Maru Aspen |

Maru Aspen

by Carolyn Sackariason
NOT TO MISS Fresh fish flown in daily, prepared with high-quality ingredients, and dressed in creative and imaginative ways. A cool, local scene with an inviting vibe in the restaurant and bar. Watching chef Taylor Hale use his prized possession, a handmade Honyaki knife, which gives a smooth cut to the fish. THE DETAILS 320 S. Mill St. • 970-429-8640 • Prices Starters: $6-$14; small plates: $11-$27; chef dishes, $24-$48; sushi and sashimi — 2-4 pieces, $6-$19; rolls: $7-$21. Ambience Warm, sleek, chic and hip. Signature dishes Yuzu White Soy with crispy garlic, chive, white sesame, prepared with either scallop, striped bass, hirame, kanpachi, hamachi toro or madai. $12-$19. Seafood Yosenabe with scallop, shrimp, snow crab, octopus, clams, white fish, seafood dumpling, and lobster miso broth. $39. House-made ramen with Colorado short rib. Handmade ramen noodles, togarashi shichimi poached egg, Japanese mushrooms, bok choy, and master stock. $27.

The complexities of Japanese cuisine and fish preparation can be daunting when studying a sushi menu. Yet the dynamic duo behind Maru Aspen has found a way to deliver the Asian experience in a playful and approachable manner.

Sushi chef Taylor Hale goes to great lengths to keep it simple. But there is nothing simplistic about the flavors that dress his dishes.

Everything on the plate is treated as a work of art. When describing his culinary creations, Hale gives meticulous detail on how a piece of fish is cut, where the garnish is placed and the finer points of his sauces.

He says his sashimi preparations are the stars on the menu. Using only the freshest fish available, Hale focuses on 10 different ways to dress it up.

“I don’t come up with crazy sauces,” he says. “I focus on getting the best fish ever; all of the stuff that’s getting caught and eaten in Japan I have.”

That’s because Hale gets a special fish box flown in daily. He uses the varietal, in-season selections for his nightly specials, which he plans to do a lot more of this winter.

One of them to look for is the Bluefin tuna prepared with a tsuke sauce, made with soy and mirin. The decadence and richness of the belly is perfectly dressed with fresh ground ginger. But the real kicker on this dish is the fresh wasabi grated from the root.

“Once you taste it you know it’s the real deal,” says Hale, noting that one pound costs around $100. “It gives more of a floral taste. It makes all the difference.”

Another sashimi preparation Hale boasts about is the Aji — a Spanish mackerel dressed with a flavorful tosazu sauce, bonito flakes, green onion and fresh ginger.

On the warmer side, chef and co-owner Peter Coyne has concocted a new dish this winter: the 60-second Waygu steak served with kinpira gobo. The rich, flavorful meat comes from Snake River Farms, an Idaho-based ranch that breeds Japanese cattle.

Also coming out of the kitchen is black garlic udon noodles with uni sea urchin. It is a true one-of-a-kind Maru creation. The noodles are handmade and emulate the original, ancient Mongolian recipe.

On the heartier side, Maru has three Ramen dishes, and Hale’s favorite is the seafood yosenabe. It’s everyone in the pool with this dish! How does a bowl of scallop, shrimp, snow crab, octopus, clams, white fish, seafood dumpling,
and lobster miso broth sound?

For Coyne, the braised octopus is the dish not to miss. It’s dressed with seaweed salad, squid ink and ponzu foam.

“It’s from Spain, and for some reason Spanish octopus is the most tender. It must be all of those siestas,” he quips.

Yes, the playfulness and imagination coming from Coyne and Hale make Maru Aspen one of the most inviting and accessible sushi menus in the valley. Combine that with a fierce Sake and cocktail menu in a casual, sleek and hip setting and it’s a full Orient experience.