Decades before Denver began its transformation into the culinary destination it is today, Toshi Kizaki was redeveloping what was then a quiet corner on South Pearl into the beating heart of Japanese fine dining not only in the city — but the region at large. Since 1984, Sushi Den has revolutionized the notion that this landlocked state could indeed be a place where world-class sushi was not only available but could possibly push the envelope in terms of quality, sophistication and fastidious execution. In the decades that followed Kizaki has built up the corner, adding Izakaya Den and Ototo to continue the trend of excellence across small plates and robata skewers. On Friday, October 2 the city will be graced with yet another concept from Kizaki and a group of brilliant proteges, this time venturing across town for a counter concept at The Source. Occupying the central space, formerly filled by cocktail heavyweights Isabel and Rino Yacht Club, Temaki Den will serve a concise menu of hand rolls, sashimi, uramaki, aburi nigiri and a fairly robust list of cocktails, beer and sake by the glass.
The central counter is built for appropriate distancing, the plastic panels separating customers from the dextrous chefs come complete with window cutouts for swift delivery. Helmed by Kizaki and Ototo Executive Chef Kenta Kamo, the concept is more based on speed than its more leisurely siblings. “It’s supposed to be a no-frills sushi bar,” said Kamo. Under the direct supervision of chef de cuisine David Imai, Temaki Den is built for the times, comfortably delivering the exquisite at a pace more suited for those less inclined to lounge.
Temaki directly translates to hand roll, the eponymous dish holds a fittingly central position. The nori was carefully sourced for maximum crunch, with rolls ideally being devoured as soon as they are pushed through the window. Options include mushroom ($4.75), red shrimp ($5.25), blue crab ($5.25) and negitoro ($5.50) — each provide roughly four bites of the same premium seafood that have made the other Dens famous. The aburi nigiri is hand-seared with a blowtorch to serve, with options including salmon belly ($4.25), scallop ($4.50) and lobster ($7) each arriving for equally-swift consumption, ideally unadorned with the available soy sauce. Even while not occupying center-stage, the uramaki — or inside out rolls — may be the most familiar to casual sushi eaters, with the California ($10) — with blue crab, avocado, cucumber and sesame seeds — and the Philly ($10) — with smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber and onion — providing an appropriately upscale take on the classics.
Continuing the place’s trend towards the comparatively casual, cocktails are all named after J-Pop artists. The Ikimono Gakari ($12) comes with Roku gin, yuzumon and muddle shiso for a citrus-forward refreshment fit for the fading days of summer. The BabyMetal ($11) — with Convite mezcal, grapefruit, lime and a salt rim — is appropriate of its namesake, being both violent and delicate in equal measures. The sake program is one of the place’s most exciting contributions, delivering the kind of expressions usually reserved for bottle-only in five-ounce pours, with prices all sitting under $20 a glass.
The Source Hotel will also be playing host to Made In Japan — a continuation of the Made In a City concept formerly housed in Zeppelin Station. While the connection is incidental — Made In Japan was originally scheduled for April — it’s hard to ignore the commitment towards superbly-crafted simplicity shared by Temaki’s menu and the items curated by the sophisticated eye of Zeppelin Retail Director Mathieu Mudie. A more intentionally-curated stall from Kazu Oba — a ceramicist whose decades of study under trade masters Jerry Wingren and Takashi Nakazato has yielded a style based in simplicity and embracing human imperfection — is directly connected to Temaki’s kitchen. Previously, Oba had produced over 1,000 pieces for Sushi Den, including 600 individual dishes, sake pitchers and finery he crafted for a single dinner honoring visiting chefs and sake producers. He will be conducting a series of live demos this weekend, with original pieces set to act as plateware for Temaki beginning next week. Jewelry from his wife Yuka Oba is also available for purchase.
Despite its utterly-fresh presentation, Temaki Den feels like an old soul, its underpinnings not even a bit obscured by the COVID-friendly delivery. Reservations for Friday and beyond will become available at midnight on Thursday.
Temaki Den is located in The Source at 3330 Brighton Blvd., Denver. It will be open Monday – Thursday from 4 – 10 p.m., and Friday – Sunday from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
All photography by Brittany Werges.