Sunday, April 22, 2012

Land of Sushi

One frustration about living in the south suburbs is, as Westword points out at every opportunity, a lack of interesting local dining options. In particular, my husband and I have struggled to find a local sushi restaurant that compares to Sushi Den or Sushi Sasa closer to downtown.

I was therefore intrigued - and surprised - to see a Centennial sushi restaurant I'd never heard of win "Best Sushi Restaurant - 2012" from Westword recently.

That restaurant was Land of Sushi, and it didn't take long for us to decide to give it a try.

But if it weren't for the gushing from Westword, I probably would have steered clear of Land of Sushi. Nothing about the exterior of Land of Sushi is particularly appealing. Not the name, nor the glowing red letters that spell it out, nor the strip mall location across from the newly redeveloped SouthGlenn area.

Last weekend, we arrived to a nearly-full Land of Sushi at around 6:45 pm on Friday evening. The sparsely-decorated, L-shaped restaurant was smaller than I expected. It had no real waiting area, and a couple tables were placed far too close to the entrance. We sat at the small sushi bar, where our dishes were placed on plastic placemats with a fake wood pattern on them. After an initial mix-up between waiters, we were situated with drinks and menus.

We were soon glad we had arrived when we did, as the restaurant quickly filled to capacity, and a small crowd waited for their tables outside.

And although I often cringe at Westword's characterizations of suburban-restaurant ambiance, Land of Sushi certainly reflects the influence of the surrounding Centennial demographics. The restaurant was packed with families, waitstaff shuttled giant boats of sushi and sashimi to tables, and the atmosphere was casual, quiet, and mellow.

To start our meal, we ordered the Fatty Big Eye Tuna Sashimi with Avocado ($16).

Fatty Big Eye Tuna Sashimi with Avocado

I regret that the picture turned out a bit blurry on this one; it doesn't do justice to the beautiful presentation. The fatty big eye tuna slices were buttery, tender, and fresh. The creamy avocado atop each slice was an excellent compliment to every bite.

Our next plate included four orders of salmon sashimi ($2.5/ea, $10 for four orders as shown in photo) and an Ebi Tempura Roll ($7.5)

Ebi Tempura Roll (Front), Salmon Sashimi (Back)

The Ebi Tempura Roll was packed with tempura shrimp, crab, avocado and lettuce. It was the least interesting thing we ordered at Land of Sushi and was really a very average American-style sushi roll. The tempura batter was way too heavy on the shrimp; each bite left me with an unwanted mouthful of panko.

The salmon, however, was perfect. Thinly sliced, fresh, and delicately marbled with fat, I could have eaten several more orders of the fish.

Still hungry, we moved on to our final dish of the night, the Green Monster Roll ($13), which consisted of a green soy paper wrapper stuffed with tuna, crab, fried red snapper, and avocado.

Green Monster Roll 

Land of Sushi has plenty of authentic Japanese dishes on the menu, but this certainly wasn't one of them. It was delicious nonetheless; I loved the combination of seafood, delicate sushi rice, and creamy avocado. The soft soy paper was a perfect alternative to nori as a wrapper, and contrasted with the slight crunch of the fried snapper.

Service at Land of Sushi was efficient and attentive. Our neighboring diners seemed to mostly be regulars, and that's no surprise. Despite the no-frills atmosphere, the sushi is good, service is quick, and the location is convenient.

We're looking forward to throwing Land of Sushi into regular rotation on our dining schedule. The restaurant certainly delivers on sushi quality, although it doesn't stand out like Sushi Den or Sushi Sasa downtown in terms of ambiance and authenticity.

Casual Dining

  (7 of 10)

Pros: Great sushi, quick service
Cons: Boring location and decor

  Land of Sushi on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 16, 2012

Avery Tap Takeover at Parry's Pizzeria

File this one under: all my favorite things in one place.

We'll be there. At 11 am.

For more information:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Breckenridge Ball Park Pub

Heading to a Rockies game downtown last Friday night, we popped into the Breckenridge Ball Park Pub for some pre-game beer and food.

Originating in the Summit County ski town that bears the same name, Breckenridge is mostly known for its brewing operations, but the company is also creating a small empire of beer-centric restaurants.

The Ball Park Pub has been operating at its current location since 1992, or essentially since the birth of LoDo. Breckenridge recently opened the Ale House at Amato's in the Highlands, and they also operate an Ale House in Grand Junction.

If you're interested in seeing where they actually brew, you'll have to head to their original location in Breckenridge, or their tasting room in Denver's Golden Triangle.

We showed up around 5:30 pm - about an hour before the Rockies game - and met up with a couple of our friends.

Walking into the newly renovated Breckenridge Ball Park Pub, I was shocked at how large the space was. It's at a great location by Coors Field, but I'm skeptical that the restaurant can consistently stay anywhere near busy most nights. Even at the pre-Rockies-game time of our visit, there were still a few empty tables.

Since the Ball Park Pub is operated by Breckenridge Brewing Company, we expected an ample Breckenridge beer selection. We were disappointed to find they were sold out of probably their two most popular beers, the Vanilla Porter and the Ball Park Brown. They also don't provide sampler flights during Rockies games.

Thwarted on his top two beer choices, my husband settled for a Lucky U IPA, which he found to have an unbearably bland hop profile, followed by a much more palatable Oatmeal Stout.

Living in Colorado, we are spoiled with numerous amazing local microbrews, and we've become very picky about our beer. That being said, the beer at Breckenridge is nothing special. It certainly doesn't stand out in a local market saturated with Colorado-based craft beers.

Of course, the Ball Park Pub has consistently stayed busy for nearly 20 years now, so obviously some people disagree with me on that matter.

Anyway, getting to our food, Mr. Oyster ordered the Adobo Chicken Sandwich ($8.75).

Adobo Chicken Sandwich

I ordered the Bison Burger with pepperjack cheese ($9.95).

Bison Burger

Both dishes arrived with a side of "seasoned brew fries" and a pickle. The food was decent but nothing extraordinary; it tasted like standard bar food. My husband's chicken sandwich had a hint of heat from a roasted green chile. My bison burger was pretty standard; it was cooked properly to medium and served with the usual accompaniments.

The Ball Park Pub appeared to have growing pains associated with their new renovations. Our server seemed to have entirely too many tables. She couldn't bring us all waters at once because they were "out of glasses." We waited long stretches for our water to be refilled and our empty plates to be cleared.

The average food wasn't good enough to compensate for mediocre beer selection and clunky service.

Breckenridge Ball Park Pub has an outstanding location near Coors Field, and offers a typical bar menu and beer selection that seem to have mass appeal. But with so many other excellent beer and food options nearby, it's certainly not at the top of my list for a return visit.

Casual Dining

(5 of 10)

Pros: Easy to get a table, great location
Cons: Food and beer are forgettable, clunky service (maybe due to recent renovations)


Breckenridge Brewery & Pub on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Parry's Pizzeria & Bar, Revisited

We were flattered to be invited to the soft opening of Parry's Pizzeria & Bar in January, and thrilled to discover that a great pizza-and-craft-beer joint was opening so close to our house.

Since then, we've made a couple more visits to Parry's for dinner, and also had some unsuccessful tries when we've turned around and headed elsewhere due to a very long wait.

Parry's has quickly become an extraordinarily popular Highlands Ranch restaurant and bar. That's no surprise, as Highlands Ranch is always hurting for non-chain, unique restaurants. Parry's particularly stands out for its selection of over 50 beers on tap, including many well-regarded local and national craft beers.

Parry's location at a giant Highlands Ranch strip mall is normally packed with a waiting area full of families and couples. If you can get past the crowds, however, an impressive beer menu and pizza selection await.

We've eaten in both the main dining area and near the bar. Unfortunately, their bar area is entirely too small. Only a handful of chairs are available, surrounded by a few nearby tables where you'll have to elbow away the remaining crowds of bar-area patrons who have nowhere to sit or stand.

But where else in the south suburbs can you get Russian River's Damnation and Dogfish Head Midas Touch (oh and an Odell IPA for Mrs. Oyster) on tap?

At a visit in February, we tried their Little Italys ($6) appetizer, which comprised of "round mounds of beef packed in bread crumbs, then delicately fried" (in other words, fried meatballs).

Little Italys

They were a little rubbery and lacking in flavor. As an appetizer choice, we much preferred the hot wings from our first visit.

Also at our initial dinner at Parry's, we ordered - and loved - their Summer of 2010 pizza. At a later visit, we tried the Five Boroughs ($20 for 18"), which was topped with pepperoni, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, green peppers, black olives and red onions.

Five Boroughs Pizza

The Five Boroughs was very average, it lacked punch and tasted like a pizza from anywhere. Since then, we've stuck to the Summer of 2010 and haven't left disappointed.

Parry's couldn't have chosen a better location for their pizzeria and bar. The restaurant feels a little like Mellow Mushroom, although Parry's has inferior pizza but a better beer selection and better wings. It's certainly worth a visit for anyone in the south suburbs who loves pizza and beer.

Casual Dining

(7 of 10)

Pros: Outstanding beer list, good pizza
Cons: Very long waits, some food is just average


Parry's Pizzeria & Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Crepes 'n Crepes

Last weekend, after running out of time to try dessert at Osteria Marco, we found ourselves bumbling around Larimer Street looking for something sugary. Crepes 'n Crepes - conveniently located along some of downtown's busiest foot traffic - lured us in with bright lights and delicious smells.

Crepes 'n Crepes offers a variety of sweet and savory crepes, but we were only interested in a dessert-like dish for the evening. At the staff's recommendation, we ordered a specialty crepe that was packed with fresh strawberries and a cream cheese-like sauce ($9.5). 

We watched as they prepared the crepe in front of us in just a couple of minutes. 

Crepe with strawberries and cream cheese

The presentation was beautiful, and I was very impressed with the flavor, freshness, and overall quality of the strawberries. However, just about every restaurant in Denver prices their desserts at $7-$8 each, for what is often a much more complex dessert than a crepe.

Crepes 'n Crepes was a decent place to pop in and try, although the simple arrangement of cream, strawberries, and crepe, while delicious, seemed expensive for $9.5.

Everyday Dining

(7 of 10)

Pros: Fast service, good sweet crepes
Cons: Expensive


Crêpes n’ Crêpes  on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Osteria Marco

While Tamayo was certainly a bust last week, that didn't deter us from heading straight back toward Larimer Square for another dinner this Saturday. But instead of seeking pricey Mexican food, we headed across the street for low-key Italian fare at Osteria Marco.

Osteria Marco is one of many Denver-area restaurants operated by restaurateur Frank Bonanno. Mr. Bonanno is a pretty big deal in the Denver dining scene, although we haven't visited any of his establishments since a disappointing dinner at Mizuna about a year ago.

But we'd heard nothing but good things about Osteria Marco, his lower-priced and casual Italian restaurant on Larimer. We were looking to have an early dinner ahead of a show at Comedy Works's downtown location, and figured Osteria Marco was worth a try.

Located below ground level and dimly lit, the dining room at Osteria Marco felt like an expansive wine cellar. We met up with another couple and, at our request, we were seated in a high-backed booth near the bar-area televisions. The staff was very nice in accommodating us so that Mr. Oyster could watch the NCAA Final Four out of the corner of his eye, allowing him to continue his yearly, late-March ritual of suddenly becoming an avid college basketball fan.

The drink menu at Osteria Marco, as expected, offered a zillion wines. However, we were also pleasantly surprised to see a selection of great Colorado beers on tap, including my pick for the night, an Odell IPA.

Food-wise, we started off with a meat and cheese assortment ($24 including burrata), with burrata added as an "upgrade" for $5.

Meat and cheese plate with burrata

The plate was filled with three different cured meats, three cheeses (burrata is the big white dome on the left), blackberry jam, bread, and fried wonton-like strips.

The cured meats were all excellent, but the cheeses were the real star of the show. Each had a slightly different texture. The burrata had a firm shell and a rich, cottage cheese-like center. The blackberry jam was a perfect accompaniment to it. I would have preferred more bread and none of the wonton strips on the plate.

Mr. Oyster and I also split an order of the Arancini ($7).


My first taste of arancini came at Linger last year in the form of their bolognese-filled, Crispy Risotto Arancini. These were more plain, like the croquettes that abound everywhere in Europe. They contained the requisite fried risotto outer shell, and a gooey cheese center. I preferred Linger's version, but my dining companions liked these at Osteria Marco much more.

The arancini were served with roasted garlic aioli (at left in photo above), which I actually didn't even try, as the arancini were rich enough on their own.

We also split the Braised Rabbit ($20), which arrived in a carrot broth and was prepared with with shitake mushrooms, kale, and carrots.

Braised Rabbit

For $20, this was a seriously cheap rabbit entree. And it was fantastic. The delicate rabbit was served with the vegetables mentioned above, all perfectly prepared, and a rich carrot broth. I loved the chewiness of the mushrooms with the crunchy carrots and the tender rabbit and kale. The dish did have some small bones in it, however, which I was not expecting and found annoying work around.

The friends we ate with ordered the Fig and Crispy Prosciutto Pizza ($14) and the Artisan Pizza ($12).

Artisan Pizza

For relatively cheap, these were giant, flavorful pizzas. I especially loved the sweet and savory combination of the fig and prosciutto. I'm not sure that these pizzas were quite as good as those at Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria, but they were also a little cheaper.

Unfortunately, our meal ended there - we ran out of time for dessert as our Comedy Works show was about to start.

Osteria Marco offered some very, very tasty Italian staples at surprisingly low prices. We're looking forward to heading back for more antipasti and pizza, as well as the desserts we missed during this trip. Frank Bonanno certainly redeemed himself in our eyes with this visit to Osteria Marco.

Casual Dining

(8 of 10)

Pros: Great food, great beer selection, cheap
Cons: Bones in rabbit dish, similarly good pizza at other places


Osteria Marco on Urbanspoon