Second Helpings

Sushi Den

For this week's review of Culver's and Smashburger (see review), I ate a lot of cheeseburgers, the foundation of the American fast-food comfort canon. And then I headed to Sushi Den, where I ate a lot of sushi — the foundation of the Japanese fast-food comfort canon. Sushi is simplicity personified in a cuisine that already values the most basic, the most unadorned, the most traditional and spare presentation of ingredients imaginable. Yet any meal at Sushi Den is bound to become a complicated and excessive event if, like me, you love sushi beyond the bounds of all reason and, with the help of several friends, manage to run up a lunch bill of $400.

We ate just about everything Sushi Den had to offer, beginning with its excellent miso soup with shiitake and enoki mushrooms, and ending with heavy earthenware mugs of green tea and, in between, devouring an ocean's worth of fishies. We tried tuna in a half-dozen permutations, a gorgeous array of blood-dark, bright-crimson, purply-blue and deep-red flesh, all of it delicious. Smoked eel shellacked with soy, glistening white yellowtail, muddy orange uni — generously rolled and sweetly briny, but almost too rich after one bite — were all quickly consumed, without a single piece disappointing, without a single piece being less than a superior example of the Edo style that has been practiced for thousands of years.

Beyond the sushi, there are other things at Sushi Den that I love — and a few that disappoint. With its collision of spartan modernity and Asian traditionalism, the room can seem too generic for the excellence of the cuisine. And I have a love/hate relationship with the crowds (which, even at lunch, can fill the place): I love the buzz, but hate the nights when I am forced to wait for my seafood fix. But even when I do, I love to wait at the long, angular, switchback sushi bar, where I can watch the artists in action, take the pulse of Denver's gastronaut throngs and experience the constant battle between simplicity and excess. And then, of course, I get to eat some of the best sushi not just in Denver, but the world.