Cafe Society

Testing Boundaries

Okay, so John Holly's Asian Bistro in Lone Tree isn't Super Star Asian (the incredible dim sum place at 2200 West Alameda) or the old Mee Yee Lin (another incredible dim sum place that became a merely passable dim sum place with great shu mai and incredible dumpling soup after its move from West Alameda to 2295 South Chambers Road in Aurora last year) or the previous incarnation of Ocean City (1098 South Federal) on its best evenings, when the dining room would fill up with night cooks and bar crawlers and neighbors eating giant pots of anything that walked, swam or crawled, and the air filled with languages as thick and foreign as the smell of five-spice.

Even though chef John Ye's kitchen is doing good work, occasionally excellent work, almost always interesting work, and even though Ye himself is the sort of driven, calculating, completely obsessive chef I respect, John Holly's is not the kind of restaurant whose name I will whisper as I lean across a table, talking to my weirdo gastronaut friends, accenting my hissed pronouncement with raised eyebrows as if to say just go there and now. I'm not holding it up as one of those places where any veteran eater, willing explorer or Big Hungry Boy will experience epiphanies large or small.

But John Holly's is serving what some (like me) might argue is a greater good: It's acting as a gateway, a welcoming introduction to a level of Asian cuisine and flavor beyond sesame chicken and pork fried rice, feeding Thai duck to soccer moms, tobiko to toddlers, tekka maki to Grandma.

I like that, because it's kinda subversive and, more important, necessary.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a staunch defender of Taco Bell for roughly the same reason: because like it or not, Taco Bell introduced a lot of people outside the Southwest to Mexican food. Taco Bell was the first place they had a taco, the first place they saw a burrito. It was my first burrito, as a matter of fact. And even though Taco Bell is awful, brutal on the G.I. tract and only Mexican in the way that fortune cookies are Chinese, it offered many diners an initial lexicon, a Codex Mexicanus, which they could follow once their curiosity took them beyond the bounds of chalupas, Chihuahuas and PepsiCo brand hot sauce.

Some day, John Holly's fans may make it to Super Star Asian. But for now, it's amazing enough that they're coming to this place.

To read all about it, watch for this week's Westword, or return to this page late Wednesday. -- Jason Sheehan

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun