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Sushi Den on South Pearl Street has been Denver’s fresh-fish go to for 35 years now, but dining there or at adjoining sister restaurant Izakaya Den is an exercise in planning (to arrive early or reserve a table) or patience (to endure the wait for a seat). But as of this summer, sushi fanatics can head to RiNo instead of Platte Park for a more casual, affordable, and accessible take on chef Toshi Kizaki’s impeccable fare with the opening of a new hand roll restaurant called Temaki Den.
Led by Kizaki and Kenta Kamo, the former executive chef at Ototo (Kizaki’s Japanese-style pub, located across the street from Sushi Den), Temaki Den will feel at once novel and familiar. Familiar: Unique, ultra-fresh fish purchased daily at the Nagahama market in Fukuoka, Japan, by Kizaki’s youngest brother. Exquisite attention to ingredients, from the premium sheets of nori and perfect rice used to make the temaki-zushi (hand rolls) to the Japanese beers, whiskeys, and sakes that make up the drink list.
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Novel: Temaki Den, located in the former Mondo Market space inside the Source Market Hall, will consist of a 22-seat sushi counter—no tables—where diners will be taken care of by one of three sushi chefs, who will serve food and drink from across the counter. The vibe will be far more casual than that of gorgeous Izakaya Den and buzzing Sushi Den; at Temaki Den, diners can grab a seat and a hand-roll set for a quick lunch or let the chefs there take them on a deeper dive into temaki, aburi (seared) nigiri, and rotating specials based on what’s in season (think: Santa Barbara uni or Nantucket Bay scallops). Prices will range from $12 for a three-roll set to $24 for six rolls, with the likes of salmon toro aburi nigiri costing $4.25 per piece.
Green initiatives are also on the table at Temaki Den—literally. Kamo is opposed to the waste that comes from using disposable chopsticks, for example, so apart from being necessary for sashimi plates, every item on the menu will be designed to eat by hand or with a spoon (for soup and desserts). There will be warm cloth towels at each place setting for use throughout the meal, and Kamo plans to reduce water waste from dishwashing by eschewing plates in favor of compostable recycled paper sheets. “Composting and preventing waste will be a large part of our restaurant culture,” Kamo says.
Kamo also intends to treat Temaki Den as an incubator of sorts for aspiring culinary talent, providing a learning environment in which young cooks can experiment as they gain experience. That intention stems from his own journey, which is fascinating. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Kamo spent every summer of his early childhood attending school in his mother’s hometown of Merima, a suburb of Tokyo. When stateside, he went to Japanese school on Sundays, too, learning the traditional Japanese public school curriculum on top of his American studies. “My parents wanted me to be as close to a true Japanese kid as I could,” Kamo says.
During college, while studying international trade and finance at Louisiana State University, Kamo would spend months out of every year in Nagano, Japan, where he had been assigned through a work study program to assist a resort chef (who was also a professional skier). “That’s what I’d do: ski and cook. There, I got to experience what real Japanese cuisine and ingredients were like. Since being exposed to that, I’ve never been able to cook any other cuisine,” Kamo says.
Prior to moving to Denver in 2015, Kamo apprenticed under his great-uncle, chef Takayuki Noborio, at his Japanese restaurant in Edmonton, Canada. As a “humble brag,” Kamo notes that Noborio is the only working chef in North America to have received formal training under the original Japanese Iron Chef, Rokusaburo Michiba. “I learned knife and sauté skills, as well as basic sushi skills, from him,” Kamo says. Then, he moved to Colorado, joining the culinary team at Ototo, where he started as a line cook and eventually worked his way up to executive chef—with stints as a busser and server, too—by the fall of 2017. “I’ve done every job there is at Ototo,” Kamo says. “Knowing that [Kizaki] has confidence in me means more than anything. But what I value most is his focus on quality ingredients. That’s what Japanese food is all about.”
It’s where Kamo’s passion lies, too. “We’ll have salmon, tuna, and crab, sure, but it will be better quality than anywhere else,” Kamo says. And because hand rolls make use of scraps and the service model requires less overhead, Temaki Den will be a way to experience Sushi Den-quality dining in a more accessible way. As long as you can nab one of those 22 seats at the counter, that is.
Temaki Den will open in the Source Market Hall sometime in summer 2020. 3330 Brighton Blvd.