Happy Place: Izakaya Den, 1518 South Pearl Street, 303-777-0691
Hours: Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
The Deals: $5 hot or cold sake, cocktails, wines by the glass, and appetizers; two-for-one Kirin draft beers
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The Digs: Izakaya Den, the middle child of South Pearl Street sushi gods Toshi and Yasu Kizaki, is simply stunning. The restaurant looks unsuspecting from the street, but everything changes once you walk through the weighty front doors. Izakaya Den is a swanky version of a traditional Japanese sake house -- an extravagant, airy room feng shui-ed to the max and decorated with large, looming lanterns. Vaulted ceilings lined with cedar planks stretch in both directions of the L-shaped room, and the outdoor patio makes us feel as if we're in the middle of a botanic garden.
The Verdict: Sometimes, in the midst of the dog days of summer, you hit a point where bar food just seems gross. Mozzarella sticks aren't tasty when it's so hot that your knees are sweating, and that giant plate of nachos isn't all that appealing when you start to bust through the seams of your bikini bottom. Sometimes you want to get shitfaced after work without having to ingest a gut bomb at the bar; sometimes you forget how clean and wonderful a sake buzz can be. For all of these moments, there's Izakaya Den.
For five bucks, the seven-piece salmon and cream cheese Rock and Roll provides a good base for the start to heavy drinking. For those who simply want to snack, there's salty edamame beans by the bowlful. The steamed pork and seafood shumai -- there are three to a plate -- are plump and savory, and the dumplings are big enough to satiate your belly. If your body is still craving a little fat, the duck rillettes are highly recommended. We loved the food here, and we were impressed by the bar staff, too. Knowledgeable without being pretentious and friendly but not overbearing, they know what they're doing and they do it well.
Overall Grade: A