Venue Review: Tomo Sushi
“Can I get you something to drink?” the server at the sushi bar of Tomo Sushi asked.
We knew right away what to order. If anything goes better with sushi than big, cold bottles of beer or sake, it’s big, cold bottles of beer AND sake.
“Oh sorry, we don’t have our liquor license yet,” she said.
It was a sign of what was to come, which was — nothing.
No server showed up to offer appetizers. Or entrees, or desserts. I had come with an ex-sushi waitress and a self-proclaimed wasabi-holic. When we asked the young sushi chef chopping veggies in front of us to make us whatever he felt like (a traditional sushi bar request) he nodded, then peeled cucumbers for 10 minutes before saying, “So are you going to order something?”
Tomo is a spacious, hip-looking new Japanese restaurant across from The Citadel mall with a menu almost indistinguishable from places like Jun, Sushi Ai and Sakura. Overall the food is fairly good. But the service, like the liquor license, is sorely lacking.
We made an excuse (sun in the eyes) to move from the young sushi chef to chairs in front of the head chef, a stern man the staff called Mr. Lee.
Tomo is Japanese for “friend.” Mr. Lee was as friendly as a border guard.
Behind the glass fish case, he toiled like a sweatshop worker — brow gleaming wet, eyes fixed humorlessly on his task, knife flying through fillets of squid, octopus tentacles and tuna with the merciless, tender precision of a sewing needle.
For all the attention he gave the fish, he paid none to us. Not so much as a “konnichi wa,” which is good because I’m pretty sure he’s Korean.
Anyway, there was no polite entry to ask if he’d put together a sampling of the freshest fish. Eventually, we just marked an X next to a few maki (rolls), nigiri (sushi pieces), and a sashimi combo (just plain raw fish), and slapped it on top of the bar.
But what about appetizers? My former-sushi-waitress companion tried to take charge. “Do we order from the menu with you or the waitress?” she asked.
“Waitress,” Lee grunted.
She flagged one down after a few tries and asked for a plate of edemame, spring rolls, tempura and shrimp dumplings.
“It will be right out,” the server said. It arrived 45 minutes later, lukewarm.
Meanwhile, Mr. Lee hunched over order after order. When he put the finishing touches on ours, he wordlessly handed three huge platters over the glass.
Our chopsticks hovered over traditional slices of fish on rice — inspired by the Japanese penchant for simple, defining elegance (they pay $100 for the perfect watermelon).
We couldn’t resist also ordering a sampling of the audacious, multilayered, often deepfried rolls that have become the common currency of Colorado sushi joints — inspired by the American penchant for adding calories to calories (we pay 39 cents more for bacon on the double cheeseburger). All were good. If the coaster-sized slices of rose roll (spicy tuna and shrimp tempura topped with flying fish roe) were too big to actually eat and fell apart in our chopsticks, it wasn’t Mr. Lee’s fault. He was only giving the people what they wanted.
The ex-waitress nitpicked between bites. The sashimi should be thinner. The sushi should come bit by bit, on small plates, not all at once. The wasabi-holic was thrilled with the big, absorbent rolls.
But I wasn’t listening to either. I was lost in the wonder of good raw salmon — sweet, buttery, somehow soft and firm like a ripe pear — more like marzipan than meat, with no hint of fishiness. Ordering sushi in Colorado is still a game of roulette. Often it is fairly tasteless. Sometimes you just wish it were. But this was pretty good.
It was a brief glance of the heaven a good raw-fish experience can bring, then we plummeted back to purgatory.
Behind the stack of empty platters, we waited for the bill. And waited. And waited. The rest of the room seemed to also be behind on orders. The one thing the flustered servers didn’t seem to have trouble with was ignoring us.
“Amateurs,” the former sushi waitress scoffed.
I went back a day later for lunch and didn’t have any major problems, but I was also only one of three tables.
Maybe Tomo will work out its kinks. Maybe Mr. Lee will loosen up a bit. But it might not be a bad idea to let them practice on someone else, because one of the only comforts for such absent-minded service is a good tall drink, and that won’t be an option for at least another month.