Izakaya Den opens tomorrow in its new home on South Pearl

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After a year of construction that carved out the original home of the Pearl Street Grill and replaced it with a modern, multi-level structure, the new Izakaya Den will officially open tomorrow right next to Sushi Den, a mainstay on South Pearl Street for close to three decades. Created by Hiro & Company (DBA Den Corner Restaurants), with Roth Sheppard Architects and Jordy Construction, the new restaurant looks stunning. And so does the new menu. See also: - Best New Restaurant 2008: Izakaya Den - Sushi Den architects share plans for the South Pearl project - Pearl Street Grill, Ototo and India's Pearl all close on South Pearl Only the first floor -- with 100 seats, including seventeen at the camphor-wood sushi bar that was salvaged from the first Izakaya Den -- will be open tomorrow. Like that sushi bar, many of the components in the new place were brought over from the other restaurant, which closed at the end of May; others were custom-made in Japan. Some of the bricks from the Pearl Street Grill are in the sidewalk out front.

The excavation work created a big basement space, with subterranean storage and working areas now shared by the two Den restaurants; there are also pass-throughs on the first floor so that the staffs can work together, sharing skills and increasing overall quality, says Toshi Kizaki, one of the two brothers behind the project. "Having the two places separate was difficult to manage," he notes.

Work will continue for the next few weeks on the upstairs space, which will include patio seating overlooking Pearl Street, several dining areas (including a private dining room) and a big bar under a retractable roof; a bamboo garden flanks the stairs and glass elevator. That garden was inspired by a hot spring that Toshi saw years ago in Japan. "It has remained in my head," he says.

While construction was under way last week, we got a sneak peek at both the building and the new menu, which includes sushi, an expanded seafood selection, and other favorites from the original Izakaya. But there's also an increased emphasis on small plates -- izakaya-style dishes popular in sake bars in Japan -- as well as a global menu. The crispy ikanago are the Japanese equivalent of a bowl of peanuts in an American bar -- but the tiny fried sand lance fish and strips of burdock are much, much tastier. (And just the thing to accompany the new cocktails that Izakaya Den will be rolling out in the weeks ahead.)

Keep reading for more photos of new menu items at Izakaya Den.

New chef de Cuisine Scott Hybbeneth created the Izakaya menu with master chef Toshi; Hybbeneth, who's worked at Junz, California Cafe, Luca D'Italia, Barolo Grill and his own place, Gaslamp Grill, contributed many of the flavor combinations that will be featured on the global selections. The overall menu merges Japanese techniques and traditions with contemporary flavors.

Izakaya's beverage program was also revisited; the list now features 65 bottles of wine, with thirty available by the glass; the sake list is a hundred-deep, and curated by Toshi from his travels. The dozen signature cocktails -- including a Pacific Time with pear sake, lychee shrub, strawberries and Boca Loca Rum -- will be launched when the second floor opens at the end of the month.

And there are more changes in store. Yasu Kizaki says that the brothers are making some changes at the DenFarm, with a focus on tower farming that will greatly increase the amount they're able to produce there; vegetables from the farm will be incorporated at both Sushi Den and Izakaya Den. But right now, Yasu is focused on training the 180 staffers who will be on the roster when Izakaya Den opens tomorrow. They've already been put through the paces at practice dinners and parties, including a get-together for neighbors who weathered the construction, an "I'm sorry and thank you very much" celebration, says Toshi.

The new Izakaya Den at 1487-A South Pearl Street will be open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and lunch on Saturday and Sunday; it's closed on Monday. For more information, go to izakayaden.net or call 303-777-0691.

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