste the butter and what was probably the mirin they flavored it with. The teriyaki beef was a bit on the sweet side for me, but the beef was markedly tender and the portion huge. It was easily three times the size of a teriyaki beef portion I expect in a bento.

Same with the tempura: two large shrimps, and one of every other vegetable. It arrived at the table almost too hot to eat. The broccoli was a little pasty due to some undercooked tempura batter within the floret, and I wish the sweet potato slice was done just a wee bit more, but these are minor quibbles.

My husband ordered the Katsudon Donburi: breaded pork cutlet, egg, and onions over rice with sauce. Again, the pork cutlet was quite large, and it was cooked just about perfectly: cooked through, but still tender and juicy.

Service was great: food arrived quickly and our server checked on us regularly, making sure everything was to our liking and keeping our water glasses full.

Best of all, the price for all this food: $32.90 (includes 7.4% tax). I've paid far more for less food that wasn't as good.

I really hope Kura is around for awhile: when the standards are done this well, I'm reminded just WHY they are the standards. We'll be back, because I think we're going to have some fun working our way through the sushi menu.

Date of visit: 1/6/2007

12/19/2006 Edit

2007 Culinary Resolutions

After years of grandiose New Years Resolutions that prove to be unworkable by about January 15, I finally settled on two that I thought I could keep because they were doable and pleasurable. People don't tend to keep to resolutions that make them unhappy - heck, they don't tend to keep doing anything that doesn't give them some kind of reward.

My two resolutions are culinary in nature: first, one new recipe a month. It's a way to get me to step out of my comfort zone and at least try to do something with all those cookbooks and magazines I've amassed over the years. Lots of the recipes are worth trying once, but aren't good enough/fast enough/cheap enough/easy enough to make it into the daily rotation. And occasionally I'll find a keeper.

Second: one new restaurant a month. We eat out so rarely these days that it's really hard to take a chance and try a new place, because I can't just erase the disappointment of a bad meal out with an excellent one the next day.But if we don't eat at new places, we'll never find new excellent places. It also keeps my ear to the ground to find the new places to try - as I've mentioned before, this isn't a restaurant town, but there are gems around.

Last year, I hit 12 out of 12 months on the recipes, and 11 out of 12 on the restaurants (the exception being December, which is a difficult month to begin with made more difficult with all this expletive deleted snow). I consider that to be a rousing success as far as resolutions go, and look forward to continuing them in the new year.

I have one more resolution, particular to this blog: I'm resolving to posting my restaurant reviews in a bit more timely manner. I've found the longer I wait to write the review, the less likelihood there is of it ever being written.