Sunday, November 28, 2010

Euclid Hall: Better than Martini Ranch.

When we first moved to Denver as an unmarried couple a few years ago, Mr. Rose and I still fancied ourselves as young and hip and would find ourselves roaming around downtown on weekends, looking for a hot spot to cut some rug.  We stumbled upon a very cool space that just didn't live up to expectation on 14th between Market and Larmier, Martini Ranch.

It was filled with young women with bleached blonde hair, wearing barely more than bikinis, tottering around in impossibly high heels, gyrating as seductively as they could for the crowd of men, young and old, who stood on the sidelines, watching intently, tottering drunkenly, and, perhaps, wishing they had enough rhythm to join the ladies on the dance floor.  It was a sad, sad place, but everyone there seemed content.  For the price of a double, the bartender would always pour a triple, and every person that entered Martini Ranch could reliably expect to exit with permanent hearing damage and promises of a serious hangover the next morning.

Eventually, Martini Ranch shuttered its doors.  Perhaps the business model of pouring triples for the price of a double at a seedy dive bar dressed up as an exclusive night club was not sustainable.  I don't know.  I'm not in the business.  And, I am apparently old and judgmental about these places and the people who frequent them anyway.

But then, Euclid Hall came along and filled the void that Martini Ranch had left in the Larimer Square-ish location.  Touted as one of the best new restaurants in Denver by 5280 Magazine, I was pretty excited when Skywalker suggested that we try it on Saturday night.  This time, I remembered my camera.
We had a drink at the bar next to the open kitchen while we waited for a table.  From my crowded perch at the bar, I could see plates waiting to be picked up by servers.  It was a very exciting place to be.  I didn't see anything thrilling pass from kitchen to bar, but it was still exciting to be there amid the action.
We were seated at a cozy booth and spent a little time perusing the menu.  I think it could best be placed in the new "gastropub" category of cuisines.  My eyes quickly gravitated toward the Crispy Buffalo-Style Pig Ears and Brulee Bone Marrow, probably because I'm Chinese, and Mr. Rose honed in on the Pickle Sampler.  We added Fish N Chips to our order, upon the recommendation of our server, and Skywalker chimed in with an order of the Wild Mushroom Poutine.

The pig ears came first.  This was my first disappointment of the evening.  The little basket of pig ear strips had a mostly hearty crunch (they were, after all, deep-fried), but once my teeth made their way through the unseasoned batter, they met with a mush that I can only guess was the fatty skin of pig ears.  Crunchy batter around a mushy nothingness... the overall effect was definitely not what I'd call crispy, which is surprising since pig ears naturally already have a bit of a satisfying crunchy mouth-feel.  The buffalo sauce and ranch dressing a la carte were also underwhelming.  Not sure how the brilliant idea of crispy buffalo pig ears went wrong, but it did.

Next up was the bruleed bone marrow.  The portion of actual marrow was small, maybe a teaspoon.  As with the pig ear batter, it was under-seasoned, but the marrow was rich enough that it was not entirely flat.  The slivered onions and sweet sherry reduction hidden under the bone went a long way to helping this dish.  Unfortunately, as the sherry reduction was hidden, I didn't discover it till the very end, when I was pushing the bone around the plate, wishing there were more than a diminutive bite of marrow in it.

The fish and chips were unremarkable.  I expected there to be something amazing about this dish, since our server especially recommended it as a "definite must-have."  True, it was perfectly cooked, but it's the least I'd expect considering the pedigree of Euclid Hall.  Also true that it was served with a dark malt vinegar gastrique and lemon tarragon ailoi, but these sauces did not elevate the fish'n'chips to anything I would have called a "must-have."  It seems our server had a way with hyperbole.

In addition to being Chinese, I am also Canadian.  And I went to school in Quebec.  So it's difficult to pass up a poutine when I see it on a menu.  Skywalker was a poutine virgin and I was thrilled to be present during the popping of another culinary cherry.  But here's a poutine I wished we hadn't ordered.  This poutine is the reason poutine has a bad reputation of being a foul sludge that clogs the arteries; actually, it's always been true that poutine will clog your arteries, but it's never a foul sludge.  C'mon!  It's french fries, cheese curds, and gravy!  That screams delicious(!), not "foul sludge."  But Euclid Hall managed to take it to that level.  They were skimpy on the cheese, without enough to create the trail of melted cheese strings one expects as one pulls each french fry away from the pile.  I could have overlooked this transgression if they'd gotten the gravy right.  As a mycophile, I applaud the idea of making a mushroom gravy.  But the "gravy" was a lumpy mushroom puree, a sorry failure in the execution of mushroom gravy.  Don't just take my word for it.  See the lumpy, amorphous tan blanket over a pile of fries below.

It's difficult to say that Euclid Hall was a negative dining experience because it truly did have a vibrant and inviting atmosphere.  Couple that with the fact that it was created by one of Denver's favorite chef-restauranteurs -- we really wanted to love it.  But it just didn't live up to the hype.

Well, at least it's better than Martini Ranch.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

White bean, kale, and prosciutto soup

Since I had decided to avoid the post-Thanksgiving crowds on the ski slopes, we stayed in town and it didn't take me long to set into my old ways... finding entertainment in the kitchen.  While Mr. Rose raked leaves in the yard, I investigated the fridge, garden, and pantry to see what we had.  With little effort (I was able to make it while wholly engrossed in the This American Life podcast entitled "Frenemies"), I put this soup together.  
If I'd had more than a cup of flour, I also would have made a dense crusty boule to serve with the soup.  But my Kitchenaid has not yet shown up -- it is still sitting in the same UPS warehouse it's been in for the last 3 days -- so I didn't bother trekking out to get more flour.  I say this like there was a blistering blizzard outside, but there wasn't.  In fact, Mr. Rose probably got sunburn while raking leaves.  I was just feeling lazy.  It is, after all, Saturday.
Well, here it is, my recipe for a tasty wintery soup, that can be made without much effort on a sunny autumn afternoon.

White bean, kale, and prosciutto soup

1 lb dried cannellini beans
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
6 large cloves, chopped
3 tbsp chopped rosemary
2 bay leaves
12 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 1/4" wide strips
1 small bunch kale, ribs removed and leaves torn into small pieces (about 3 packed cups)
8 c chicken broth
2 c water
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and pick over the beans in cold water.  Put the beans into a medium pot and cover with 2" water.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then remove and set aside, covered.  Let sit for 1 hr.

Heat the oil in a large pot (mine was a 6 qt dutch oven) over medium-high heat.  Saute the onions till tender, about 4-5 minutes.  Add the garlic, rosemary, and bay leaves.  Stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add the prosciutto, stir, and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add kale, chicken broth, and water.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure the kale gets nice and wilted in there.  Drain the beans and add them to the pot as well.  Lower the heat to a simmer, drop a lid on the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, till beans are tender, about 1 hr.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Indian Inspiration

You may have heard that I'm suffering from a terrible bout of chef's block.  I got a few suggestions that can be summed up in a few points:

1. Try to recreate a memorable restaurant meal.
2. Flip through some recipes and just start cooking.
3. Go exotic.
4. Keep eating the same thing over and over again till you get so sick of it, that inspiration MUST come to you.

I attempted an amalgam of all these techniques this weekend.  My brother-in-law (we shall call him Kidney, or "Kid" for short) was in town for a conference and had free time to hang out on Saturday night.  I had originally planned on taking him to one of my favorite restaurants in town, but I'd heard through the grapevine what Kid was too shy to say -- he was hoping to try my cooking.  Well, Kid doesn't come to town all that often, so I had to indulge him, chef's block or not.

I worked my way backwards through that list of suggestions.  First, I considered what I'd eaten a lot of lately.  Two things came to mind: Indian food and Jimmy John's Vito with hot peppers.   One thing I've never done was buy store-bought and pass off as my own cooking, so I wasn't about to start by taking a Jimmy John's out of it's paper wrapping and throwing it on a plate for Kid.  So Indian food it would be.  Once again.

Second suggestion: Go exotic.  Check.

Third suggestion: Flip through some recipes.  Saveur magazine had a few interesting recipes and I am now the proud owner of a couple of Indian cookbooks, so check.

Fourth suggestion: Recreate a memorable restaurant meal.  So here's where I kill two birds with one stone.  I'd obliterate my chef's block while reminiscing about my trip.  For Kid's dinner, I would make prawns with saffron coconut curry and matar paneer (among other things).

Our trip to India took us to a lot of places in the country, but we did not get anywhere near the ocean.  Accordingly, we weren't confident about ordering seafood in many places.  But we did seek out one place, Sagwath Restaurant in the Defense Colony district of Delhi, that was recommended by Frommer's that specialized in southern Indian cuisine.  We ate a lot of prawns and other fish, all of which was rich and bursting with flavor.  We stuffed ourselves and ambled through a nearby bazaar set up for Diwali that was decorated with marigolds and temples for favorite gods placed at every corner before catching an autorickshaw back to the hotel.  I would recreate the meal at Sagwath with prawns in saffron coconut curry.
Chutneys at Sagwath
Ganesh, among beds of marigolds.
Matar paneer, or curried cheese and peas, is a traditional Punjab dish that we ate throughout the northern region where we were traveling.  Everyone had their own version of it, but the best one we had was the one at the Windamere Hotel in Darjeeling.  Darjeeling, famous for its tea, was a gift to the British Empire from the Kingdom of Sikkim in the mid-1800's.  It became a resort town where the British soldiers stationed in India could go to retreat from the heat and humidity of the plains into the more temperate climes of the Darjeeling hills.  We descended from our trek around Sikkim into Darjeeling and could immediately see why Darjeeling was such a treasured gift.  Perched on one hill amongst many hills, dripping with tea bushes, the local Hindus and Buddhists erected a temple at the peak of Observatory Hill, where they could be closer to heaven.  And truly, just below that temple, at the Windamere Hotel, the matar paneer, with its smooth and tender paneer and rich, velvety sauce, was close to godliness.
Clouds rolling over the hills surrounding Darjeeling
Prayer flags strewn around the Hindu/Buddhist temple
The Windamere Hotel
The meal I made for Kid also consisted of potatoes with asafeotida, daal, naan, and rice, followed by three varieties of kulfi.  But the greatest amount of the effort went into the paneer and prawn dishes.  Since I hadn't spent a whole lot of time studying the recipes, the dishes took a lot longer to prepare.  I kept referring back to the recipes, step after step, adding spices with painstaking precision, using measuring spoons rather than my usual approximations ("teaspoon" = big pinch with two fingers and thumb; "tablespoon" = big pinch with three fingers and thumb).  Each individual motion felt natural, but for the act of measuring out spices.  The measuring threw off my momentum and disrupted the flow.  Still, it felt good to be back in the kitchen.  The fog of chef's block hadn't yet lifted, but at least most of my cooking sense had come back.

We sat down for dinner.  The bronze statue of Ganesh I'd purchased at a curio shop in Khajuraho was already seated on the table.  Ganesh is the famous elephant-headed Hindu god, son of Shiva and Parvati, Lord of Beginnings and Remover of Obstacles.  I'm not a religious person, but it did not escape my attention that the Remover of Obstacles was sitting at the table where I hoped to exorcise my chef's block.
The meal, to me, was just okay.  It was definitely Indian food -- still the best Indian food in Denver -- but it was missing a certain je ne sais quoi... I can only surmise that it was the mechanical way in which the meal was prepared, the way someone with chef's block cooks.  And, what's worse, I'd left the pots and pans to soak in the kitchen sink overnight.  The scent of that Indian food this morning, though not unpleasant, was just too much.  I'd eaten my fill of Indian food, and there it was again in the morning, taunting me to eat leftover Indian food for breakfast.  It was enough to make me crave a big creamy bowl of steel cut oatmeal, followed by a big, fat, juicy ribeye steak (no, I'm not pregnant, I often crave a steak in the morning).

Wait... What was that?  I had a craving?  Yes!  I have finally kicked my chef's block!

Thank you all for providing your helpful tips to get me through this difficult time.  Thanks, especially to my twin, Lawyer Loves Lunch, for knowing me well enough to know that it was the act of eating the same thing over and over again that would ultimately drive me into the arms of another food.

I should add that, despite the fact that I didn't love what I'd cooked up last night, Kid liked it well enough, and he had seconds of both the prawns and the paneer, so, at the very least, the recipes are at least worth sharing.  Here they are, with links to the original recipes and adjustments where, now that I think I've kicked the chef's block, I would have made substitutions and adjustments.  I'm also giving you these recipes with the caveat that none of the measurements should be used precisely -- it'll all come together much more nicely if you trust your intuition better than your measuring spoons.

Prawns with saffron coconut curry (adapted from Vij's Cookbook)
Serves 6
2 lbs prawns, shelled and deveined
1 tsp saffron
1/2 c warm water
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 c canola oil
1 1/2 tbsp whole cumin seeds
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp ground black mustard seeds
1 tsp ground fenugreek seeds
1/2 tbsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground tumeric
3 c water
2 c coconut milk

In a medium bowl combine prawns and 1 tsp of salt and mix well.  Cover and refrigerate for up to 6 hours.
In a small bowl, crush saffron with the back of a spoon and add 1/2 c warm water.  Set aside.
Heat oil in large saucepan on high heat.  Stir in cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle for 30 seconds.  Turn the heat down to medium and add tomatoes, ground mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, cayenne, tumeric, and 1 tbsp salt.  Stir well and cook for 5 minutes.
Add 3 cups of water, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring regularly.  Add coconut milk and saffron (with water).  Stir well and cook for another 10 minutes.
Bring curry to a boil on medium heat.  As soon as it start to boil, add the prawns and stir gently.  Cook for about 4-6 minutes, till the prawns are just done.
Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with basmati rice.

Matar Paneer (Curried cheese and peas) (adapted from Saveur)
Serves 6
Included in this recipe are instructions for making paneer.  Paneer is not difficult to make, and it comes with 30-minute blocks of waiting time, during which you can be doing something else, like preparing the matar paneer sauce or making naan -- it's up to you to decide what to do with your spare time.  Mix and mingle your kitchen activities as you wish!
1 gallon + 1 pint whole milk
1/2 c lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2" piece peeled ginger, half of it coarsely chopped
6 tbsp clarified butter
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
3 green cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
3" stick of cinnamon
1 large red onion, finely chopped
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp smoked paprika
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 c canola oil
2 c frozen peas, thawed
1 tbsp garam masala
Salt and pepper to taste

Paneer Instructions:
In a large stock pot, heat the milk till it almost boils, stirring occasionally.  Add the lemon juice.  Do not stir so as not to break up all the curds, but with a wooden spoon, gently, push the curds toward one side of the pot in no more than 4-5 strokes.  Let the milk mixture sit for 5 minutes.
Set a large colander in the sink and line it with a large piece of cheesecloth folded into 4 layers.  Pour the milk mixture into the colander, allowing the whey (the yellow-ish water) to drain off.  Let it drain for another 5 minutes.  Then, pull up the corners of the cheesecloth and tie them into a light knot and run the wooden spoon under the knot, so it looks like a hobo's pouch hanging on a stick.  Prop the stick across the top of the empty stock pot so the pouch of cheese hangs into it as it drains.  Let it drain for 30 minutes.
Untie the cheesecloth and gently form the pouch of cheese into a flat rectangle.  Fold the cheesecloth back over the cheese, wrap the package in a kitchen towel, and set it in a shallow baking pan.  Place a heavy cutting board onto the cheese package and set something heavy on it (I used a large dutch oven filled with canned food).  Let it drain this way for 1.5 hrs, unwrapping it every 30 minutes to squeeze out the liquid from the cheese cloth, and rewrapping it tighter.
When the cheese is done draining, cut off the rounded ends to create a rectangular block with squared off edges.  Cut the block of cheese into 1/4" cubes for the matar paneer and crumble the rounded ends for garnish.
Matar Paneer Instructions:
Purée garlic, chopped ginger, and 1⁄4 cup water to a coarse paste in a blender and set the paste aside.
Heat clarified butter in a large pot over medium-high heat.   Add cumin seeds, cardamom pods, whole cloves, and cinnamon stick, and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute.  Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until just browned, 7-8 minutes.  Add ginger-garlic paste, ground turmeric, and paprika, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter starts to separate from the paste, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring slowly so that the tomatoes caramelize but don't burn, until brick red and thickened, 12-14 minutes.  Add 4 c water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10-15 minutes.
Add paneer cubes, peas, garam masala, and salt to pot and stir to combine.  Heat through, 2-3 minutes more.  Garnish with crumbled paneer and cilantro.  Serve with naan or basmati rice.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Chef's Block

I've got chef's block.  I'm not referring to the 500 lb block of wood in the center of my kitchen; I'm referring to the chef analog to writer's block.  I can't think of anything to cook.  It should be so easy to combat:

Step 1: Chef develops a craving.
Step 2: Chef becomes hungry.
Step 3: Chef goes to kitchen and cooks up whatever chef was craving.

The only problem is that this chef hasn't had a craving over a month.  I have literally been eating whatever comes my way, without ever having a desire to eat anything else.  While in India, every meal was Indian food.  Sure, there were choices between one masala and the next, lentils or chickpeas, paneer or potatoes, but there was no way to satisfy a craving for, say, a hamburger.

Upon returning from India, I, like everyone else, expected that I would have missed hanging out in the kitchen and I'd be totally inspired to cook.  But no.  Every day at lunch, I've had either leftovers from dinner the night before or a Jimmy John's sandwich (Vito with hot peppers -- because that's what my secretary knows I always get there so that's what he's been bringing me as I slave away at my desk).  Dinner the night before has been leftover chicken curry that Mr. Rose requested for dinner on Sunday night.  We ate it for 3 days.  There are no more leftovers and I wonder if it's healthy to consume three Vitos with hot peppers in a week.  What if this continues and I consume three Vitos with hot peppers per week for the next three weeks?  Is that healthy?

Health consequences aside, I wonder if I'll ever get my chef mojo back.  What happened to the daily lunch daydreaming that would start at approximately 10:15 a.m.?  What happened to the daily dinner daydreaming that would start approximately 30 seconds after I swallowed my last bite of lunch?  I recall that being fun, albeit a little obsessive-compulsive.  Unfortunately, you can't make up an obsession where there is none.  And I appear to have misplaced mine.

Well, the chicken curry I made last Sunday was pretty tasty, if I do say so myself.  And getting back in the kitchen did feel natural -- like I'd never been gone.  I presume I can still make anything upon request.  But I'm lacking the inspiration to create.  Someone.  Please send help.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Birth of Speakeasy Kitchen.

A dear friend of mine, grandmomma of "technocuddly," and owner-proprietor of Mer-Chan, K-Cub, recently blogged about an unlicensed restaurant she stumbled upon in Dubai, UAE.  It reminded her of the original Speakeasy Kitchen.  My Speakeasy Kitchen.  I was touched to see that she had retained (or found) the link to the original Speakeasy Kitchen blog!  Click here to read about the inception of Speakeasy Kitchen, the underground restaurant.

Remembering that I'm a Food Blogger: Cholon Bistro

I'm back after three weeks in northern India -- stay tuned for the highlights (and the lowlights) of the trip -- and realize that I'd forgotten that I'm a food blogger.  I'd just purchased a new camera for two big reasons, primarily to (1) capture the colors of India better than my point-and-shoot, and (2) improve my foodtography upon my return from India.  I didn't use the camera for foodtography while in India since, well, it's Indian food.  How attractive could piles of daal on piles of rice (delicious as they may be) possibly look in the din of flickering florescent lights in restaurants around, say, Old Delhi?  But when Four-sides Reynolds invited me to join him and TLR (who recently wept with Mondo Guerra and 600 of his closest friends at the end of this season's finale of Project Runway) for dinner at the hip new place in town, I should have jumped at the opportunity to practice with my new camera.

Alas.  I left the camera at home.

My heart sank as dish after dish of the most visually interesting food I'd seen in weeks was delivered from the kitchen to our table, knowing that I had no camera to capture the moment.  So now I'm putting my food-writing skills to the test, without the crutch of photos to describe the food.  Just as well, since I haven't written about food in the last 3 weeks either.  I need the practice.

Let's start with my impressions of the hip new place.  When ChoLon Bistro was barely more than a twinkle in Denver's eye, it caused a bit of a stir around town.  Mr. Rose's college girlfriend emailed him with news that her grad school roommate's brother was coming to town and hanging up his own shingle.  "It will be called ChoLon.  It's a modern Asian bistro," Mr. Rose announced to me, knowing it would provoke a reaction.  I have long proclaimed that the word "Asian" (or any subset thereof, such as "Thai" or "Japanese" or "Vietnamese") has no business preceding words like "bistro" or "bar & grill."  A "bistro" is what I typically think of as being European, particularly, French.  A "bar & grill" is American.  As much as I love the melting pot that is America, I hate it when the cuisine of eastern and western continents collide, mostly because most chefs do a generally shitty job of it, making things far too sweet and foregoing the flavor complexity of both cuisines.  "Cholon?  Asian bistro?" I sneered. "Well, I guess we have to try this one out since you practically know the guy."

Who doesn't like saying, "I know that guy" when that guy is the likes of Lon Symensma, Chef-owner of the hotly anticipated, hip, new place in town?  Sure, he's my husband's ex-girlfriend's roommate's brother.  That puts me at only 4 degrees of separation, which is probably about 2 degrees closer than I am to Kevin Bacon.  I am so. Close to. So. Much. Greatness.

So when Four-sides Reynolds invited us to join him at ChoLon, I said, "Yeah, we know that guy.  See you there at 7."  The friendly hostess gave us a table with a great view of the kitchen, as if we actually did know him. 

Four-sides Reynolds and TLR had been planning this dinner for a few days, and TLR had been studying the menu fastidiously.  She fixated on the chili crab rolls with charred corn salad and Sriracha mayo.  They were scrumptious.  The rolls were tender on the outside, with a delightful crunch of corn complimenting the sweet crab meat inside.

After spending three weeks in India where cows are sacred and, therefore, never on the menu, my eyes honed in on the beef tartare with Chinese mustard and tapioca puffs.  Unbeknownst to us at the time we ordered, TLR does not eat red meat.  Not that she never has, but she chooses not to now (oh, those sweet fuzzy little cows!).  So when the plate arrived, adorned with white crisps made of tapioca and dotted with pale yellow Chinese mustard along side a log of luxuriously red beef tartare, she was a little torn.  She had never eaten beef tartare.  But she decided to give it a try.  Yes, that's right.  We popped her beef tartare cherry.  It was a good way to do it -- it was the perfect opportunity.  The tapioca puffs were both visually unique and satisfyingly crispy.  The mustard gave just a touch of zing.  And the beef melted in my mouth.  It was divine.

A little birdie from French Press Memo had tweeted at me: Don't miss the soup dumplings.  So we ordered the soup dumplings with sweet onion and gruyere.  They were indeed tasty little sacks of French onion soup, disguised as the Shanghainese steamed dumpling, xiao long bao.  Xiao long bao is magical to me because a delicious clear broth gushes out of the delicate flour wrapper just before your teeth sink into that tender nugget of minced meat inside.  To me, the addition of gruyere takes the magic out of it because the fat of the cheese could act like an impervious Gore-tex jacket, keeping the onion broth inside separate from the steaming flour wrapper, thereby aiding the wrapper by making it less susceptible to dissolving or falling apart in the steamer basket.  I tried to explain this to the table.  TLR paused respectfully, as if to show she was giving my science due consideration, then announced, "These are awesome. I could eat these all day, every day."  She was right -- they were awesome, magic be damned.  We all nodded in a moment of silence while we stared at the empty steamer basket longingly.

We had a couple of large plates that did not disappoint either.  Of note, the Australian sea bass with wok-tossed boy choy and water chestnuts looked and even smelled like sweet and sour -- my biggest fear for the continental collision -- but it turned out to be bursting with flavor, and not sweet and sour at all.  It had a plucky bit of spice to it, with whole mustard seeds or maybe coriander seeds and cilantro.  The fish was battered and cooked to perfection (though I found the batter to be a tad on the salty side).  The water chestnuts and bok choy had a refreshing and complimentary crunch to them.  The roast chicken with potatoes anna and soy jus was incredible.  The chicken was so tender that you could cut it with a fork.  And you could actually taste the potatoes.  My mouth waters now, just thinking about it.

As we marveled over the large plates, our server brought us a bowl of the chicken fried rice with poached egg, "Compliments of the Chef."  I looked up toward the kitchen and locked eyes with Lon Symensma.  I smiled and waved thanks.  Fried rice made creamy with the yolk of a perfectly poached egg.  Yum.  Just yum.  Our server came back and asked, "I saw you and the Chef waving at each other.  Do you know him?"  I blushed.  "Um, no," I admitted, "But he's so kind to send us this rice!"  Four-sides Reynolds hypothesized that he recognized me from MasterChef.  I did my best impression of Gordon Ramsay, confusing our server, who clearly never saw the best show ever to hit FOX television.  He mumbled something about refilling our water glasses and shuffled off.

We got some dessert -- I fell in love with the spiced doughnuts with Vietnamese coffee ice cream for the rich flavor and departure from boring chocolate blahbiddy blah. 

Now here's where the story turns and 4 degrees of separation became just one degree.  Apparently, I confused more than just our server by waving at the Chef.  Chef Symensma emerged from the kitchen and appeared at our tableside for a chat.  We explained how Mr. Rose knows his sister, welcomed him to Denver, and then gushed about the gorgeous meal until he headed back into the kitchen.  If I'd had a camera, I would have taken one last photo, with the Chef.  Digital proof that "I know that guy."  Well, at least I met him.  Proudly. 

A hip and inventive restaurant that is completely different from anything else Denver has to offer, ChoLon Bistro dispelled some of the doubts I had about the word "Asian" preceding the word "bistro."  And it reminded me that I'm a food blogger in the most delicious way.  I'll remember to bring my camera next time.