Last December, chef Lon Symensma, founder of ChoLon Modern Asian, Cho77 and Concourse, unveiled plans to add to his restaurant empire by opening two new concepts, LeRoux and Kaya Kitchen, next door to ChoLon on the 16th Street Mall. The idea was to have LeRoux, a modern European restaurant grounded in the chef's classical French training and work abroad, open by August, but a recent peek inside the doors at 1555 Blake Street reveals contractors still working on the bones of the space.
Symensma now says that December is a more reasonable target for LeRoux's debut, adding that the delay is primarily because the city insisted on the installation of a new grease trap in the alley behind the restaurant. According to the chef, ChoLon shared a grease trap with its previous neighbor, H Burger (which closed nearly five years ago), but the city has since decided that a second grease trap would be needed to handle the wastewater of three separate restaurants. Modern grease traps are large and expensive pieces of equipment, and the installation of a new one required ripping out concrete in the alley. But with that obstacle cleared, construction inside the two restaurants is now going full throttle.
The plan for those restaurants has also changed. Kaya Kitchen has been scrapped, and instead Symensma is moving Cho77 there from its current home at 24 South Broadway. Cho77 originally opened in the spring of 2015, and it will close on Thursday, September 27. LeRoux is going into the space closest to ChoLon, and this winter, Cho77 will move into a spot at the far corner of the block.
But 24 South Broadway won't remain vacant for long. Symensma has a Mexican concept, BorraCho Taco, which opened inside Avanti Food & Beverage in May. Chef Kevin Chu, a veteran of the Los Angeles restaurant scene and lover of street tacos, will launch a full-service version of BorraCho in the Cho77 space starting at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, October 3. Expect an expanded roster of traditional and newfangled tacos and other Mexican-inspired eats, as well as daily happy-hour deals and, of course, a Taco Tuesday.
Symensma's construction and remodeling projects aren't limited to the upcoming LeRoux, Cho77 and BorraCho Taco, though. ChoLon reopens tomorrow (Friday, September 21) after a four-day closure to finish a soundproofing and design project that began earlier this summer. And the staff is also getting ready to celebrate the restaurant's eight-year anniversary: It's welcoming the public to a dinner party from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 11. Tickets are $88 and can be purchased on Open Table; cocktails, wine, beer and food from the chefs at all of Symensma's restaurants will be served.
Also new at ChoLon is a mysterious piece of kitchen equipment that recently arrived in the mail from France. It's a duck press, standing on four gold-plated duck feet and weighing upwards of thirty pounds. Symensma learned how to use the device when he was a student at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, in the late 1990s, and later got to see it in action in restaurants in France, where he worked as a chef and student-teacher.
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The press's final destination is not ChoLon, though, but rather LeRoux, which is named after Xavier LeRoux, one of Symensma's former instructors and lifelong mentors. In fact, LeRoux himself procured the press — for about $2,500 — at a Parisian cookware store called E. Dehillerin (in business since 1820) and sent it on to Symensma. "I can't even guarantee we're going to use it, but it's a beautiful piece," Symensma explains.
As a practical food-preparation tool, the duck press doesn't fit well into modern restaurant service, but was first used more than 150 years ago at Tour d'Argent in Paris, where chefs would partially roast a whole duck, slice the breast and legs onto a serving platter and load everything up onto a service cart. From there, a waiter would press the carcass tableside and reduce the juices into a sauce in a pan.
The chef says he may devise ways of incorporating the press into special presentations, but mostly it will be a visual cue that will provide context for diners. "It adds a European touch," Symensma notes.
While things are a little chaotic in the ChoLon empire right now, in just a few months Symensma fans will be able to have their pick of upscale pan-Asian cuisine at the flagship restaurant, modern takes on European classics at LeRoux, and Southeast Asian street food at Cho77. Add tacos at BorraCho and the artful, contemporary small plates of Concourse in Stapleton, and you've got a greatest-hits list of international cuisine from one of Denver's most ambitious culinary teams.