Construction is under way at Ace, the eatery and ping-pong hall that Josh and Jen Wolkon, Matt Selby, Brandon and Emily Biederman and Jeff Bustos are building next to Steuben's, which the Wolkons and Selby also own (along with Vesta Dipping Grill). And though the partners are still a few months from unveiling what they've done with that old Storz Garage, the whole crew has been hard at work on the menu for months.
For much of that time, Josh, Selby and Brandon have been traveling across the country doing research: The team settled on Asian fare as a culinary focus, and so they've been hitting dim sum joints, Korean fried chicken havens, Thai restaurants, wing stands, bao houses and more all over New York City and Portland. They're also gearing up for trips to Chicago and Thailand, with a stopover in San Francisco, where they'll eat, drink and garner ideas for additions and tweaks to the menu.
And while they're back in Denver, Selby and Brandon have been playing with some of the items they'll eventually serve. Today, they treated a small group to a sampling of what they're working on.
So far, the chefs have drawn influence from many different parts of Asia -- just today, they tried out kimchee (a Korean staple), a Thai soup and crispy beef a la China. They're not going for authenticity so much as deliciousness, though they're certainly trying to preserve the flavors and essence of the cuisines they're showcasing.
They emphasize, too, that things could change a lot before Ace actually opens its doors. But to get a taste of what they're cooking up, here's a sneak peek at some of the menu items they're playing with right now:
This pickled mango dish, topped with chile threads and Chinese basil and drizzled with lime, was equal parts sweet, savory, tart and spicy -- and could be given more kick by one of two housemade sauces that both packed some serious heat.
This Thai soup, which Selby described as a cross between coconut curry and sweet and sour soup, was a blast of spice and citrus, the sweet coconut providing rich balance.
Josh obsessed over how to make perfect chicken wings for months, trying to find the secret to the super-crisp edges and tender, moist interior. The secret is in the triple-frying process, which results in a lacquered bird in a punchy sweet-spicy sauce.
The same sauce that covered the wings also enhanced the crispy beef, which had been fried until it practically dissolved on the tongue. That process also made this dish deceptively light.
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Because of its spicy-salty nature, the Ace food cries out for several rounds of drinks, and Randy and Ryan Layman -- who are behind the drinks list at Steuben's -- are working on a bar program. Today, they gave us a sneak peek of one of the housemade sodas they're working on, an orange drink similar to an Aranciata.