Traveling to Asia, Without Leaving Denver at ChoLon

I’m not into hype. It must be the Taurus in me, but I like things to be solid, steady and reliable, including restaurants [a need in the restaurant world that’s not always fulfilled, but one I still hope for]. I, like everyone, had heard – for close to two years – the immense buzz about ChoLon, and Chef Lon Symensma. Having sustained for a couple of years, and people I respect in the Denver food world having such high praise for what was going on there day in and day out, it was time for a visit.

The atmosphere is elegant and chic. Though it’s an Asian restaurant, it doesn’t smack of Asian decor – just some carefully selected pieces placed throughout the space to nod to it. It’s one of the most sophisticated restaurant interiors in Denver, to be sure. A masterpiece of a bar – almost a foot thick – made from gorgeous walnut wood, makes you want to belly up to it, which is exactly what we did. Bottles of a special Asian liquor frame the bar. Known to cause hallucinations from the combined venom – with actual cobras and scorpions inside – they were simultaneously cool and disturbing.

So many chefs move to New York City, but in Chef Lon’s case, he chose to move to Denver from New York City, where he had already established himself as a force to be reckoned with – which is no small accomplishment in such an intensely competitive food city.

Lucky, lucky us.

Soup Dumplings, Sweet Onion, Gruyere
We started with the soup dumplings, which blew us away. A favorite soup of ours – French onion – miraculously and skillfully enclosed in a dumpling. What? I placed this morsel of delight into my mouth and the soft, but substantial outer texture gave way to a small river of soup. I’ve never had anything like it and the flavor combined with the packaging, was such a joy to eat.

Pot Stickers, Pork, Ginger Mustard
We went on to the pork pot stickers. I’ve mentioned before that any good food lover and cook knows brown = flavor. These were beautifully browned with a traditional pork filling and an unexpected combination in the dipping sauce of ginger and mustard, which for mustard-lovers like me, was perfect.

Summer Rolls, Crab Salad, Sriracha Mayo
After the hot beginnings, it was nice to move to something cool and the crab summer rolls were fresh and flavorful. Shredded crab and crunchy vegetables wrapped in thinner-than-paper rice paper, these were substantial bites of food. The sriracha mayo for dipping was creamy and a beautiful swipe of color on the plate.

Kaya Toast, Coconut Jam, Egg Cloud
For us, the most stunning dish of the meal was the kaya toast with coconut jam and egg cloud. The description alone was enough for us to order it, feeling simultaneously excited, while slightly nervous. A nervous excitement, I guess you could say. Out came little toasts spread with a layer of coconut jam you then dip into a bowl of hot egg cloud. The closest I can get to for a description – and even this doesn’t do the dish justice – is french toast of the highest order, without the maple-y flavor. In its place a balanced sweetness in the coconut jam against the peppery egginess of the egg cloud. Stratospheric, as I’m coming to learn can be expected of all of Chef Lon’s food. Please, do yourself a favor and just order it.

Angus Burger, 63º Egg, Korean Onions, French Fries
We just had to get the angus burger. A 63* egg [to be precise!] was a great complement. I love eggs on burgers. There’s just something about that rich and runny yolk descending upon the meat and plate that makes me happy. A side of fries and it’s classic and unexpected in an Asian restaurant of this quality, but comforting and pleasing and makes the place all the more approachable.

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