Six years ago, Japanese restaurateur Nao-san took the sliver of space next to his raucous Boulder sushi joint, Sushi Zanmai, and built the tea-garden-like Amu Sake Bar and Restaurant, an authentic izakaya that serves an array of Japanese dishes -- but no sushi -- to the few patrons able to grab seats at the bar or around one of just a few tables.
Amu soon found a following, both locals and travelers devoted to what the kitchen -- shared with Sushi Zanmai -- turned out: a menu of Japanese comfort food, including agedashi tofu and natto (fermented soybeans), along with nightly specials that often offer tastes rarely found on this side of the Pacific Ocean. It was one of my favorite finds in Boulder, a secret spot that was one of the first restaurants I reviewed.
Now Nao-san has hired the first chef devoted solely to Amu.
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Mune Taira, a native of Yamagata, Japan, came on after stints at restaurants in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyushu, followed by his first kitchen job here in Denver. And now that he's gotten his feet wet, Taira is introducing a menu change. "I tried to combine American and Japanese food," he explains, "but diners really like the old menu, so we kept most of it."
For the most part, Taira's new dishes add local ingredients to Japanese classics -- but he's also preparing seasonal specials and altering the preparation of some of the menu's mainstays. His goal, he explains, is to add a shot of new-style Japanese cooking to Amu's traditional fare.
And as the seasons change, he promises that you'll see alterations to the board.