Thursday, June 9, 2011

TAG | RAW BAR - 03/31/2011

1423 Larimer St, Suite 010
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 996-2685

Though I enjoy good food of any stripe there is something special about visiting a restaurant restaurant right when it opens. During my marathon dinner at TAG, the chefs mentioned the owner, Troy Guard, just opened another restaurant not five days earlier. The aforementioned restaurant, TAG | RAW BAR, specializes in lighter fare emphasizing seasonal raw ingredients. Naturally the menu slants towards sushi/sashimi and vegetables but there are a few heavier meat dishes as well.

RAW BAR is located in Larimier Square in a space one floor below ground level. The placement reminds me of Japan where sushi bars are often hidden away in the basement of office buildings. Despite its chic urban look, RAW BAR still manages to feel relaxed and intimate with easy interactions between diners and staff. The restaurant is run by a four man team, two chefs Sam Freund and Shaun Motoda, "Cocktail Magician" Joshua Smith, and a single runner. Chef Sam Freund began his career on the east coast, studying at New York Art Institute and working at One Hudson Yards Catering and One If By Land, Two If By Sea. He joined Chef Guard at TAG as a line cook and developed a passion for working with unusual ingredients. His partner, Shaun Motoda hails from Hawaii and started in pastry under Roy Yamaguchi before switching over to savories. During his time at Roy's he learned the art of sushi and brought those skills with him to TAG then RAW BAR.

Naturally I opted for the 10 course tasting and was pleased to find it a mere $65, far more reasonable than the $125 it would have cost at TAG.

The staff greets diners with a ebullient "Poppycock!" when they enter, a play on the traditional Japanese greeting "irasshaimase." Humorously the restaurant's signature amuse is also their take on the candied popcorn snack that shares the same name, but in addition to candied corn and nuts, RAW BAR adds toragashi and konbu giving it a more savory feel.

WHERE THERE'S A WILL - yamazaki 12yr single malt, lime juice, ginger beer
I started with a whiskey cocktail that was surprisingly easy drinking. I barely got any sense of the alcohol instead the effervescent bite of the ginger beer stood out.

I quite enjoyed this course, a fairly classic nigiri with the seaweed cure did enhancing the oily flavor of the fish. In addition to the traditional soy and grated daikon, the fish was seasoned with citrus and jalapeno adding a vibrancy to the morsel.

CEVICHE IMAGINATION - aji, hiramasa, and scallop
The ceviche at RAW BAR changes daily depending on what seafood is available and the whim of the chefs. A classic ceviche, the marinade was mouth-puckeringly tart with a stinging acidity that drew out the contrasting sweetness of the scallop and left a lingering bitterness on the tongue.

BELGIAN ENDIVE - pear, walnuts, gorgonzola
Next up was a simple salad the wrapping of crisp endive was the perfect foil for the weightier elements in the dish. The vegetal bitterness balanced the saccharine fruit and balsamic reduction and tempered the pungency of the cheese.

SMASHED CUCUMBER - rice vinegar, sesame, agave, bonito
HARICOT VERTS - sesame, soy
The trio of vegetables were all very fresh, light, and crisp, particularly the green beans. As wonderful as the beans were texturally, the cucumbers were the most interesting with a double dose of smokiness from the agave and bonito.

CUCUMBER ROLL - lobster, gobo, red lettuce
I was expecting a bit more out of this dish. The gobo gave the dish a nice smokiness but the shellfish was a bit lost among all the vegetables

KOBE BEEF TATAKI - arugula pesto, tomato relish, tatsoi
The Kobe tataki was a welcome change after a number of lighter vegetable focused dishes. The meat is saturated with a fatty char and rich beefy sapor. Though the meat could have easily stood on its own, the nutty pesto and confit tomato add some much needed levity to counter the weight of the meat.

HIRAMASA AHI NOODLE - ponzu, garlic shoots, haricot verts
The plump strands of fish "noodle" were seasoned nicely with a classic ponzu, the slivers of chili provide the dish with a much needed kick while the haricot verts add textural structure to the delicacy of the fish.

KANGAROO TARTARE - sunchoke chips, foie gras foam, thyme oil, quail egg
My first experience with kangaroo and raw no less! I was expecting something like venison, laden with the cold iron tang but the meat was surprisingly mild with a richness reminiscent of beef rather than game. The meat was seasoned beautifully with flavors that touch all five tastes.

AMANTE PICANTE - hornitos tequila, lime base, cucumber, jalepeno, cilantro
This was probably the best cocktail I had my entire time in Denver; bright flavors of citrus and spice compliment the woody edge of the tequila while the cilantro adds a savory herbaceousness to the finish

HUDSON VALLEY FOIE GRAS TORCHON - kumquat marmalade, kabayaki
The liver itself has a typical creamy decadence and is lightly seasoned with Chinese five spice which adds a very subtle savory sweetness. The dish also comes with two sweet but very different sauces: a more traditional jam accompaniment and a kabayaki sauce, the sticky sweet reduction normally used on eel.

CRÈME BRULÉE OF THE DAY - chocolate, blackberry
As with most of the dishes, the flavors of the dessert just seemed to pop. The decadent custard is topped with a saccharine cinnamon caramel whipped cream and accented by delightfully tart blackberries.

Though it would be easy to write RAW BAR off as an Americanized take on a sushi bar, my experience at TAG led me to believe it would be more than that. Happily, Chefs Freund and Motoda justified my faith, crafting dishes that were fun, flavorful, and consistently on-point. If I had to make one complaint it would be the that the kitchen overuses a limited set of ingredients; still given how good the food tastes I'm hard pressed to really care. I have no doubt that RAW BAR will quickly establish itself as one of Denver's most exciting restaurants.


Nick C said...

Awesome post! Thanks for giving Denverites an inside on some of the top restaurants. It appears Tag:Raw Bar was tops. Would you say so?

Epicuryan said...

Raw Bar was definitely one of my better meals in Denver, though to be fair I am partial to raw fish/meat.

For overall experience, Frasca in Boulder was probably my favorite but Raw Bar was up there.