Phillip Simonson is obsessed with chocolate — but not just any chocolate. As a kid, he eschewed cheap, mass-produced milk chocolate and finally developed a love for the good stuff as an adult, when he discovered artisan, small-batch producers. He founded Chocolate Lab and introduced his truffles to Denver seven years ago; now Simonson is taking his obsession to a new level. He will soon open Chocolate Lab, at 2504 East Colfax Avenue, as a full lunch and dinner restaurant and confiserie.
Simonson says he's been passionate about cooking since he was a kid, but only entered the world of professional food production when he started Chocolate Lab after a career as a schoolteacher. His truffle recipe comes from a Valentine's Day gift. "My husband made truffles for me for Valentine's Day," he explains, adding that the confections were so good, he wanted to share them with the world. "It's just the two of us that know the recipes," he notes (though his husband is not involved in the business).
The truffles are hand-rolled and hand-dipped, with a thinner shell than that of many other truffles, which allows the creamy, flavorful ganache centers to stand out. Simonson says that since founding Chocolate Lab, he has always used savory ingredients in his flavor blends, like a recent pineapple-habanero truffle, along with fair-trade chocolate and organic cream.
His emphasis on matching savory ingredients with chocolate will take on a new form as he prepares to launch a lunch and dinner restaurant where nearly everything on the menu will include chocolate. "For me, it's about taking something I like and finding a way to make chocolate work with it," Simonson explains.
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So his dinner menu will include a sous-vide beef tenderloin with a chocolate dry rub, a pulled-pork sandwich with chocolate in the bourbon barbecue sauce, and cocoa nibs used to add flavor and crunch to hummus and roasted Brussels sprouts. The only items on the menu that won't include chocolate are the grilled cheese sandwich and the macaroni and cheese.
Chocolate Lab will have a full bar and room for twenty guests inside. A sidewalk patio with an additional sixteen seats will be added later in the summer, once the permitting process is complete. Until recently, Chocolate Lab shared a kitchen with New World Cheese, which went out of business at the beginning of March.
Simonson is moving quickly to change the space over, since he has been unable to make and sell retail chocolates since the closing. He expects to open the restaurant in about two weeks, and will offer lunch and dinner seven days a week in addition to selling truffles and other housemade confections.