When Avanti Food & Beverage opened last summer in Lower Highland, the concept was to use the seven shipping-containers-turned-kitchens inside as incubators for chefs and entrepreneurs, where they could test restaurant ideas and new menus in a cheaper alternative to a full brick-and-mortar build. The initial leases were short-term, with staggered end dates to keep the spaces rotating. The first of those leases has come to an end, and some shuffling has already taken place. Avanti's newest tenant is Bamboo Sushi, which bills itself as the world's first sustainable sushi restaurant.
Kristofor Lofgren founded Bamboo in Portland, Oregon, nearly eight years ago; it's since grown to four locations there, with the Avanti spot making five total. "We were the first certified sustainable restaurant in the world," Lofrgren notes, adding that Bamboo's approach to sourcing is science-driven and audited twice yearly, leaving chefs to focus on creating dishes. Certification comes from the Marine Stewardship Council, and all fish served is approved by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.
This means that you won't see unagi (freshwater eel) or bluefin tuna on the menu, as both are considered overfished or otherwise at risk. But other seafood, like the tuna in the Bamboo nachos, is either wild-caught using low-impact fishing methods or farm-raised using techniques that don't negatively impact the environment. That tuna is line-caught by hand, and Bamboo only recently began serving octopus after Lofgren was able to source from divers who don't use drag nets, which can destroy reef habitats in the fishing process. "The only way to really make people happy is to start with great ingredients," he says.
Running a restaurant is about more than just sustainability, though. "Our menu is playful, but with a traditional element," Lofgren explains. So an appetizer-sized okonomiyaki (good luck finding that anywhere else in town) keeps company with steamed buns, crunchy fried cauliflower jacketed in a chick-pea crust, and a Hoki Poke box that combines musubi-style pressed rice with tuna and red crab.
This is the first Bamboo without its own liquor license, but Lofgren says he has worked with Avanti's bar staff to come up with some sake pairings to bring out the best in the food.
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Since Avanti is a restaurant incubator, Bamboo is using its new kitchen to introduce the concept to Denver, but Lofgren says a full-fledged restaurant is already being planned for the LoHi neighborhood later this year. And when Bamboo's lease is up inside Avanti, he hopes to extend it for another year — possibly with a Hawaiian-themed concept.
With Bamboo moving in, that means that someone else must have moved out. Farmer Girl, headed by chef/owner Tim Payne, found a permanent home in Lyons earlier this year and so is no longer at Avanti. Bixo Mexiterranean Bites moved downstairs into the Farmer Girl space, and Bamboo opens today in Bixo's former upstairs slot.
And in other Avanti moves, Poco Torteria — from Pinche Taqueria's Kevin Morrison — will move out later this summer to make way for the Regional, a new concept from chef Kevin Grossi, who had been the executive chef at Lola for the past two years.