Mike Han just started as executive chef at Bamboo Sushi about a month ago, but the Portland, Oregon-based restaurant group has served as an inspiration throughout his career.
Han just moved to Colorado from Michigan, where he ran his own sushi eatery inside a Detroit food hall. "The reason I was doing sustainable sushi in Detroit was in part because of Bamboo," the chef notes. "I've been following them for years."
Bamboo Sushi was founded in Portland a decade ago by Kristofor Lofgren, whose goal was to build a seafood supply chain of responsible, sustainable fisheries and farms for the Bamboo group, which now counts six in the family (along with three outposts of QuickFish Poke). At about the same time, Han was starting his career as a sushi chef in New York City and found it troubling to work in restaurants that served over-fished seafood or products from companies that damage the ecosystem. While in New York, he was the opening chef for Mayanoki, the city's only sustainably sourced omakase sushi restaurant.
Whether in New York City, Detroit or Denver, Han continues to make sustainable seafood the focal point of his menus, and he's glad to work for a restaurant group with the same priorities. He also points out that Bamboo's commitment goes beyond cuisine. "We're composting here," he explains. "I've never worked in a restaurant that composts before."
Han just rolled out a new summer menu, changing about 60 percent of the roster from the previous iteration. He favors a block cut with his sashimi, which can be sampled in a twelve-piece sashimi set, or ordered individually, each type of seafood paired with yakumi — bursts of flavor sparingly applied. The chef says it's uncommon to see sashimi served with yakumi, but it's something that sets Bamboo apart.
More elaborate new dishes include the House on Fire mackerel, served in a steamer basket over smoking alderwood chips; Snake River Farms wagyu flank served with house XO sauce, mushrooms and pickled sunchoke; and a variation on miso black cod, which Han says has been treated gently to bring out the texture of the fish.
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Han isn't the only new member of the LoHi Bamboo team; general manager Amanda Woods moved here from Portland earlier this year to bring her six years of experience with the company to Denver. She's also in charge of the beverage menu and has tightened up the wine and sake lists to help guests pick the right pairings. Woods says her goal is to introduce more natural, organic and biodynamic wines, including A to Z Wineworks, a certified B Corp winery. Bamboo, she notes, is also B Corp certified, which is a measure of a company's social and environmental performance.
Han says Bamboo's dedication to improving how businesses impact the environment and community match his own goals. "Sometimes I feel like we're not really a restaurant," he states. "We're a place where we tell stories."
Bamboo sushi is located at 2715 17th Street and is open daily from 5 to 10 p.m. Call 303-284-6600 or visit the sushi bar's website for details and reservations.