- Matthew Schniper
- The Sake Don plate appears as an artful, bright, edible bouquet.
This Sake Don, offered raw or grilled (I went raw), easily ranks as one of the prettiest plates we’ve been served in recent memory. It’s also emblematic of the care that chef/owner Song Yi and his seasoned sushi staff puts into all of Bada’s presentations. Yi, a Korea native, counts 30 years in restaurants, 15 of those making sushi, and he’s well versed in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisines. But thankfully he’s spared us from one of those overreaching fusion smorgasbords for a tightly focused Japanese menu at Bada.
He’s brought along fellow chefs from past jobs locally, who he’s known for years, assembled a seasoned front-house crew, and taken the advice of folks like his liquor rep to assemble a competent bar, with ample sake options (including a $120 bottle) and a basic cocktail list bearing Colorado spirits. Once a student of architecture, he indulged in designing Bada’s modern layout himself, taking six months to turn a blank spot that had sat vacant over a decade into a sleek eatery built around a long sushi counter.
The only drawback to this location, tucked away next to Kohl’s on South Circle Drive, is it has no viable street visibility and none of our phone maps could lead us to the spot. After several misdirects in the vicinity, I call to be led in. The extra effort proves worthwhile, so consider this a true hidden gem.
It’s a place to push your palate with a locally lesser-seen appetizer of onigiri umeboshi, fist-sized, partially seaweed-wrapped rice balls (that act as convenience store “sandwiches” in Japan), filled with hella-tart, mouth-puckering pickled plums — an acquired taste to be sure — and heavily dusted on top with furikake, a sesame seed and spice powder.
Also consider the Scallops Butter Yaki: four plump, cast iron-seared and -served, gorgeously gooey-raw scallops in a slightly sweet, thin butter sauce interrupted only by the faint bite of garnishing fine-diced scallions. These will remind you that the majority of scallops you’ve ever eaten were overcooked. Or perhaps go for an economical yakiniku bento box, hosting bulgogi-like, chewy strips of char-marked, mildly sweet beef plus textbook tempura vegetables and a prawn tail, plus rice and a single fried dumpling. (All meals also include complimentary miso soup and a simple fresh salad.)
For more straightforward sushi cravings, a two-piece nigiri menu delivers the usual suspects, like the anago, seawater eel, that I’ve always found a touch more special than its freshwater kin, unagi, more widely used in rolls. Both tend to incorporate a sweet, tangy tare sauce glazing, essentially a vinegar-soy reduction. But for a less-familiar bite, I order hokkigai, surf clams, which arrive with a lime slice on a wood block, appearing as deep red bird beak shapes atop a pinched rice bed. They’re surprisingly mild, and intrinsically tough texturally, like beef tongue minus the taste bud texture; chewy like muscle that saw constant use — and delicious even sans a soy sauce dip.
Bada’s well-priced sushi rolls tread mostly familiar ground ingredient-wise, with a few custom monikers and a good mix of the traditionally simple and the near-absurd. I opt for the latter category and two baked rolls: the Blue Ocean and Godzilla (a menu-topping $18.95). Each incorporates a creamy krab mix, but Godzilla, carved with bamboo leaf tentacles and little lemon segment eyeballs on one oversized end piece, lays a “whole half-cooked eel” (read: really long generous strip) atop a thick, tall roll garnished in krab slivers, vibrant, salty smelt roe, and that sweet tare sauce. The stunning Blue Ocean arrives with a hollowed lobster tail diving over rearranged roll pieces, stuffed with cucumber, tuna and avocado. But the highlight is warmed scallop and lobster bits cloaked in a truly spicy sauce, all piled on the rice wheels. It’s decadent, rich, and frankly overwhelming in the best possible way.
Orchids arrive on many of these plates too, and Yi sends us off with an artfully carved orange segment installation, on the house, having also preceded one meal with a free welcome item, a gingery sesame seaweed octopus-sliver salad over spun daikon. It’s the extra touches like this that show his passion, and Bada’s promise.