The sign on the outside of the new restaurant at 1737 East Evans Avenue advertises "Cajun Seafood Hot Pot Sushi Poke." But as absurd as that combination sounds, something's missing from the list: "Ice Cream." That's because D Station, which opened at the end of August, packs some of the hottest Asian and Pacific Rim culinary trends — all-you-can-eat Chinese hot pot, Hawaiian-style poke and Thai-style rolled ice cream — into one slightly wacky but somehow not overly ambitious eatery.
If not for the telltale hot-pot burners on every table, D Station's dining room might seem like the eating area in a fast-casual joint. And at lunch, when the offerings are more limited, ordering at the counter isn't a bad idea, especially if you're taking your food to go; there's a digital menu above the cashier station, with an odd-looking ice cream setup (more on that later) just to the side. Although the sign outside advertises "sushi," the digital menu clarifies that poke and seafood bowls come with a number of sushi-style toppings, and you can order any of the poke combos as a "sushi burrito," with rice and a nori wrapper instead of a flour tortilla. For a quick midday meal, you can stick with a classic ahi tuna or salmon poke bowl, or try the Ninja Chicken, Ebi Crunch (deep-fried shrimp) or Yummy Crab, all served over rice or with a salad, or in one of those sushi burritos. You can also build your own poke combo from a choice of proteins, toppings, mix-ins and sauces, some of which lean to the sweet side of the spectrum.
Skewers are also available, offering an assortment of grilled meats and veggies brushed with salty-sweet sauce that includes pork belly, Chinese sausage, sweet potato, and bacon-wrapped leeks or enoki mushrooms, to name a few. Priced mostly around $2 to $4, they're an easy way to fill up with a wide variety of bites. Don't miss the grilled eggplant, which isn't really a skewer, but rather a halved Japanese eggplant (the long, skinny kind) with the stem left on for a handy handle, dusted with seasonings and scored so that the flavors soak deep into the eggplant.
All of the lunch items are on the dinner menu, along with many more. This is when the fun really begins. Plan on grabbing a table and staying for a while, because there are plenty of things to keep you busy — including cracking into sauce-coated crab legs and crawdads or simmering paper-thin slices of beef in broth.
Hot pot is traditionally a group affair, with a central cauldron of simmering broth and mounds of ingredients that you throw in and fish out at various intervals. But D Station is one of a growing number of restaurants in Denver that offer individual hot pots, so you don't need to round up a posse to get the experience. For a set price ($20 for adults, with cheaper rates for kids of different ages), the kitchen serves an all-you-can-eat hot pot with enough different ingredients to keep even the most adventurous of eaters happy for several trips. Here's how it works: Let your server know that you want hot pot and you'll be offered a choice of broth (pork, spicy, herbal) and meat (lamb, beef, pork), and while you wait for those to be delivered, you load up on sauces, more meats, veggies and noodles at the self-serve station.
Squid, clams, whole shrimp, crawfish and other seafood are available at this station, which resembles a grab-and-go cold case in a convenience store. It also stocks such delicacies as tofu skin, tripe, fish balls, green-lip mussels, glass noodles and "fish tofu," a firm fish cake cut into cubes to resemble bean curd. On the veggie side, rounds of lotus root, taro and potato sit alongside wood-ear mushrooms, bok choy, Chinese cabbage and other greens.
After the server delivers your broth, add the ingredients of your choice in the order of how long they take to cook. If you're not sure, just ask your server. The proteins coming from the kitchen are served raw and sliced thin; the slices cook very quickly in the boiling broth, so it's best to hang on to them with your chopsticks and swish. Since this is all-you-can-eat, additional plates of meats are available, and you can make multiple trips to the self-service station.
Equally engaging is the Cajun seafood option, which starts with a combo of boiled corn, potatoes and sausage, to which you add your choice of crab legs, shrimp, crawfish, clams or other seafood choices prepared in garlic butter, lemon pepper or Old Bay seasoning, with the heat level dialed to your liking. If you've been to the Asian Cajun or the Crawling Crab, you get the idea. This option isn't all-you-can-eat, but it's another fun, hand-ons experience, and you don't have to cook your own food.
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Finally, dessert. The Thai-style rolled ice cream is made while you watch on a super-cooled "griddle." A liquid ice cream base and your choice of toppings are poured onto the circular metal surface, stirred and spread into a thin layer. A spatula resembling a putty knife is used to scrape the ice cream into thin curls, which are placed upright in a paper cup and topped with sauce and sprinkles. D Station offers several flavor combos in fruity, creamy or chocolaty blends.
On a busy evening, D Station can seem like a three-ring circus, with large groups diving into piles of crawfish, other diners slurping noodles, and students in a rush grabbing poke to go. It's a choose-your-own adventure of Asian fusion flavors, with a touch of Sichuan heat in the spicy hot pot, Cajun warmth in the Old Bay seasoning, Hawaiian freshness in the poke, and Thai street-hawker showmanship in the rolled ice cream.
D Station is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday, with hot pot served starting at 4 p.m. weekdays and noon on weekends. There's no liquor license, but bubble teas and other Asian beverages are served. Call 720-535-7872 or visit the D Station website for more details.