- The Denver Dish
Cholon - Dim Sum Brunch (Central Park)
I'm going to start off with a leap here - and assume that we all have those penultimates in our life where we can provide an on the spot recommendation when someone asks "hey, what's your favorite ____?" Or, I'm visiting from out of town and wondering where I should have a nice dinner? What would you typically recommend, and why? What stood out to you that first time you indulged and kept you coming back time and time again?
Certainly we all have a standby for pizza, mexican, sandwiches, blah blah blah. Boring. But what would you say if someone asked you for your recommendation of a thought forward, unique dining experience with top notch ambience and a fusion of world flavors that somehow, miraculously flirts with the extreme while simultaneously being comfortable? Enter stage right, ChoLon Modern Asian.
We have been enjoying Lon Symensma's eastward thinking cuisine, with numerous otherworldly influences for ages. After training in world class culinary meccas like New York (under Jean Georges of all people), France and Italy, while also collecting ideas from his travels in Southeast Asia, ChoLon is a diva in only the positive sense (and only needs a first name, a la Britney, Bey, Bette etc). True to form, the flavors and textures that you will experience here are a bit flamboyant and over the top, but stop at the line right before crossing it. Your senses and comfort will be stretched and challenged at times, but then you'll have a flavor that brings you back in time to something from your childhood and envelops you in a warm hug while saying 'it's alright, you might be scared but I'm here for you'. And not to mention what you're eating right now is delicious.
So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that Cho would be opening another outlet in Eastbridge of Central Park (previously known as Concourse). The unassuming little brother of the 16th/Blake flagship, this location is a bit more down to earth being that it is across the parking lot from a King Soopers and a car wash. However, this dining oasis boasts other top-shelf names like Guard and Wiggins who long ago had their mark on LoDo as well, but are now appealing to the elevated tastes of Stapletonians (can you still call them that since their namesake was cancelled?), and the aforementioned love their brunch. While pared back in some senses, they still offer their old Cult standbys while committing to high-design elements and top notch ambience compliments of LIV Studio, whose timeless designs flow from front to back and turn square lines into a melodic symphony of textures and flow. Perhaps a bit of foreshadowing to what you'll experience on your plate...
It was incredibly smart for ChoLon to appeal to these elevated tastes, while at the same time do something that no one else was within a decent radius. Unironically, being just off of North Havana pays homage to the slew of traditional establishments only a few miles south (but worlds apart) that serve the best of the best when it comes to Korean BBQ and Dim Sum.
To paint the canvas here, assume that the table has been set for weekend brunch instead of dinner. It's an unseasonably warm fall afternoon with a slight breeze in the air. So instead of the lights being dim and the music loud, you're just enjoying cocktails on the patio with some indie tunes in the background. If that's not enough to lower your defenses then I don't know what is.
Some colorful and booze-laced nectars land on your table, perhaps with some floral essence of hibiscus, lavender, etc. This palette of colors will suggest a flow that continues seamlessly throughout the meal.
The classic cardamom infused papadum whets your palate with a slight spice from the cold tomato curry-esque condiment that is essentially Cholon's 'Chips and Salsa'. That's not to downplay the complexity of flavor and texture, but remember what I said about that note of reminiscence?
Next, an old standby that is unusually brunchesque lands before you - the Kaya Toast with Egg Cloud. Incredibly light, fluffy (and not to mention geometrically perfect) pieces of caramelized brioche toast delve into an almost weightless concoction of sweet and savory notes with the mouthfeel of custard foamed into submission. French to form with a hint of umami, I wont' even do this the injustice of comparing to french toast because it's not even close, but again that memory of childhood Sunday breakfast comes to mind, and especially if you made your mom cut the crust off of your bread. Don't lie, you did.
To follow - a slew of beautifully hand-wrapped dim sum selections. The rough translation of dim sum is "touch the heart" and these offerings certainly do as they boast colors and designs that are unmatched. The Baby Carrot Dumplings look like carrots, General Cho's Soup Dumplings are a bright fuschia (presuming from beets), and the Pork Potstickers, while usually quite basically presented are beautifully adorned with hints of pink and green.
The Crystal Shitake Mushroom Dumplings with Truffle Emulsion and Thyme Crumble are worthy of sitting atop the menu and are a composition in and of themselves. The earthy umami notes in a translucent wrapper leave little to the imagination, but do not disappoint. These are nuanced, and are not like getting punched in the face with over-the-top truffle oil that so many wield freely.
The Crab Rangoon Purses, while a bit out of balance between wrapper and filling, were delicate, crunchy and playful. You're going to make a mess with these, so don't worry about getting your hands dirty. Bring a friend who won't hesitate to inform you have something on your face.
Signature Soup Dumplings are a thing of lore, and CL has long been regard
ed for their French Onion Soup Dumplings in what one can only presume has given many Denver diners first degree burns over the years because they can't stand to wait the informed 3
minutes to cool before popping. This is an exercise in self control, and while quite cruel is well worth the wait. These are still at the top of my list, and while other offerings put up a good fight, nothing knocked this king from mount dumpling.
It's impossible not to enjoy the signature Wok-Seared Brussels that are always a staple at ChoLon. Crazy little umami bombs with hints of kaffir lime leaf (if you're not familiar with that flavor, you will be). Best used in moderation, but that little bit of astringency cuts through the over-the-top sweet, spicy and savory glaze that you could literally dip anything in and I would eat it. Please, never take this off the menu. Ever.
The Fried Korean Chicken sandwiches served as an entree of sorts, but at this point we were not only satiated but perhaps overly so. I will say that while this was a wee bit heavy of an offering and somewhat unwieldy, the chicken was perfectly crisp and dripping in Gochujang (aka the nectar of the gods). Perfect complement of sweet, savory and spicy, I'll be back to have this for lunch as a standalone, but on my next dim sum escapade I'll probably opt out.
To wrap up (no pun intended), we enjoyed an incredible dessert that served as both indulgent and palate cleanser. A tangy sorbet over a delicate meringue that dissolved on contact, with notes of freeze-dried raspberry and lavender. So many textures, flavors, and colors make this an artform in and of itself. It also brought us right back to the pre-meal cocktails, and in essence was a perfect bookend to encapsulate the experience.
So perhaps, to put a Q.E.D. on this situation, it is fair to note that ChoLon has a knack for taking something that is otherwise basic, reminiscent or comfortable (ergo weekend brunch) and unapologetically twists it into something that will challenge your definition of the status quo. Their dim sum offerings take you into a playful world of dumplings a la Willy Wonka, and yes, the Schnozberries taste like Schnozberries. Once you have a chance to enter into this wild world of creativity, you can join me in hoping that this place stays around for a very long time. Dish It Up!