Bamboo Sushi came to Denver from Portland, Oregon, in the summer of 2016, choosing to debut as a fast-casual counter inside Avanti Food & Beverage. But the company almost did itself a disservice by presenting itself as a simplified version of the real deal, judging by the sophisticated new sushi bar and restaurant that Bamboo is nearly ready to debut at 2715 17th Street, in the same building as Postino LoHi and Recess Beer Garden. While the Avanti location was playful and whimsical, the brick-and-mortar restaurant offers a much more elegant approach to Japanese cuisine.
"I just want you to walk into our restaurant and go [sigh]," says Bamboo founder Kristofor Lofgren, letting out a deep groan and sinking into a chair by way of demonstration. Indeed, the dark, atmospheric space divided into an izakaya-style bar up front and a surprisingly spacious dining room and sushi bar in the back, feels like a reprieve from the outside world, a shelter for adults specifically, with equally adult flavors on the menu.
"We don't want people to come in and say they've eaten this somewhere else; it's innovative but craveable and delicious," Lofgren adds.
A quick scan through executive chef Jin Soo Yang's menu might trigger a Wikipedia session before dinner even starts, what with sunomono, house-pickled saba and usuzukuri showing up as primary descriptors and momiji, negi oil and tataki yasai following along in the details. Turns out that sunomono is little more than a lightly brined cucumber salad, but you can supplement it with pretty slices of octopus or surf clam. (As for the rest, we won't spoil the surprise and wonder of discovering something new.)
Bamboo prides itself on responsible sourcing; the original Oregon eatery was honored by the Marine Stewardship Council as the first sustainable sushi restaurant in the U.S., and the Denver outpost receives the same product, whether fished or farmed, as that of the four Portland sushi bars. The commitment extends beyond just fish, with beef for the house burger (one of the very few American bites) and XO flank steak coming from respected ranches in the Rocky Mountain West.
A list of nigiri and sashimi appears similar to those at a multitude of other sushi joints, but here many of the two-piece offerings can be ordered naked or with "yakumi" — selected toppings meant to enhance a particular bite. Take your jackfish straight or add yuzu juice and truffle salt for a dollar, or double the egg quotient on fish-roe nigiri (ikura, tamago or tobiko) with a quail-egg topper.
Details inside the restaurant bolster the menu's complex and intricate flavors. Tiles in shades of blue and gray behind the sushi counter bear the imprint of Japanese fabrics, while light reflecting off dark-stained woods bathe the bar in a golden glow. Even the dishware, handmade by a ceramics company in Asheville, North Carolina, conveys a sense of of austere luxury. Art pieces like a photo montage by photographer/fisherman Corey Arnold and fashion designer Nathan von Braun add mystery and just a hint of mythos: Does the mosaic of boating snapshots resolve into a distinct image if viewed from far enough away, and just how many legs does the Spanish dancer with crab claws for hands have?
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LoHi is suddenly awash in sushi, with Mizu Izakaya and Sushi Ronin both within a couple of blocks of Bamboo. But Lofgren isn't worried, nor does he wish to be overtly competitive. "We have a philosophy that a rising tide raises all boats," he explains. "We just want to do what we do really well."
A former college rower and current runner, the owner adds, "Restaurants are more like running a marathon or rowing crew: You run your own race."
Bamboo Sushi officially opens on Monday, November 27 (but if you're in the neighborhood, you might be able to sneak in ahead of time this week). The space on the second floor of Avanti F & B previously occupied by Bamboo has been replaced with QuickFish Poke Bar, from the same company. For more photos of the new restaurant, see our complete Bamboo Sushi slideshow.