Upon arriving at the 7,800 sq. ft. Matsuhisa, located on the corner of 1st Ave and Steele in Cherry Creek North, the first thing that greets you upon opening the oversized walnut wood door is a Japanese Zen garden. It is an elemental poem of sand and rock with a simple and elegant line of water flowing directly into a stone.
Calmness encapsulated. The second greeting that you encounter is: “Irashaimase!” It is spoken at once, in chorus, by all present, as in everyone including the hostess, sushi crew, wait staff, bartender and occasionally other diners. All in all, it means, “Welcome to our home.”
That combination of warmth, stillness and celebration is seamlessly orchestrated in all elements of the restaurant, the food (Copper River salmon sashimi with jalapeno), the music (dancehall groove) the crowd (families with children to the hip and urbane) and brilliantly designed in a minimalist approach. Rowland and Broughton’s use of dark woods frame the space perfectly and the arched ceiling is reminiscent of a pagoda’s wave-like roof while the trellised steel mosaic windows contain your sight lines.
To say then that we are fortunate to have a Chef Nobuyuki (Nobu) Matsuhisa restaurant in Denver is an understatement, akin to Florence saying they have a couple of Michelangelo’s. We, in Colorado, are the beneficiaries of three Matsuhisa restaurants (Aspen, Vail and Cherry Creek). There is only one other in the continental United States and that is in the quaint hamlet of Beverly Hills, California. So suffice it to say we should realize what a gift we have at our fingertips and greedily explore what is being offered to us.
That offering is embodied in a menu that contains multitudes, 27 types of Japanese whiskey (Kujira 30 years distilled in 1989 might be a celebratory pick at $345) to 12 various sakes (the Onigoroshi ‘demon slayer’ is a house favorite), and a chef tasting menu. “Omakase” is the one we chose and it brought us to the brink of speechlessness with the 8-course offering, including the acclaimed Black Cod Miso (marinated in the miso for a delectable 72 hours) to the local Buckner Farm Lamb Chops with anticucho sauce which made me want to smuggle the sauce home for eggs in the morning and which completely redefined my understanding of surf and turf, how provincial of me.
With a kitchen that boasts 7 culinary stations to accommodate such an incredibly diverse menu you need to be curious, be trusting and indulge with gusto. The Sushi Bar alone has over 25 types of sushi to choose from including the delectable Uni shooter (sea urchin) to the delicate Ikura (salmon roe). To watch the knife skills on display alone is thrilling theater.
The wait staff are occasionally more translators and travel guides than servers with having to explain so many terms (umami means savory, nigiri vs. sashimi, etc.), but the knowledgeable staff willingly takes you under their wing and patiently explain the concept and the best approach to fully appreciating what earthly delights you can savor. It would be wise to heed their counsel.
Thus, after our several courses throughout the menu accented with the exuberant “Irashamaise!" did we finally relinquish our place at the table with satisfied appetites and we were happy to see the next lucky guests ask the server, “What is it that they are saying?” and to the smiling reply, “Welcome to our home.”