Timing is everything. And 2020, so far, has been a year filled with bad timing, for restaurants and retail markets and countless other businesses besides. The team behind Zeppelin Development’s “Made In A City” art-and-retail pop-up series certainly didn’t mean to delay its April market, moving it from Zeppelin Station to the Source and opening in October. And Sushi Den’s Toshi Kizaki and executive chef Kenta Kamo didn’t intend to open Temaki Den in the central space at the Source, especially this late in the year.
The delays for both the market and the restaurant were, of course, related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but after making clever pivots, both are now open. Through January 2021, Made In Japan, curated by Zeppelin Development’s retail director Mathieu Mudie, is located in the Source Hotel lobby, across the way from Safta. “It was going to be our biggest Made in A City yet,” Mudie says, “but now we have a chance to help a special group of small makers connect with the public.”
The retail pop-up may be a smaller version of Mudie’s original plan, but there’s plenty to love—and covet. There are stickers, tech cases, and school supplies in vibrant colors from Fukuoka-based stationary brand HighTide USA. Inc; Traveler’s Company notebooks; kitchen storage and pepper grinders from Mokuneji; recycled ceramic tablewares; and more. Boulder artists O’baware by Kazu Oba and Epice Ceramic by Yuka Oba are also showcasing their gorgeous handcrafted Japanese pottery and jewelry, respectively, in the retail space across from Temaki Den.
Japan’s finest culinary import to Denver has long been the Kizaki brothers, Toshi and Yasu, co-owners of the Den Corner hat-trick of restaurants in Platt Park: Sushi Den, Izakaya Den, and Ototo. Known for their high-quality ingredient sourcing and decades-long popularity, the brothers have never strayed from their South Pearl Street location until now, with Temaki Den at the Source. “We’re quite a ways from Pearl Street,” says Kamo, formerly the chef at Ototo.
Temaki Den is intended to be a “no-frills” sushi bar, according to Kamo—although the soaring central space at the Source and the restaurant’s dramatic counter set-up, complete with COVID-era plexiglass partitions—lends drama to the ambiance. (There are also regular tables for dining, spread throughout the space.) Simplicity is the guiding principle of the menu, though, across a concise roster of starters ($3 to $4), temaki (hand rolls; $4.25 to $10), aburi (flame-seared) nigiri ($3.50 to $8), sashimi ($8 to $17), uramaki (inside-out rolls; $10 to $13), and desserts ($3 to $4). It’s like a greatest hits sushi menu crafted by experts of the genre, and you’re going to want to order it all.
The starters are fan favorites: miso soup, seaweed salad, edamame. There are a handful of sashimi plates available, too, and uramaki, which come in the expected California and Philly iterations, among a few others. All are made with care and through the Den team’s mandate of best-quality sourcing; you’ll find sweet, tender blue crab meat in the California roll, for instance, never imitation crab. (One wish regarding sourcing: That Temaki Den, and other local sushi restaurants, would stop serving bluefin tuna, which is rated as a poor ecological choice on most seafood watch lists.)
Timing is crucial when serving—and eating—the eponymous handrolls the restaurant will be known for; the goal is warm rice, cool fish or vegetables, and crispy nori, so it’s important that you eat each temaki as soon as it is placed before you (as if you wouldn’t anyway). The briefest of dips into soy sauce is the maximum prep necessary for the slim cylinders, which are otherwise ready to be consumed in about three bites. The mushroom temaki comes filled with fragrant rice and hen of the woods, shiitake, and shimeji mushrooms seasoned with yuzu, fish sauce, and truffle oil. Fish eaters can choose from salmon to red shrimp to negihama (yellowtail with scallion).
Kamo tasted more than 40 different kinds of nori before settling on one produced at a farm in Saga prefecture, Japan. He says that it costs about five times what they pay for nori at Sushi Den, and it is harvested only at night when the tide is high (as opposed to during the day, when the seaweed dries in the sun) for the best flavor and texture. The sushi rice the Den team uses is always a premium short-grain tamanishiki rice from California.
If you’ve ever tasted aburi nigiri, you know that it’s a richer, more complex version of entirely raw nigiri in which the fish is flash-seared on top. At Temaki Den, the chefs use a gas torch that projects its flame through binchotan charcoal to eliminate any harsh flavors, highlighting the caramelized notes achieved through searing eggplant, wagyu, and an array of seafood, from salmon belly to lobster. Each piece arrives perfectly seasoned and glazed in Temaki Den’s nikiri, a mix of sake, soy, and mirin; Kama and his team will advise you to skip the wasabi and additional soy sauce for these particular treats.
The beverage menu at Temaki Den is more extensive than the food offerings, which makes sense in a location that has always served as the main bar area for the Source. In addition to sake by the glass, can, and bottle, there are two taps dedicated to Colorado craft beer (New Belgium’s Astral hazy IPA and Great Divide’s Samurai Rice Ale are pouring now), wines by the glass in all colors, Japanese whiskys, and a handful of cocktails named after J Pop groups. Try the refreshing, citrusy Ikimono Gakari, made with gin, yuzu-and-lemon soju, St. Germaine elderflower liqueur, and plenty of muddled fresh shiso.
In the coming weeks, Temaki Den will open for lunch service, and eventually, offer to-go kits as well. In the latter, the temaki will come rolled in a brilliant plastic sleeve that keeps the nori separate from the fish and rice so, even at home, the ideal texture—and timing—is all yours.
The Source Hotel & Market Hall, 3330 Brighton Blvd., Unit 110, 225-405-0811. Open daily, 4 to 9 p.m.