Izakaya Den in Denver - review with pics
Photos here: http://rainydaysandsundays-c.blogspot.com/
On my second night in Denver, I met up with my old college friend Janecke. I also emailed another college friend, Chris, but he informed me that, as the head sports photographer for the Rocky Mountain News, and this being Game One of the World Series, and with the Colorado Rockies playing in said World Series, he was kind of busy that night. Clearly I don't follow sports (!!). But I did hear that Colorado got slammed and lost the World Series.
Janecke, who has lived in Denver for a few years now, took me to a cute little neighborhood called Wash Park ("Wash" being short for Washington). Among the adorable cafes, shops and bakeries was an Asian small-plates restaurant called Izakaya Den. Since the place came highly recommended by Janecke, we went.
We ordered some wine, because I'd had sake the night before and was not feelin' it that night. The place has a very good selection of wines and sakes, plus a menu of sake cocktails to boot. We started with the Miso Japanese Eggplant, which was cooked perfectly and just kind of melted in your mouth. Very reminiscent of a childhood favorite that my mom used to make.
We also shared the crab salad, which we managed to devour before I remembered to take the photo. It was actually a panzanella salad with cubed croutons, Colorado goat cheese, fresh lump crab, spring lettuce leaves and a few pears. And it was FABULOUS. I almost felt guilty that I ate the majority of this dish, but Janecke, being a good friend and all, didn't mind. This is the kind of dish that brings out the gluttony in all of us, so maybe you should order your own if you ever go to Izakaya Den.
We then had the beef rolls and the hoison duck crostini. The beef rolls were simple but delicious: thinly sliced beef wrapped around al-dented vegetables. The duck crostini was a wonder: crispy pieces of bread topped with juicy, moist duck meat just ever-so-slightly spiced with hoison sauce and topped with crispy somethingorothers (I think it was some sort of root vegetable). Excellent.
For dessert, we shared a chocolate mousse. Normally there's nothing interesting about chocolate mousse, but this one hid a little special secret. At the base of the mousse was a thick-cut, crispy, lightly-salted potato chip. Yes, a potato chip. And you know what? It was the perfect balance to the rich, dark chocolate. I think the restaurant could take the same dish and plate it differently and make it that much better, but flavor-wise, it was all there.
So the only question left to answer is: What will I try on my next trip to Denver? If you're going to say Rocky Mountain Oysters, you can forget about it. I like almost everything, but those...I don't think I could stomach.
Thanks for the review!
Izakaya Den is pretty new (a couple of months or so?) so I have not been yet. It was opened by the same owners as Sushi Den which is accross the street. Sushi Dan and Sushi Sasa in lower downtown are probably cosidered the best sushi places in Denver.
For your next trip- not really a dish but my favorite 2 places right now are Deluxe and Tula. Also Fruition is on my next to try list.
Good experience at Izakaya Den. I wish they took reservations for smaller parties (it is presently only an option for parties of 5+), although it is not as insane as the traffic at Sushi Den so far. In fact, the place was not even half full when we arrived. I would like to see them update the menu on their website http://www.izakayaden.net to include the full range of selections along with prices. The lighting in the pictures on their website does not do the food justice either, as all of the items we ordered were beautifully and artistically plated (which made us extra-enthusiastic about digging in). It is worth noting that they give you an additional paper sushi menu similar to the one at Sushi Den when you sit down, so if there is a long wait across the street, you can walk over to Izakaya and get your sushi fix.
The only thing that marred the evening somewhat is the host who seated us upon arrival, as he did not give us a welcoming feeling (and a simple smile goes a long way with me). Perhaps he was just having a bad night, but first impressions are really important. Our server was thankfully much friendlier and quite knowledgeable about the menu. She indicated that two of the small plates per person is the usual amount to start with and you can move on from there depending on how hungry you are. We didn’t eat lunch that day and were ravenous, and we ended up with a total of 5 small plates, 2 bowls of soup, and dessert between the two of us. We started with our server’s suggestion of the Crispy Tuna appetizer (tempura sushi rice and spicy tuna with avocado slivers) for $12, which she likened to a pizza in the way it was sectioned for easy sharing. Next up was our favorite dish of the evening: Thai Spicy Yellow Tomato Soup with Dungeness Crab ($8 for a shallow bowl). Just the right amount of heat and the true stand-out item of the evening. Everything else was equally good, but this was the only item we had on this visit where we wanted to lap up every ounce of edible material from the serving vessel. Our server lobbied for the Sea of Cortez Scallops (with white truffle potato puree and ginger for $13) from the seafood section of the menu, but I’ve had so many bad experiences with scallops lately that I instead leaned more towards the “gimmicky” Gingered Waffle Topped with Szechuan Blackened Arctic Char (with ruby red grapefruit-basil Beurre Blanc and Tamari whipped cream for $12). You definitely need your knife and fork for this one, as chopsticks truly won’t cut it. This item and the two that followed were not that easy to share. If you’re sitting next to the person you’re sharing with instead of across the table (so you don’t have to attempt to re-plate half of the dish onto an appetizer plate), the sharing concept will work much better. The waffle is truly unique and definitely something to order at least once, but I’m not sure if it warrants repeat orders. The Hoisin Duck Crostini (with cilantro crème fraiche and fried sweet potatoes for $10), however, is definitely on the repeat list. They are served three to an order, so you can either cut one in half or arm wrestle to see who gets the second serving of delicious, sweet canard. The Grilled Beef Tenderloin in a Puff Pastry (with shiitake, enoki, and erigi mushrooms in a tarragon-ginger sauce for $14) is another candidate for the knife and fork and reminded us a bit of good old-fashioned home cookin’ from the south, believe it or not. We wanted to get an order of the home-made steamed shumai for $8, but they were out (and it was still early, so perhaps they did not have any on offer that evening, which I wish they would have pointed out when the menus were initially presented). Our fall-back option was the tempura-battered Crispy Calamari for $8, served with a Thai chili sauce and a sweeter, darker miso sauce. For dessert, we had the Tempura Apples for $7, which came with two tiny cups of dipping sauces (cinnamon and cream).
There were so many other tempting-sounding items on the menu that we’ll definitely have to return soon. Korean short ribs for $12. Fresh Japanese Wasabi Sashimi (which is supposed to come with authentic wasabi instead of the glow-stick-green paste) for $16. Jamon Serrano and Local Goat Cheese Napoleon with pumpkin seeds and herbs de Provence marinated heirloom tomatoes for $11.50. Gruyere and mushroom tartlettes with Japanese eggplant baba ghanouj for $9. Sushi Den’s delectable Miso Black Cod is also on the menu, as are various types of sashimi, soups, and salads not presently listed in their online menu.