With an intentional vibe reminiscent of small restaurants in rural Japan, Misaki’s space at Stanley Marketplace is compact, with an L-shaped dining area that frames the restaurant but has no walls. A large red lantern anchors the corner. Playing off the recycled nature of the Stanley itself, there’s a hodge-podge of tables and chairs, including two tables with a bicycle and motorcycle as their bases, which are coveted spots, and often make an appearance in Instagram feeds.
The restaurant, which opened in December 2017, is co-owned by veteran restaurateurs, husband and wife team, Robert and Charlene Thai. They also have a location in Superior and one at the new Broadway Market. Along with four highly-trained sushi chefs, Robert is the primary face of Misaki. Charlene fills in as needed but focuses on providing fish and seafood flown in overnight on direct flights from Japan, Scandinavia and other areas thanks to her day job as General Manager of a seafood supply company. She also sources more than 200 restaurants around Denver.
Misaki is named after a town in Japan, near Yokohama. It’s known as the preeminent location for tuna quality and sales. “Tuna is the most ordered sushi in most sushi restaurants, so for us, it’s kind of a spiritual thing,” says Charlene. “So we named the restaurant for the tuna harvest and also for its quality. Plus, I’ve been to Misaki many times and I really have a passion for it.”
In addition to the look of the restaurant, the concept for the concise menu hearkens to rural Japanese spots where people gather to enjoy small plates of food and drinks like sake. Due to the size of the restaurant at Misaki, they can’t prepare some expected items such as teriyaki. “So to compete, we have some non-standard items,” says Charlene. That includes Japanese fried chicken marinated in ginger, soy sauce and other seasonings, plus exotic seafood such as sea urchin, Toro (Bluefin Fatty Tuna), Spanish Mackerel and Hokkaido Scallops. They also serve traditional items such as sushi rolls and sashimi (raw fish or seafood without rice), and dumplings.
People new to the sushi experience often come in and are unsure what to order. “I ask them about any allergies they may have, then start them on cooked sushi rolls, all really mild, nothing raw,” says Charlene. Next time they come in, she suggests more adventurous items, working up to some of the raw items. “Sushi can be really fun so we want to make it fun for everybody,” she says.
The Thais and their two sons live in Stapleton and are happy to have a restaurant in their neighborhood. Robert has a talent for remembering everyone’s name, even if they’ve only been in the restaurant once. He and Charlene have gotten to know a lot of people and feel a strong sense of community. “We want it to be like you come to our house because you are not only my guest, you are my friend. That’s how we like to run this place.”