Izakaya Den (Pearl Street)
I love sushi. So fresh that it's still swimming if you know what I mean, which can be a challenge to find in a landlocked state such as Colorado. Or is it?
One of the most popular social meal options is to go out for this authentic form of Japanese cuisine that has taken our nation by storm. Even though it's definitely more of a trend with the younger folks (I can tell you that mom still likes her salmon very well-done) sushi places in Denver never seem to have an issue staying busy.
Now there are a few top-of-mind players out there that always come to mind for Denverites. One of these is Sushi Den. You know by now that this post isn't about Sushi Den, but you can imagine how surprised I was when I heard that they opened up another sushi spot right across the street from their current location. Cannibalism at it's best, no? Well, this may have been a stupid idea if Sushi Den wasn't already packed to the brim every night I've been there. But rather, instead of folks packing into the lobby and littering the sidewalks of South Pearl, they're also heading over to Izakaya Den. Miraculously, both restaurants (still stuffed to the brim) are pumping out delicious food, which of course yields a slew of satisfied guests. That's the goal, right?
On our evening, instead of it being a toss between one sushi restaurant and another, we opted for Izakaya Den as opposed to trekking 5 blocks down to the ever-buzzing Park Burger. Though rare in recent weeks, it was actually kind of a cold night. So after a rock paper scissors game (not telling whether I won or lost), my friend Chris and I walked in with our wives and were warmly welcomed by the host. We sat down right away, and within minutes had some warm Sake to heat us up.
The ambience is considerably dim in terms of lighting, but this accentuates the powerful blue centerpiece above the bar. High ceilings with wood rafters and traditional Japanese lattice work almost suggest that some sort of martial battle might take place if someone doesn't get their sushi. You know how I love dinner and a show...
Uniquely branded as "The Sake House With Tapas", Izakaya presents a thorough menu with classic Asian appetizers, Sushi, Sashimi and interestingly enough a very eclectic offering of entrees and small plates. Colorado Lamb, Alaskan Halibut, even Caprese salad adorn the menu. Though obviously leaning towards the far-eastern flair, there's something for everyone here.
On this particular Tuesday, we started with pork and apple pot stickers, as well as steamed shrimp shumai (dumplings). The pot stickers were much more delicate than what you're used to seeing, and offered a fine savory and sweet balance that was well-complemented by a tangy red-pepper sweet and sour sauce.
The shumai were a rather unique dish, one that we don't normally have on our repertoire. But we'll probably get them again because once you pop one open, it just soaks up the jalapeno ponzu-like sauce and is a delicious umami-highlighted dish.
For sushi tonight, it was all about the spider roll, rainbow roll (topped with a school of fish) and spicy tuna jalapeno roll.
One of the simple things I enjoyed about the jalapeno roll was that Izakaya uses an atypical garnish of red and yellow peppers as well as onion to add some additional texture and sweetness to an otherwise spicy dish. So simple, yet something you rarely see with your usual sushi roll.
And of course, if you have trouble making a decision on which fish parties in your mouth, the rainbow roll is the way to go. With salmon, red tuna, hamachi, eel and shrimp all topping an already well-packed roll, you can reserve some precious brain power for the heavenly experience that you're about to indulge in.
Personally, I think Izakaya Den does a great job blending the traditional and contemporary. It is certainly unique, compared to it's sister restaurant a caddy corner away, and in my opinion is a worthy place to get your sushi on. The service is attentive, but depending on what you order can be fragmented. That sort of comes with the tapas style experience, so if you want to dine in courses make sure you communicate your intentions if that's the case.
We'll certainly be back for seconds. Dish It Up!