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An afternoon tasting. All photos by Ehren Joseph

Inside the Making of an Izakaya Den Special

A look at the rigorous process—from sea to chef to plate.

By |
Erick Snover, Izakaya Den’s head line cook

If you’re a seafood-loving Denverite, chances are you’re a fan of the Kizaki brothers’ trio of excellent Platt Park restaurants: Sushi Den (the OG), Izakaya Den (the gastropub), and Ototo (the grill-and-skewer joint). Toshihiro and Yasuhiro Kizaki are local legends, and they maintain that status by sourcing premium ingredients and challenging their expert staff, such as Izakaya Den head line cook Erick Snover, to create seasonal specials that keep their regulars excited. Here’s how one of Snover’s dishes came together this spring.

Tuesday, 9:45 a.m. Snover hustles through the employee entrance and throws on a white chef’s coat and apron. It’s almost time to check in with Toshi and the other chefs about options for next week’s specials.

10:00 a.m. Toshi shows off seafood from the regular Tuesday shipment sent by the third Kizaki brother, Koichi, who hand-selects fish daily at the Nagahama fish market in southern Japan. Toshi also took his customary early morning trip to local fish purveyor True World Foods, so there’s plenty to choose from: Massachusetts day boat scallops make the cut. (The rest of the seafood goes to the permanent Izakaya Den menu or to Sushi Den or Ototo; if day boat scallops don’t come in next week, the dish will remain the same but Snover will substitute something similar in flavor and texture.)

10:15 a.m. Snover checks the inventory in the walk-in refrigerator. “We try to think of what the guests will want,” Snover says. “If it’s going to be cold, we’ll do curry. Nice and sunny out? Then we’ll make salads or chilled soups.”

11:30 a.m. While prepping the station he works most—hot appetizers—Snover plans his special. He’ll pan-sear the scallops and serve them with sweet-pea-and-potato purée, miso-corn cream, and red onion jam.

11:48 a.m. Snover runs into restaurant manager Andrea Mellman and tells her his idea; she’ll share it with Yasu and Toshi, who will bring sake- and wine-pairing options to the late-afternoon specials tasting.

1:00 p.m. Snover helps cook a family-style meal—short rib and kimchi soup, sesame chicken, penne with sausage and roasted tomatoes, and green salad—for the 40 staffers currently on the clock from all three restaurants.

2:30 p.m. Snover takes a plate back to his station. Between bites, he tinkers with his special, finishes his prep work, and fires up the wood grills for service.

4:30 p.m. Happy with his scallop dish, Snover offers his line cooks a taste; they’re eager to learn from his ideas.

4:45 p.m. Snover and his executive chef present their specials to Toshi, Yasu, and Mellman. Everyone shares impressions on plating and flavor, and questions come rapid-fire: What’s the food cost? How much should we charge? What should we call it? What do servers need to know? Toshi thinks Snover’s corn cream needs more miso influence, but the scallops are nicely seared and the plate is beautiful—the dish will be on next week’s menu. “One of the better things about working here is Toshi and Yasu’s feedback,” Snover says. “The Japanese mentality is to help make a dish better, not to be negative, so the guest gets the best food possible.”

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