Aspen has good food. This is not what you’d call news, and it’s an understatement. "Out of this world" is actually a better descriptor for the town’s culinary scene.
What seems to always surprise, however, is the fact that some of the best and freshest fish finds its way to the glamorous Rocky Mountain ski town. It’s easier to hike up and ski down the crazy-steep Highlands Bowl or to have competed with the stars at last week’s X Games then find sushi-quality fish on a local map. Yet Matsuhisa, one of two-dozen or so Nobu Matsuhisa restaurants in the world, finds a way to get seafood so ridiculously good, it’s as if you were eating on a dock in Japan.
Aspen is famous for hosting the Hollywood set. Those stars and starlets don't have to give up their world-class sushi when traveling to the Roaring Fork Valley. Photo by Jeremy Swanson.
“Boxes that are the size of coffins come in daily,” said Todd Clark, the long-time general manager of the haute sushi and Japanese izakaya spot. “I would guess hundreds of pounds a night. We get something in, and it’s gone that night, and we get another shipment the next day. It keeps our fish and food quality very high.”
And that’s just it. Matsuhisa, which was just the second such restaurant in the Nobu family when it opened in Aspen, can serve 500 or more customers on any given night. Couple that with the buying power of one of the world’s great sushi brands, and it suddenly becomes possible to feature ocean-fresh seafood in a remote mountain town.
Matsuhisa was the second of the award-winning Nobu restaurants. Photo by Jeremy Swanson.
The menu is filled with fresh caught uni from Santa Barbara, mackerel from Spain, blue fin from Japan and lobster from Maine. “We source fish from all over the world,” Clark said. And it comes in daily, in droves. “It’s a pretty complicated mix of putting together all the pieces of the puzzle.”
This means looking to fisheries—both farmed and open ocean—all over the world and tracking precise eating habits of diners electronically to ensure the accurate ordering that results in selling out of almost all the seafood each dinner service.
“You put all those dynamics together and you have a unique situation in the mountains,” Clark said.
Ingredients are just one part of the story of this restaurant’s greatness, however. There’s also a chic scene that somehow stands out in a town known for its pomp. The restaurant is simply electric on a Saturday night with locals and out-of-town millionaires alike tipping back high-grade sake and devouring tasty sashimi with chopsticks.
At Matsuhisa in Aspen, your Bento Box might feature fish from the East Coast, West Coast, Europe and Japan. Photo by Jeremy Swanson.
Then there is the team of sushi chefs that work the line. Being part of the Nobu group means a couple of things. First, some of the best sushi chefs in the world will come to Aspen to work (seems even more difficult than shipping in the world’s best fish to central Colorado, but it happens). More importantly, perhaps, Nobu stops in a few times a year to ensure the kitchen is in top order, and the chefs are often sent to other restaurants to train throughout the year.
Matsuhisa Aspen Head Sushi Chef Philip Tanaka has worked all over the world, training under Nobu and working at several other Michelin-rated restaurants. “We have the ability to pull a chef straigh from Tokyo,” Clark said. “Our lead chefs have years of practice.”
And Aspen frequenters can say they have years of practice eating some of the best sushi creations in the United States.
What to Order:
Clark breaks down three flavors that showcase the culinary sophistication of Chef Matsuhisa Nobu. “These are typical Nobu,” he said. “They are must-haves if you are a virgin to Nobu’s restaurants.”
Yellow Tail Jalapeno: A yuzu (citrus) based soy sauce and a touch of garlic is all that’s needed alongside beautiful cuts of yellow tail that are topped with jalapeno.
Black Cod with Sweet Miso: The sweet miso brings out a flavor explosion to the black cod.
Rock Shrimp with Creamy Spicy Sauce: A classic appetizer that features massive shrimp that are battered and fried tempura-style served in a grease-cutting sauce.