Sushi Success

Celebrate Japanese cuisine and culture at Izakaya Den’s chef’s table.

COLORFUL CUISINE: The tuna sashimi served over ice chips is perfection at its simplest. Photo by Joni Schrantz

The only place you’re going to find better sushi than what’s offered at Izakaya Den is Japan itself. Owned and operated by brothers Yasu, Toshi, and Koichi Kizaki, Izakaya Den is one part of the iconic sushi trifecta on Denver’s South Pearl Street, where it shares a block with its counterparts, Sushi Den and OTOTO.

For more than 35 years, the Kizaki brothers have offered Denver diners the most authentic sushi experience imaginable for a landlocked state like our own, earning themselves a following of legendary proportions. Every morning, Koichi handpicks the catch of the day from Japan’s famed Nagahama Fish Market in central Fukuoka. He then ships his picks to his land-locked brothers on a direct flight from Japan to Denver for that evening’s dinner service.

At what has been affectionately dubbed “Den Corner,” diners partake in traditional, high-end Japanese sushi experiences without leaving the country. The pinnacle of this experience is dining with Chef Yasu himself, as part of the wildly sought-after and limited-access Chef ’s Table experience at Izakaya Den.

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Every Chef ’s Table is personalized for the guests: Chef Yasu tailors the menu to your specific sushi preferences, and the evening’s dishes are built using the fresh catch of the day. In fact, a night or two before your scheduled reservation, you will receive an email from Chef Yasu containing a brief questionnaire about your sushi familiarity, dietary preferences, and appetite capacity.

With nothing but the gleaming marble sushi counter separating you from the chef, you’re in for a uniquely intimate experience that allows Chef Yasu to guide the entire meal, from sake recommendations to sushi-eating etiquette.

“I like to converse with my guests and give them each a very special experience, sharing some information about the customs and ingredients from Japan,” Yasu says.

We started the meal with a serving of ginger bincho sashimi— delicate slices of albacore tuna topped with sprigs of bitter microgreens and shiitake mushrooms—then finished with Chef Yasu’s signature “secret sauce.” Next, we were presented with two bright and beautiful platters of sushi, one nigiri-style and one aburi-style. Unlike the rolls you might be used to (wrapped tightly in seaweed and packed with imitation crab and cucumber) in nigiri sushi, the fresh fish sits atop sticky rice and is held securely in place with a dab of wasabi. This, Yasu says, is high-end Japanese sushi. Our nigiri selections included bluefin, yellowtail, salmon, and scallops spanning origins from Spain, New Zealand, Hawaii, and, of course, the day’s catches—all spectacularly fresh and expertly dressed and plated.

Aburi sushi is in the same style as nigiri sushi, but the fish is lightly seared. It’s warm, drenched in natural oils, and unbelievably delectable. We tried a lightly grilled salmon topped with ponzu sauce and ginger; a buttery seared bluefin toro; and a crisped Osaka sockeye salmon resting on a creamy aioli and topped with cilantro and a slice of serrano.

Lastly, we welcomed the chef ’s famed black miso cod. Marinated in a honey and sake miso sauce for 24 hours, this plate is an Izakaya fan-favorite—and it’s almost always served as part of the Chef ’s Table. The cod is dished up with a helping of Japanese eggplant (glazed in the same sweet miso finish) and zesty pickled vegetables.

With four courses of premier sushi and a bottle of Japanese sake padding our bellies, we left Izakaya Den with no qualms as to how it earned its title as a top Denver dining destination. Boasting out-the-door lines for happy hour and what we can only assume is a scheduling book filled to the edges with reservations, the Kizaki brothers have certainly earned themselves a well-deserved spot on any sushi-lovers map.

When asked how it felt to be considered a staple to the Denver culinary scene, Yasu says, “I don’t know if I can express the depth of my gratitude. While we have worked very hard from the beginning, after all these years, we have not lost sight of the fact that our guests, dedicated staff, and service providers are instrumental in making this happen. We are truly grateful.”