“Sakaba never got its full opening,” laments chef Jasper Schneider, referring to his first-ever Japanese restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch in Avon, Colorado. Despite launching in 2020, the swanky sushi spot hit pause soon afterward. After resuming operations that summer, it closed again less than a year later while the Beaver Creek hotel underwent a 100-day, multi-million dollar overhaul. “But people want[ed] it, they kept asking for it,” Schneider says.
In July 2022, Sakaba reemerged. And it’s here to stay, steered by a skilled sushi chef, Adolfo Martinez, and a commitment to sourcing fish straight from Japan, setting it apart in this idyllic mountain town.
Straight from the source
It’s not easy to score fresh seafood in landlocked Colorado. Yet Schneider has seasonal fish flown in from Japan twice a week in the summer and fall, and three times a week in the winter to meet the demands of ski season. “There are around 12 to 16 varieties in our fish box nightly,” says Schneider.
The persevering executive chef also runs the Ritz-Carlton’s three other restaurants: Wyld, Buffalos, and Fireside Bar. Schneider’s 25-year career includes stints in New York, Hawaii, and the Caribbean Islands, where he was executive chef at the Cuisinart Resort & Spa in Anguilla.
To highlight Sakaba’s fish, Schneider offers two types of rice: one is a salty, red vinegar version that becomes the base for hand-pressed nigiri; the other is a classic rice vinegar version meant for rolls.
At Sakaba, even the soy sauce is crafted in house. The team infuses soy with dried shiitake and mirin, among other earthy flavors. The dried mushrooms soak up the salt and add a layer of umami, while the mirin lends a sumptuous sweetness, according to Schneider.
Sample the restaurant’s best plates through the omakase option, which has previously included dishes such as Hokkaido uni imperial caviar with fresh wasabi and an A5 wagyu hot rock and negitoro (diced tuna with green onion) roll.
When designing Sakaba, part of the intention was to make the restaurant a casual but sophisticated sushi den, enhanced by its mountainous backdrop.
The Sakaba space was formerly a cigar and adults-only club. To transform that lair, designers added a semi-open outdoor dining area, complete with an outer stone wall, ideal for stargazing—or watching snowflakes—on especially clear Colorado nights.
“You’re outside in the snow, but you have the space heaters on and great warm blankets and are eating this great fish,” said Schneider, describing Sakaba’s versatile, apres-ski vibe. The partially al fresco space channels a luxe cabin in the woods, serving up gold-laced sushi rolls and miso black cod.
Raising the bar
Manu Manikandan, director of food and beverage, oversees Sakaba’s exceptional sake program. The selection brims with hard-to-find versions of the fermented rice drink, unique cocktails, and premium wines.
Expect over 20 sakes, from cloudy junmai nigori to a strawberry-tinged ginjo; on chillier nights, ask for a warm carafe. Manikandan’s drinks lineup also features a bottle of sparkling sake, a delicious stand-in for Champagne.
Cocktails are just as thoughtful: mixed drinks include the enera featuring sake, ginger syrup, tangerine, and mint. Shochu, a distilled Japanese drink made from rice, shows up in a drink brightened with yuzu and Concord grape syrup. And don’t sleep on the large Japanese whisky selection. Fittingly, Sakaba means “bar” in Japanese.
Whether diners choose to watch talented sushi chefs work their magic at the sushi bar, curl up in a leather booth for peak privacy, or pick a perch on the covered al fresco dining area, Sakaba offers an inspired setting to feast on some of the freshest—and most expertly prepared—fish in town.
Freelance journalist Linnea Covington lives and eats in Denver, the best place for green chili and epic hikes with fantastic sandwiches.