Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dinner at ChoLon Bistro

I've been hearing about ChoLon for a while. It opened maybe a year ago downtown. On a rare recent weeknight off, the Sergeant I headed down to try it. (I hate trying to find parking downtown on weekends, so there's probably a lot of good places I'm missing out on. Euclid Hall, for example, is another place on my list.)
ChoLon has a week night prix fixe dinner for two that is a good deal – $55 for six dishes. We ordered soup dumplings, pot stickers, lemongrass-beet salad, vegetable fried rice and kung pao chicken. (Oh, I just noticed they misspelled "prix fixe" on their menu. Whoops!)

We got seats at the kitchen bar because I like to see the cooks at work. We could also watch the final touches of the plating.
The first order of business was the drinks. The Sergeant ordered an Old Saigon, which is simply an Old Fashioned with basil added. And a nice Luxardo cherry.

I ordered a peach cocktail whose name escapes me and which is not listed on the website (Note to self: Always photograph all menus). It had rum and coconut milk, a touch of chili, and boba pearls in the bottom. Tasty! And entertaining. But too easy to slurp down quickly, so I had an Old Saigon after that.

Then came an amuse bouche: a giant puffed rice cake, propped up on a stand and served with a flavorful and spicy tomato jam.
The first course was soup dumplings. I thought they were going to be dumplings in soup, but no, they were dumplings filled with soup!
More specifically, French onion soup with gruyère. Oh my goodness, these dumplings are good! Apparently soup dumplings, or xiaolongbao, are a Shanghai specialty. The onion soup is a ChoLon twist.

(In case you're wondering, the chef's name is Lon Symensma – he's using a classical Western culinary background to translate Asian dishes. The restaurant name is a play on his name and the name of Saigon's Chinatown, Cholon.)
Then there were pork belly pot stickers with a ginger mustard sauce, and the lemongrass-beet salad. Both were lovely. I'm usually not fond of frisée, but this was tender and not too bitter, with a very light dressing.

A bonus course also arrived, compliments of the chef: rib-eye satay. Rare and very tender and flavorful
As we nibbled and chatted we also enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Many of the reviews I've seen complain about the noisiness of the restaurant, but we had no trouble hearing each other because most of the noise was behind us. The very friendly staff checked in with us regularly and answered our questions in detail. As a bonus, the lighting at the kitchen bar is much brighter, so I could get some decent food photos.
Doesn't this fried rice look delicious? That's a poached egg on top. I was very happy that the dish was not oversalted, as fried rice often is.

The main course was the kung pao chicken.
The chicken is brined and deboned, then folded into a tight bundle and cooked sous vide – sealed in a plastic pouch and immersed in hot water at a consistent temperature for many hours. The process results in very tender, succulent meat, which is then served with a kung pao sauce with vegetables. Ordinarily I would like some plain white rice with such a dish, but with so many earlier courses, I was happy to have just a couple of pieces. The rest of my share I took home for a delicious lunch over rice the next day.

I needed to save room for dessert!
Molten chocolate cake with salted peanut ice cream and toasted marshmallows. Quite a decadent treat and more than enough for two of us to share.
If you have a week night free or can plan ahead and make a weekend reservation, ChoLon is definitely a place to try. They do lunch, too! More soup dumplings are in my future. Maybe in yours, too.

ChoLon Bistro
1555 Blake Street #101
Denver, CO 80202


  1. Stop! This is making me soooo hungry. French onion soup with gruyère cheese in dumplings. Oh,oh,oh.

    We're heading over to the ocean (Atlantic, Delaware shoreline) for a couple of days and I hope to be chowing down on crabs -- hardshell and softshell -- and maybe some oysters within the next 48 hours. But that won't make me stop thinking about that french onion soup with gruyère.....

  2. Wow! The soup-filled dumplings just blow my mind - how do they do that??? Looks like an amazing meal.

  3. Have fun at the beach, Pam! I envy you your oysters. (I like crab, but the softshell variety freaks me out. My dad ordered them for me at the New York Stock Exchange dining room when I was 14 and I cried. They were not what I was expecting.)

    Zoomie, they blew my mind, too. I speculated that they inject the broth but no, it's even more clever. They make an aspic! Chill the aspic, fold a cube of it into the dumpling with some carmelized onions and cheese, then steam it. The aspic becomes soup! I'm going to try to re-create it one of these days.