Kobe An Shabu Shabu — the LoHi eatery that specializes in shabu shabu, or japanese hot pots — unveiled a new sushi and nigiri menu last week. Owners Marco and Michelle Trujillo are putting it all on the line with a fresh and surprising array of sushi, ready to take advantage of patio season with a palette of cool flavors for summer.
While there's enough sushi in Denver to last a lifetime, the Trujillos are working to make their list stand out as much as the shabu shabu, the unique and sultry meal foreign to most Denverites who haven't experienced it at Kobe An Shabu Shabu or at the original Kobe an, run by Michelle Trujillo's mother Kimie Loeffler since 1979. While a small handful of Japanese restaurants serve versions of shabu shabu in Colorado, Kobe An is the hallmark and Loeffler has passed along her knowledge to her kin.
While shabu shabu could become next trend in Asian cuisine, chef Marco Trujillo's new sushi menu lifts this popular branch of Japanese cuisine beyond trend to something closer to an art form. The new list incorporates equal parts audacious combinations and simple presentations that place the fish on the forefront, featuring rare delicacies that shine in their minimalism. If Loeffler's Kobe An, which reopened earlier this year in Cherry Creek after decades in Lakewood, represents the best of the old school, Kobe An Shabu Shabu the shiny and modern version of a classic.
New sushi items include garlic tuna, with albacore tuna, daikon and green onions, and a classic salmon nigiri, if you want to play it safe. But the specialty rolls show more of a flair for excitement: the Diablo starts out similar to dynamite rolls at other sushi bars, with of tempura shrimp, avocado, and spicy tuna on the inside, but adds the unique elements of garlic oil-seared escolar, spicy seven-pepper shichimi and ponzu on the outside. See the same ambition in the Red Rocks roll, with tempura green onion, avocado, dynamite-crusted maguro, jalapeno, cilantro, and ponzu.
In addition to rolls, the restaurant offers some of the more unusual nigiri that's more difficult to prepare, like the straight-forward seared escolar — or walu in Hawaiian. Escolar (sometimes sold as king tuna or super white tuna) is a rich and decadent dream when lightly seared, but is also higher in oil than your average tuna. If you're the type of thrill-seeking diner looking for dangerous menu items, you'll enjoy every minute of it. While delicious, the catch is that the oils can cause a serious stomach ache (and other intestinal issues) if you ingest too much — experts recommend keeping it to less than six ounces. At the bar, Mark Mangold has crafted spring drinks to match the new sushi roll-out (pun intended). As tart as it is obscurely referenced, You're a Daisy If You Do is made with rye, Aperol and fresh grapefruit. Another spring-to-summer drink is the WGW (White Girl/Guy Wasted) with prosecco, gin, lemon and smooth citrus notes. While Mangold likes to take advantage of seasonal ingredients, the bar will continue to offer popular staple cocktails Love & Pain and the LoHi.
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Not as new to the menu, but gaining attention are the Kobe beef ramen sliders, with grill-crisped ramen patties replacing a standard slider bun. It's not surprising that the ramen sliders will be battling it out in the Denver Burger Battle on August 6 at Sculpture Park — Trujillo says one of the battle's organizers approached him and convinced him to throw his hat in the ring for this year's competition.
While shabu shabu remains the main draw, the cocktails, ramen sliders and other specialty items have kept the neighbors coming back. With the addition of sushi, one of the best kept secrets in the LoHi dining district may become a little less secret, especially with patio weather slowly approaching and Kobe An Shabu Shabu poised to open its outdoor seating — and also open a few more minds to Japanese cooking.