Sushi is more than food, it’s about tradition and beautiful presentation, says Aaron Deng, master chef and co-owner of the new Zen Asian Sushi Bar & Grill in Northfield.
“The presentation must be artistic, beautiful. Diners feast first with their eyes,” he said.
Deng opened Zen Asian Sushi, 8354 Northfield Blvd. in the Northfield mall, with partner Kelly Chuong this summer. They took over the space from Ling and Louie’s. The 7,500-square-foot restaurant seats 200, with a party area for 50.
“We liked this space because there was no good sushi around here and we wanted to bring it. Northfield is great for us because of all the new development,” Deng said.
Deng and Chuong are changing the Ling & Louie’s menu bit by bit, while keeping their own version of former menu items. They plan to segue to specializing in sushi.
The centerpiece of the large restaurant will be the new sushi bar, to be completed by the first part of November. The existing water-wall fountain will remain behind the sushi bar. “It’s a fantastic backdrop,” said Richard Morse, general manager.
Deng came to Denver from China in 2004. Members of his family have owned Chinese restaurants here since 1977. “I’m the first sushi chef in my family,” he said.
He learned the art of sushi from working at Sushi Den, one of Denver’s first sushi restaurants, and from television’s “Iron Chef,” Morimoto Masaharu. At 28, Deng hopes to make his mark in the world of sushi. He said a good sushi chef has his signature recipes and sauces—he doesn’t copy anyone else’s.
Since freshness of the food is most important to good sushi, Deng has his own fish supplier. “Part of being a good sushi chef is having an intuition to pick good fish,” he said.
Sushi is also about tradition and hierarchy. The traditional sushi bar places the master chef on the far right, with progressively less-experienced chefs to his left. Each chef has his or her specific role in creating the plate, with the master at the end to finish the work of art. The master chef hires his own team. “We want passion, care and concern going into every plate,” Deng said.
Morse said people are surprised to find high-quality sushi in a mall restaurant. “Even sushi snobs love it,” he said.
Zen Sushi serves mainly the business crowd for lunch and local families for dinner. The family friendly restaurant’s front counter displays artwork done by child patrons.
“We serve stuff kids like too, because many kids don’t go for sushi,” said Morse.
Zen Asian Sushi is open from 11am–10pm Monday through Saturday; and 11am–9pm on Sunday. Zen’s entrees range from $11 for lunch to $75 for the sushi sashimi dinner for two. For more information, call 303.371.4644.