"The best seat in the house is definitely at the chef's counter," insists Lon Symensma, the chef/co-owner of ChoLon Modern Bistro, the innovative, strikingly contemporary shrine to authentic Asian cooking that's set to open on October 5 in the SugarCube building at 1555 Blake Street.
He's not kidding.
The state-of-the-art exhibition kitchen, bedecked with eight coveted seats and more culinary contraptions than anything you'll see on Top Chef, is, in a word, astounding. It's got a webcam, a French flattop, steamers, slow-cookers, a Malaysian ice-maker, two custom-designed woks, a powerful plancha grill, an ice cream maker, a dough mixer, a Cryovac machine, a marble table just for chocolate-making, a SmartCooking system, top-of-the-line meat slicer, Hobart dish machine and dumpling steamer...and on and on and on.
Symensma, who's worked at two Michelin two-star restaurants in France, traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia and China and was part of the opening crew of Jean-Georges in Shanghai, before heading to New York, where he was instrumental in elevating Spice Market to superstar status, and later, Buddakan, which Symensma unveiled in 2006. He's a serious chef and restaurateur who doesn't do anything half-assed.
"I like to be forward-thinking," notes Symensma, whose 120-seat, eco-minded restaurant exposes concrete beams, reclaimed walnut accents, conversation-piece chandeliers, solar panels, stylish banquettes, downplayed Asian trappings, and a community table, also constructed from reclaimed walnut. And then there are the blue-hued kitchen tiles, a tribute to Hồ Chí Minh, the founder of modern Vietnam, who also worked at the former Carlton Hotel in London as a pastry chef under French master Escoffier and whose service there is marked with a simple blue plaque.
Symensma, who spent nearly two years putting ChoLon together, sneaking away from New York on the weekends for jaunts to the Mile High City, believes that Denver -- not London -- is the Next Big Thing in the culinary sphere. "Denver has more potential than anywhere else to be the next big food city," says Symensma. "I'm banking my career on it." So are his partners, Alicia Pokoik Deters and Jim Deters.
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They're banking, too, on a vault of savvy diners who will embrace Symensma's vision. "I want to bring a style of cuisine that isn't currently represented in Denver," says Symensma. To that end, his menu, a compilation of classic French, Chinese, Southeast Asian and Colorado cuisines, will focus on small bites, all of which are meant to be eaten without utensils or chopsticks; small plates; large plates and dishes from his woks. "There will be nothing on the menu that I've ever served before," he reveals.
When ChoLon opens, it'll serve lunch and dinner, as well as a small-bites menu that's available throughout the day. And once he and his partners get the bistro off the ground, they'll look to open other concepts in Denver: a French bistro, an Italian restaurant, an Indian food truck and, says Symensma, "an ode to a Denver restaurant."
But while you wait for all of that, Symensma and his crew plan to feed our bellies with everything from trout almondine with long beans, roasted chicken with soy jus, char siu buffalo ribs with Chinese sausage and a soybean cassoulet, xiao long bao, curried duck spring rolls, shrimp cakes, shrimp pillows and pork belly pot stickers.