Yesterday morning, six of us gathered around a communal table to participate in a session -- a session that focused on the restaurant by the same name, specificallySession Kitchen
, a new dining mecca from Beckenridge-Wynkoop that will open in late October in the former Izakaya Den space at 1518 South Pearl Street. And during that session, which included Scott Parker, chef of Session; Chris Cina, the company chef of Breckenridge-Wynkoop; and Lisa Berzins Ruskaup, the restaurant group's creative concept director, I learned quite a bit about what will undoubtedly become the buzz of Platt Park.
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"At Session Kitchen, we've started a portion revolution," declares Ruskaup. "Tapas is tired. Start sessioning."
Let her explain: Session Kitchen, she says, is "globally-inspired cuisine that's shared among guests in iron-clad cookware, portioned the way you want it." It's a "casual, vibrant, East-meets-West environment," she continues, that's "energized by local and international street art that provides both the gateway into -- and the backdrop for -- dining, drinking and lingering in three separate architectural areas inspired by nature, motion, music, art and culture."
That's the short version.
The longer version is much more detailed and begins with Ruskaup -- who's tiny -- standing in the behemoth space while it was still Izakaya Den, which has since relocated across the street, where it resides next door to Sushi Den, its sibling restaurant. "People loved Izakaya Den when it was here, and because there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, I stood in there trying to figure out what to do with the space so that I wasn't hated for making changes," recalls Ruskaup. "I asked myself why guests wanted to be there and what they loved about it," and the conclusion, says Ruskaup, was a restaurant that delivered exceptionally good food in an atmosphere that was full of positive, Zen-like energy.
And then Ruskaup, whose design prowess is nothing short of sheer genius, began to unleash her vision, an East-meets-West perspective incorporating a chef-driven kitchen with Parker at the helm, coupled with the 'hood's eclectic demographic: snowboarders, skateboarders, music junkies, sojourners, beer scholars, foodniks, culture vultures and artists.
And art -- the kind that makes you gawk -- is a big deal here. Whereas light fixtures have become the embodiment of "art" in so many of Denver's new restaurants, Ruskaup, a self-described "humungous art freak," along with her art consultant, Tom Horne, who owns Black Book Gallery, not only made the decision to showcase art -- but they're doing it on a monumental scale.
Eight permanent, original pieces (starting in September, we'll begin unveiling them here on Cafe Society), will be displayed, both inside and out, but one piece -- a psychedelic mural called "The Awakening," painted by internationally renowned graffiti/street artist Mear One -- is already front and center on the south side of the restaurant. Within its urbanized, new-age, kaleidoscopic swirls and jagged bolts lie, says Ruskaup, the "gateway to the Platt Park neighborhood" -- and images like a Buddha, which tap into the human conscience. The piece, which took 75 cans of spray paint to accomplish, is a showstopper, and you can expect to see more jaw-dropping pieces in the weeks to come.
And those pieces will play prominently throughout the interior, which, reveals Ruskaup, is all about "flow and motion" -- and designated areas, all of which have their own nicknames: There's the intimate "Session Bar," essentially an elevated bar within a bar that will have fourteen coveted seats overlooking all the action below, including the Park Bar (think snow park and skate park), the restaurant's main gathering place, which will showcase eighteen craft beer taps, along with keg cocktails and wines. The perimeter of the Park Bar, divulges Ruskaup, is the "Lot," a section with high-top tables and community tables. Just beyond the front door is the "North Face," which will be occupied by crescent-shaped booths. There's a bar upstairs, too -- that's the "Back Bowl," inspired by skateboarding and half pipes -- and part of its allure is the forthcoming balcony peeking over the lower level.
And no matter where you sit -- the restaurant will accommodate 280 butts -- you'll have access to Parker's full sessional menu, a one-pot culinary concept that's new to Denver, insomuch that portions will be adjusted according to the number of guests at each table. For example, if you want to order roast chicken, you can request a "session" for two, three, four, six, eight -- however many people decide they want roast chicken. In other words, a "session" is a portion, and the purpose behind that innovative, customizable way of eating is to move away from the traditional one-and-done entrée plate. "The idea is to do light but hearty and filling one-pot meals that embrace a communal style of eating," says Cina. "We want people to share food and share flavors -- that's the core of what we're doing."
Parker, who spent a decade at Table 6 before departing last week, adds that his food will be what you'd expect from one of Denver's best chefs: "fresh, light, seasonal and farm-intensive." The notable detour between here and other restaurants, he emphasizes, is that "we're breaking the mold in terms of presentation." He'll pickle, can and jar, and "use what's good right now and as close to home as possible."
Session, stresses Ruskaup, "equals the freedom to eat and drink the way you want." And that includes the whole gamut of diets: carnivores, fish heads, vegans, vegetarians and those who are gluten-free.
Session Kitchen will be open seven days a week, beginning at 11 a.m.; Parker will also do an abbreviated late-night menu from 10 p.m. to midnight.
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"With amazing taps of elevated craft cocktails, beer and exceptional wines, plus delicious, shareable, globally-inspired food, this is a restaurant that's designed to satisfy after a day well-lived," concludes Ruskaup.