Chef/restaurateur Lon Symensma is about to embark on a restaurant voyage that will expand his influence over the Denver dining scene considerably in the coming years. With the imminent arrival of Concourse Restaurant Moderne, Symensma will have three restaurants in his stable — after ChoLon and Cho77 — and has already built the infrastructure to expand beyond a trio. Concourse opens at 10195 East 29th Drive in the new Eastbridge Stapleton development on Wednesday, May 3, bringing the chef's elegant and worldly vision to life for a neighborhood hungry for new dining options.
As a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Symensma's roots are in the European cooking tradition, though he has branched out into Asian cuisine over a career that took him to Southeast Asia before he came to Denver. With former classmate Luke Bergman at the helm, Concourse represents a bridge between Symensma's past and future; the menu is dotted with international influences but defies easy categorization. "The one word I wanted it to be is 'sexy,'" the chef explains.
"Sexy" is the right word to describe the style of Concourse, with its undulating dining-room ceiling made from seventy curvaceous wood slats, its sleek tile surfaces in blacks and whites, and its brass and gold finishes that add elegance to every nook and cranny of the space. "We've had two years to plan," Symensma says, "so nothing was left to chance or to the last minute."
The menu feel equally thought out, with a concise roster — only fifteen dishes appear on the opening menu — left as a single list, not broken down into appetizers, mains or sides. Although European technique is evident in emulsions, reductions and vinaigrettes, the chef says he avoided the overuse of butter and cream, instead relying on "aggressive but not heavy flavors."
Ingredients are both modern and striking; for example, large Humboldt squid are used in the calamari to form meaty strips rather than delicate rings. Bergman says the tenderness comes from poaching the squid for two hours in 120-degree olive oil before finishing with a sear on the screaming-hot plancha. Creamy black rice forms a bed for pork tenderloin; rhubarb, trumpet mushrooms and scallops come together on another plate, while Japanese eggplant and Italian olives nestle together with rack of lamb.
Desserts and cocktails are no less striking, whether a strawberry-vodka refresher brightened with fennel slices, fronds and seeds, or a dessert inspired by the Rocky Mountains topped with slabs of meringue that take on a stony hue from activated coconut charcoal.
Concourse, with its subtle aviation theme, will serve the neighborhood all day, with housemade pastries, Coda coffee and other breakfast items available beginning at 7 a.m. Brunch will be added on May 20, and lunch will kick off on May 22.
Continuity and consistency are important to Symensma, so he was careful in filling his staff. "Everyone with a main role here has spent at least two years at ChoLon," he points out. In fact, ChoLon will serve as the anchor to Symensma's new holding company, overseen by COO Christopher Davis-Massey. With a slightly more corporate structure in place, Symensma has the proper base for expanding his restaurant empire in the coming years. With Concourse set for takeoff, the sky's the limit for Symensma and his crew.
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For more photos, see our complete Concourse Restaurant Moderne slideshow.