Japoix and its kitchen are moving food forward

See photos of the menu options at Japoix

Japoix and its kitchen are moving food forward
Mark Manger
Josh Popp plates Duck Ramen at Japoix, 975 Lincoln Street in Denver. See photos of the menu options at Japoix.

The great leap forward: Was it an early cook in France or China who first got the idea of using frog's legs as food? For as long as Parisian chefs have been crisping up the amphibian's extremities and dousing them in garlic and butter, cooks in Beijing have been stir-frying those same body parts to adorn a variety of dishes. And both countries were most likely responsible for frog's legs jumping into Indochina, where Chinese tradition and French culinary standards met in the nineteenth century, spawning new cuisines. That might make the Southeast Asian peninsula the first outpost of modern fusion. But then, you could also argue that modern fusion started when wheat noodles migrated from China to Europe and inspired pasta. Or when beef became a popular ingredient in many Asian cuisines after Europeans visited that continent.

Cuisines have mingled throughout history. The fusion never stops.

Fast-forward to the 1990s, when a group of chefs capitalized on fusion in a much more ostentatious way, taking Asian flavors and marrying them purposefully to European and Latin American cuisines. In this new fusion, Chinese met Spanish, Thai met French, and Vietnamese, once a fusion cuisine itself, met Mexican. But rather than subtly integrating like elements, the resulting menus pitted bold flavor against bold flavor, highlighting contrasts, making a global culinary statement that was intentionally all new. It didn't take long before fusion was so overdone, it became a culinary F-word.

Sell the sizzle and the steak: The social hot rock at Japoix. See photos of the menu options at Japoix.
Mark Manger
Sell the sizzle and the steak: The social hot rock at Japoix. See photos of the menu options at Japoix.
Owner Lawrence Yee. See photos of the menu options at Japoix.
Mark Manger

Location Info



975 Lincoln St.
Denver, CO 80203

Category: Restaurant > Asian Fusion

Region: Central Denver


Ahi poke $14
Crispy frog's legs $9
Duck ramen $15
French dip $12
Electric eel roll $10
Social hot rock, 8 oz. prime filet $28
Lobster udon $17
975 Lincoln Street
Dining room hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday, noon-9 p.m. Sunday
Lounge hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Monday through Wednesday, 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday

But true culinary fusion never stops. Food is always evolving, and Japoix offers one look at where it's going next.

"Japoix is a combination of the words 'Japan' and 'mirepoix,' which is part of the base of French cooking. Our dishes combine those two cuisines," noted our incredibly efficient server during my first meal at Japoix. And not just those cuisines: Although chef Jay Spickelmier's menu includes noodle bowls and frog's legs served French style with an Asian dipping sauce, it also takes some of the greatest hits of '90s fusion — wonton tacos, sliders and flavor-injected sushis — a step further. And it's doing so in a space whose previous tenant, nine75, was renowned for its comfort food with a rock-and-roll twist, which really meant big — often Asian — flavors applied to continental classics. Nine75 went through several incarnations before it closed in mid-2009, with its latest owners citing parking problems and poor street visibility. The fact that fusion's time had long since passed didn't help.

Those location issues haven't completely been resolved today, even if the scaffolding is off the Beauvallon. Which makes Lawrence Yee's decision to open this particular restaurant in this particular space an interesting one, since his culinary concept isn't a far cry from that of nine75's. But while Spickelmier's menu recalls some of the dishes served by that restaurant, it's also a reflection of his training. Spickelmier started his career under master sushi chef Takeshi Osaki at Osaki Sushi before moving up to Vail, where he cooked at the Left Bank, an upscale French spot, and Spago at Beaver Creek, the Wolfgang Puck restaurant that represented his first foray into the fusion of Asian flavors and other cuisines. Back in Denver, he became the executive chef at Jing in 2009, where he worked with his old friend Yee, a managing partner at that restaurant. And when Yee was offered what he describes as a deal he couldn't refuse on the nine75 spot, Spickelmier agreed to come on and helm the kitchen of Japoix, which opened last August.

Nine75 haunts not just the menu but also the physical space, because considerable furniture came with the lease. Yee also preserved much of the interior aesthetic: the dimly lit, dark-wooded dining room up front, with screens and fake walls giving the awkward shape some intimacy but leaving much of the space empty. And you still pass by a couple of strange little booths as you head to the bathrooms, the awkwardly located garage or the large lounge in back, with its picture-window views of Denver.

That first night at Japoix, we listened politely as our refreshingly confident and competent server walked us through the menu, highlighting his favorites, and then proceeded to err gravely by ignoring every piece of advice he'd given us. I love frog's legs — for both their culinary backstory and the contrast between their tender flesh and crispy skin — but these were a letdown. The legs, which arrived stacked one on top of the other next to a little dish of chile sauce, were meaty, but hadn't been fried in a hot enough pan to attain that satisfying crunch. They were bland, too, and I longed for some strong flavor, like garlic, to punch up the herbs de Provence. My real gripe, though, was with the honeyed sauce, which had a synthetic taste that suggested it came from a bottle (our waiter confirmed that it had).

A French dip sandwich had no more kick than those frog legs. The shaved slices of dry beef came on a spongy French roll with a side of watery au jus; the sandwich could have been an entry in a low sodium-diet cookbook, it was so devoid of salt. But there was no shortage of truffle flavor in the accompanying paper cone of fries; the spuds were doused with so much pungent oil, they were almost sickening. The duck ramen had sounded good, and the springy egg noodles and crispy, fat-laced pork belly looked promising, but they swam in a broth that was no more than lightly flavored water. And the chunks of duck, normally one of my favorite meats, added nothing more than an unpleasant, slightly rubbery texture. We ate the pork belly out of the bowl and used soy sauce to spice up the rest, but left most of the soup on the table.

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Ok, Ok, Ok. If the tuna tartare was diced and then placed in a cylindrical metal receptacle, and then placed on ice with a good amount of salt on it, and then the receptacle was spun around vigorously for a good amount of time on the ice, it is feasible for the tuna to freeze on ice. Problem is, this technique is labor intensive, and takes a lot of time, and doesn't make much sense, while forgetting to pull enough tuna loin (IQF, color added) out of the freezer for the next day does make a lot of sense. Good day.


"A couple of chunks of tuna were still slightly frozen in the center from being on ice too long"

Ok, water only stays frozen at 32 degrees F, 0 degrees C, or 273.15 K. That means that the ambient temperature in the space that the tuna was stored in would need to be at the aforementioned temperature, or colder in order for the fish to freeze in the middle. If the tuna were stored "on the ice" in any space warmer than 32 degrees F, it is impossible for it to freeze, as the ice is melting, and is no longer at a chilly 32 F.

Laura Shunk, you my friend just raved about eating frozen tuna, which was not pulled and defrosted early enough to be suitable to be served as tartare (which, by the way should be room temperature when served) and in the same article complained about bottled sauce that sounds like mae ploy.

P.S. Kobe beef on hot stones and garnishing ramen with nori shards are not examples of moving food forward. They are simply a new spin on Ms. Shunk's favorite word... FUSION!


Welcome back, Laura!


ever hear of soapstone? It retains heat 270% longer than cast iron..... The only downside is the fragile physical nature of the material.

Of course it's not a "grill per se" Medium well is easily achievable.

Personally, I wouldn't eat here, but don't go on flaming the place for doing something different....


frogs legs are possibly the easiest of the meal to prepare.. and for the stone cooking. anyone with any background will tell you that thick skinned veggies will not cook on a flat stone.. its not a grill per se, but a flat top.. not enough surface to make contact to first sear, than actually cook. and with a stone that comes out at a certain temp, that temp will lose its heat the minute it leaves the kitchen. its easy to cook to medium rare, but try to cooking to medium well.. and to be frank, a chef who wants diners to cook their own meal, but charge chef prices is pretty cheesy; and not in a good way. in another word, hes lazy. Here's a raw product, here is a heated stone, cook away, pay me, and dont forget to tip your server.