Toshi and Yasu Kizaki have been the Rolling Stones of Old South Pearl since they opened Sushi Den in 1984, exhibiting a mix of longevity, popularity and creativity to earn a rock-star following. In more recent years, the brothers have added Izakaya Den and Ototo, and also got into the real estate game, building a parking garage and retail spaces across the street from their three restaurants. But their next effort won't be close to home.
The Kizaki brothers are going beyond Den Corner (the intersection of East Florida Avenue and South Pearl Street that's also the name of their restaurant group) with Temaki Den, in the space formerly occupied by Mondo Market inside the Source (3330 Brighton Boulevard). The new 22-seat sushi bar will specialize in its namesake temaki hand rolls.
Kenta Kamo, executive chef at Ototo, will hold the same title at Temaki Den when it opens this summer. He explains that the eatery will focus on simplicity and a "casual vibe, so that people can get in and get out quickly."
The goal behind serving temaki is to create a balance of warm rice, cool seafood and crisp nori (the green wrapper made from seaweed). "The idea is to eat them one at a time and eat them at their peak," Kamo notes. And that peak is right when the sushi chef hands you the roll.
The Den Corner restaurants are already known for immaculate seafood, so that will be a given at Temaki Den. But Kamo points out that the quality of the nori is often overlooked. "We went through about thirty or forty companies before we narrowed it down to Shirako nori," the chef says. "We were looking for a nori that stays crisp and doesn't get soggy, so it keeps its textural quality with warm rice."
Temaki Den will offer about ten to twelve different fillings for its hand rolls, including some meatless versions. Value is a consideration, since a quick lunch or dinner in under thirty minutes is the best way to eat temaki. So prices will range from $12 to $24 for sets of three to six rolls, or about $4.50 to $9 each, ranging from mushroom or avocado to lobster or toro, for example, as well as seasonal specials like uni (sea urchin), Copper River salmon, scallops and locally foraged mushrooms. There will also be a selection of nigiri and sashimi, and appetizer and dessert bites in the $3 to $4 range.
Drinks will include Japanese beer, whiskey and sake, with an emphasis on sake by the pour, served in traditional box-shaped wooden cups. "Sake is poured into the wooden box so that it overflows a little," Kamo explains. "It symbolizes generosity and hospitality. Having the sushi chefs be part of that will bring guests closer into the experience."
Kamo says he was raised in Japan for much of his childhood, and has worked in hotel restaurants and izakayas in Nagano and Tokyo. "I have a knowledge of Japanese tastes as well as what Americans like," he states, pointing out that sushi bars specializing in temaki specifically aren't part of the restaurant scene in Japan but have recently sprung up on the West Coast.
In Denver, chef Bradford Kim's Cherry Hills Sushi Co. has flourished as a temaki specialist since opening in 2016, and he's since added Berkeley Park Sushi Co. and Park Hill Sushi Co. to his lineup. But temaki is still uncommon in Denver, leaving plenty of room for Temaki Den to win customers in trendy RiNo.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.