Have you ever wondered how a server gets so good at his description of a dish? How he knows all the different types of fish; its taste, its “mouth feel”? Many seasoned servers spend years in the service industry gleaning crumbs of information from a good general manager or a chef who has time to share his philosophy. For some of the more fortunate, it is in-depth training courses provided by the restaurant.
Toshi and Yasu Kizaki have run a successful restaurant empire in Denver for over 27 years. Both Sushi Den and Izakaya Den the freshest sushi and sashimi in the United States, but its success also stems from educated servers due to the restaurant’s weekly seminars.
Every Tuesday, Yasu Kizaki teaches an hour-long sushi seminar. Servers must submit questions prior to the seminar and are invited to join based on their passion to learn. From the beginning it is clear, if you are not passionate about learning the art of sushi, don’t waste everyone’s time by taking up space. Yasu is a patient teacher and takes time to share the difference of Big Eye Akami from Bincho or Big Eye Zuke. Servers have paperwork outlining the origin, sustainability, taste and texture and the sushi bar is very generous with tastes of each fish. Servers are expected to understand the Japanese name in order to communicate clearly with the guest as well as the sushi chef. Sushi Den can turn out as many as 800 covers in a night and offer over 40 types of fish. If the server doesn’t communicate clearly with the sushi chef, then the tightly woven formula can begin to unravel.
Friday is the global menu tasting for both Sushi Den and Izakaya Den servers. Again, servers are required to submit questions before the seminar to be invited. The kitchen and sushi bar turn out over 15 dishes for servers to taste, mock present and learn the flavor profiles through the palate. More experienced servers share stories of how to visually present to a guest. One server shared how he begins with a blank canvas in his mind and builds the dish from there. With such an extensive list of sushi, sashimi, noodles, soups as well as kitchen items, it is imperative for servers to lend their expertise to guests. Suggestions can range from how to navigate the ordering process to chronologically choosing items to maximize the tastes of each dish.
Sushi Den and Izakaya Den have some of the most extensive sake lists in the country. Toshi Kizaki curates the sake selection while Level 2 Sommelier and Certified Sake Professional (CSP) Brian Caulfield oversees the list. Sake training is held quarterly at the restaurant led by a sake specialist and Brian. Japanese sake breweries create premium sake based on three elements – mineral rich water, the polishing and washing of the rice and good weather. The premium sake category contains eight classifications, although it accounts for only 25% of Japanese sake. The other 75% is known as table sake, or Futsuu-shu. Sushi Den and Izakaya Den offer not only high quality sakes hard to find in the United States but offer “Sushi Den” signature sake chosen by Toshi Kizaki. Sake, like wine has extensive regions and pairs well with food.
And as with wine, be sure to drink the best bottle first!
Sushi Den is located at 1487 S. Pearl Street with the new Izakaya Den to be located next door beginning in June.