Maru | AspenTimes.com

Maru

story by Lauren Glendenning photos by Jeremy Wallace

Maru might just have a few years under its belt, but the guys behind the sushi bar and in the kitchen have been around Aspen's sushi scene for decades.

Sit down at the sushi bar while head sushi chef and Maru co-owner Taylor Hale is there and you'll see true passion going in to every knife stroke. You might even learn a little something, too.

Hale's on a mission this summer to get what no one else is getting. He's especially excited about what's called a Japan fish box — essentially an order that comes in from his fish supplier that features some of the lesser-known fish swimming in the Sea of Japan.

"It's completely seasonal,  random, wild Japanese fish," Hale says. "It's wildly diverse. They're catching everything."

A typical box has nine different fish, giving Hale the opportunity to create what's basically a completely separate menu of seasonal fish with a lot of sashimi-based specials.

"Japan is not a culture of wastefulness," he says.

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In the kitchen, co-owner and chef Peter Coyne is using some of the fish box ingredients alongside fresh, local produce like wild asparagus and chanterelle mushrooms. They're running specials that offer cooked and raw versions of some fish, too.

Talk to Coyne and Hale about something on the menu and you're also likely to get the backstory — as in the ancient history of that food. When discussing a ramen noodle dish, Coyne started talking about the noodles' origin in ancient Mongolia and "master broths" that traveling merchants used to bring from town to town in China.

Hale will tell you about ancient sushi techniques or why things are prepared a certain way.

"The history of food is fun," he says. "It takes respect and discipline to have your classics down. There's purpose to everything."

It's this kind of passion that shines through in everything they create. And they're plating is some of the prettiest anywhere in town.

Go for some of the sashimi specials and try what's in that seasonal fish box. On a recent visit, delicate slices of madai, a red seabream fish that's silky and flavorful, were accompanied by isaki, aji and renkodai.

Never heard of these fish? All the more reason to visit Maru. These chefs will open your eyes to Japanese fish that you won't find on every American sushi restaurant menu. Step away from the Hamachi, salmon and tuna and try something outside the box. It's an adventure for any sushi lover.

The details: 320 S. Mill St. • 970-429-8640 • maruaspen.com

Price: Appetizers, $6 to $21; Specialty sashimi, $14 to $25; rolls, $8 to $22; entrees, $22 to $48

Ambience: Japanese sushi bar, cozy

Signature dishes: Rotating sashimi specials,  nightly omakase, sesame-seared salmon

Not to Miss: Killer patio seating near Wagner Park, lunch or dinner; Happy hour specials; Unique, seasonal fish selection.