Conventional wisdom says that the first couple of items on a restaurant’s menu are important ones. At Hop Alley, Tommy Lee’s (of Uncle) three-week-old Chinese restaurant in RiNo, the chilled tofu receives such billing. Even so, you might be tempted to skip it—don’t.
The starter, served with a tangy, umami-rich bang-bang sauce, a sprinkle of peanuts, and crushed cucumbers, is a palate balancer. Begin dinner with a few bites, and then push the plate to the side. Return to it throughout the meal when you need a reprieve from the heat. The cooling, silken tofu tempers the fire from dishes like the salt and pepper soft shell crabs in lettuce cups, or the steamed eggplant with Sichuan bean sauce and crispy garlic.
Of course, picking up soft tofu with chopsticks can be a fruitless task. Lee encourages diners to use their spoons instead. The added bonus is mouthfuls of the tantalizing sauce.
3500 Larimer St., 720-379-8340