Chefs often find new ways to play with food, to escape the tedium of doing the same thing one too many times. Cooking over gas burners, for example, must become absolutely mind-numbing after the first several thousand times you baste a steak in butter or arc a panful of sizzling mushrooms into the air. And so another trend is born. Not so long ago, sous-vide cooking was the rage, taking the sexy out of the kitchen in favor of precise control. These days, cooking over wood is where it's at — and that's where Citizen Rail will be when it opens in late summer at 16th and Wewatta streets.
The restaurant, which takes its name from the nearby train lines and the notion of bringing food to the community, will be part of the new Kimpton Hotel Born behind Union Station (where it will join the upcoming Frasca project, Tavernetta). Heading the kitchen will be chef Christian Graves, a Kimpton veteran who just moved to Colorado from San Diego, where he was executive chef at the Kimpton-owned JSix.
Graves notes that he and his family had already decided to move to Boulder and were in transit when Kimpton reached out regarding the Citizen Rail project. The concept appealed to him, because he had thought about opening his own wood-fired eatery while in San Diego, and returning to his former employer meant that he could enjoy the fruits of their longstanding relationship. "What I appreciate about Kimpton is that they hire the best restaurant people to run the restaurant and the best hotel people to run that side," the chef explains.
That means that, like Panzano in the Hotel Monaco (another Kimpton property), Citizen Rail isn't your typical hotel restaurant. "We're here primarily to serve Denver," Graves notes, and having hotel guests as an additional source of customers is just a bonus.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The menu will be protein-heavy, Graves says, with a house butchering program and a dry-aging room, though Citizen Rail will not be a steakhouse. Instead, he'll utilize as much of the animal as possible, getting creative with cuts for grilling and roasting while also making charcuterie and cured meats. "I like to produce as much myself as possible," he explains, and that includes fresh cheeses and vinegars. "And I like listening to what the farmer has, going out and walking the fields."
Graves says that there will also be a "connection between chef and bartender," and that Citizen Rail's bar manager will also use the wood-burning oven to create ingredients for cocktails. The kitchen will use oak, mesquite and fruit woods to bring out the best in various proteins and vegetables.
There's still plenty of construction left to be done inside the restaurant, but when it's finished, the place will seat more than 150 guests, with nearly half of the indoor seating dedicated to high-tops and bar stools. Don't expect a train theme for decor; Graves says the ambience will be sophisticated but welcoming. Citizen Rail will initially open for dinner and breakfast, with lunch and brunch to be added later in the year.
The restaurant joins nearby Hearth & Dram in the neighborhood's wood-fired fray, along with a host of other new eateries behind Union Station, including Public School 303, Stella's on 16th and the upcoming Tupelo Honey.