"Ask me about my Bubu." That's the tagline you might hear if you're out and about near Larimer Square and Union Station over the next couple of days. Don't worry, nobody hurt themselves -- it's just representatives for chef and restaurateur Troy Guard's new fast, fresh, build-your-own bowl restaurant, Bubu, that's opening in the subterranean space formerly occupied by TAG|Raw Bar. Starting today, those reps will be handing out cards that can be redeemed for a free bowl when the place officially opens for business at 11 a.m. Thursday. Look for the "crossing guards" (get it?) who will fill you in on the menu concept and send you on your way to a free lunch.
Recognizing that the name may seem a little odd to those not familiar with the Japanese puffed rice pellets called bubu arare, Guard says his group decided to have fun with the word as a way to introduce the idea to customers. So the lightly seasoned, crunchy pellets are not only the inspiration for the name, they also feature heavily on the menu and can be added as a topping to any combination.
Bubu's menu begins with a range of designed combinations -- like the OG Colorado with roasted carrots, quinoa, green chili, avocado, pumpkin seeds and a house dressing -- that can be put atop brown or white rice, rice noodles or a salad blend of kale, arugula, cabbage and radicchio. Guests can then add grilled chicken or steak, raw salmon, chilled poached shrimp or raw tuna. If the featured combinations don't seem appealing, customers can pick from a list of over thirty ingredients (most at 75 cents each) to build their own bowls. Prices, including a designed topping combination, a base, a protein and a dressing range from $7 (for chicken) to $12 (for tuna).
Guard says he wanted to give diners something that he likes himself: "It's based on food I grew up with in Hawaii." He also wants to focus on food for which guests were already showing a preference, and at TAG|Raw Bar, "the $10 lunch special bowls sold really well," he explains.
Customers were already more focused on lunch, according to Guard, so the team added brighter lighting, opened up spaces and switched to counter service to create a sunnier, less nightclubby environment in the subterranean space. Mural-sized farm photos and live plants add to the brighter feel.
Guard has transformed an existing spot before. Citing the switch from Madison Street Grill to TAG Burger Bar, he says he's always focused on observing customer preferences and tailoring the food and services to what makes sense for them.
In another nod to his Hawaiian roots, ingredient options include fresh hearts of palm from Hawaii, green papaya salad, kimchi and toasted rice. But diners can also choose from such standard ingredients as snap peas, red bell pepper and cherry tomatoes, much of which will be sourced locally when in season.
Guard and a crew of cooks, including Brian Hubner, who worked as sous chef at the flagship TAG for a year before moving down Larimer Street to Bubu, tasted and tested combinations and flavors for over a month before settling on the final menu. "I like textures," says Guard, and that shows in the crunchy kelp noodles in the summer rolls, the dates combined with granola (from Guard's pastry-oriented Sugarmill) in the Northern California bowl and the crackly "Bubu spice" -- a kind of kicked-up togarashi with sesame seeds and a buzzing heat -- that diners can shake onto their selections.
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Hubner, who just calls himself "head bowler," says it's the sourcing of ingredients that makes a difference with Bubu's food. In addition to chicken from Boulder Farms and certified Angus sirloin flap steak from Lombardi Brothers Meats, Bubu brings in sushi-grade tuna and Shetland organic salmon. Not content to rest on phrases like "sustainable" or "free-range," Hubner says it's all about flavor. "The quality of the meat comes through when you taste it," he says. Even if the name reminds you of stealing a picnic basket with Yogi and his sidekick bear, it's a free picnic if you manage to score a card this week. Grab one for you and your honey and head to Bubu from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. starting Thursday and every day after that, except Sundays.