In the Den

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My waiter came by, brought me a warm towel for my fingers, a stack of menus, a beer. Then we started talking -- about the menu, about the Izakaya concept, about how to order and what I should order and how much of everything I should order.

“How hungry are you?” he asked.

“I’m starved,” I said.

And pretty much everything after that was just a blur.

When I sat down to write this week’s review, I couldn’t decide on the best way to talk about Izakaya Den, the new restaurant from Toshi Kizaki, owner of the Sushi Den.

Should I delve into the concept, brought over whole from Japan by Toshi, his brother Yasu and his long-time staff? The idea behind Izakaya Den is similar to that of a Spanish tapas restaurant or very roughly similar to an American neighborhood pub -- the kind of place you go for snacks, for a little of this and a little of that and a lot of booze to wash it down. They’re informal spots, open late, offering large menus of small plates -- the best tastes of dozens of different things -- and if Tokyo were Cleveland (or Denver, or Houston, or New York), Izakaya would be the place you’d go for cheeseburgers and beer on a Friday night after work, the place you’d pop into on a Saturday after a movie, before hitting the clubs.

I could’ve talked about the design: the dim lights, the huge, rustic beams in the ceiling, the wooden sushi bar so highly polished and glossy that touching it feels like running your fingers over silk. I could’ve talked about the crowds. I could’ve talked about the rumors I’d heard (mostly true) that had Toshi inventing Izakaya Den almost selfishly -- because he wanted a place to go after work at the Sushi Den, a place where he could eat all the foods he liked, have a drink, unwind. And because there was no other place in the city that satisfied him, he made his own.

But all of that would’ve missed the point. It’s all important, sure, but the only real way to talk about Izakaya Den is to talk about the food, the effect of the food, the ridiculous, arching leaps of culinary consciousness it required to pull a menu like this almost completely out of thin air. And so I do. Read all about it when the new issue hits the street – and the web -- later today.

And that’s not the end of the Asian inspiration. There’s news about the opening of Bimbamboo in Boulder, the next Colorado fast-casual concept. And I also returned to a favorite Korean restaurant, Han Kang, to slurp up kimchi and crab soup, and see how one of the world’s original small-plate cuisines stacks up against the nouvelle fusion at Izakaya Den. -- Jason Sheehan

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