Restaurant Week Q&A: Chef Talk

February 2013

Denver may be the 24th largest U.S. city by population, but it hosts the largest Restaurant Week in the nation. With more than 350 restaurants participating this year, we've even surpassed our own record last year of 339 restaurants. Among those eateries, several of our 25 Best Restaurants of 2012 will be wining and dining Restaurant Weekers February 23 to March 8. 

We sat down with the chefs of five of those spots to give you an inside scoop on what to expect during the event. Plus, we nabbed some dining tips.

ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro (#3 on our list)

1555 Blake St., 303-353-5223

Executive chef and co-owner Lon Symensma

5280: What are some features of ChoLon's Restaurant Week menu?

Lon Symensma: We offer 12 dishes total, not including dessert. Our menu consists of our most popular dishes from our regular menu. 

5280: What's your favorite dish from this year's Restaurant Week menu?

LS: The Denver Omelet Foo Young is one of our course options and it's a playful and whimsical twist on what would be a more traditional dish. The Foo Young pays homage to Denver by incorporating green chile and some other local staples. The Kung Pao Chicken is a dish I am very proud of because it takes the simplicity of chicken and elevates it by using more creative and forward-thinking techniques.

5280: Do you have any tips for Restaurant Week diners at ChoLon? 

LS: Try our Kaya Toast. It's a traditional Singaporean dish that is a small bite but people even order it as dessert sometimes. It's a fun twist and has coconut jam and what I call an egg cloud, because of its mousse-like texture. In general, it's a nice atmosphere here because our open kitchen lets diners sit and watch what I think of as a theatrical kitchen performance.

5280: How can diners come experience your restaurant outside of Restaurant Week?

LS: We have a happy hour during the week that features some really great finger foods and wine, beer, and specialty cocktails. Our menu is constantly evolving and developing so that diners don't get bored with eating here. There'll be a limited happy hour menu, with some of our Restaurant Week menu features on it, that people can order off during the event, too. 

Image courtesy of Marc Piscotty

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Linger (#10 on our list)

2030 W. 30th Ave., 303-993-3120

Operations chef Daniel Asher

5280: What are some features of Linger's Restaurant Week menu?

Daniel Asher: We don’t want to deviate too much from our normal menu philosophy, which is ethically-sourced global street food. In line with that, we want serve dishes that aren’t your typical protein/starch/grain menu standards. And we want to inspire new flavor profiles that people aren’t normally accustomed to.

5280: What's your favorite dish from this year's Restaurant Week menu?

DA: I think the masala dosa is a great demonstration of what we do and it also happens to be vegan and gluten-free, which I think is really cool. To take kind of an obscure Indian street food dish and make it sexy and cravable, and at the same time have it be vegan and gluten free, is a bit of a feat that we’re pretty proud of. Also, for our first course we are doing a buttermilk steam bun with naturally-raised fried chicken from Boulder. 

5280: Do you have any tips for Restaurant Week diners at Linger?

Be open-minded to the beautiful chaos that is a very packed and intense dinner scene. I would say incorporating wine and signature cocktails into the experience creates a more well rounded Restaurant Week memory. We'll have a by-the-glass special of $5.28 and a bottle special of $52.80. Linger also has a second floor bar, part of which will be open seating during Restaurant Week.

5280: How can diners come experience your restaurant outside of Restaurant Week?

DA: I would recommend that people check out Linger for lunch because it's a great way to explore some aspects of the menu without committing to an entire dinner experience. I would also recommend that diners check out our other restaurant, Root Down

Image courtesy of Adam Larkey

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Il Posto (#12 on our list)

2011 E. 17th Ave., 303-394-0100

Executive chef Andrea Frizzi

5280: What are some features of Il Posto's Restaurant Week menu?

Andrea Frizzi: We are going to do the same thing we always do, which is change the menu every day. We have an in-house sommelier so we are going to have some wine pairing suggestions with the entrées at a different price point. 

Do you have any tips for Restaurant Week diners at Il Posto?

AF: I always suggest to people that they at least get one or two of the entrées so they can share everything. Usually we'll have three or four choices. The fun part is to not get the same things so you can taste it all.

Our reservations are done for Restaurant Week, but I always tell people to call during the day because we have cancellations. The best bet is to call around 4:30 p.m. Also, our bar is always open seating so we can accommodate some walk-ins.

5280: How can diners come experience your restaurant outside of Restaurant Week? 

AF: We have a happy hour from Monday to Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. so if anybody is in a budget crunch and wants to experience us a little bit…it's half-price appetizers and discount wines. During Restaurant Week, we are still going to be open for lunch with a regular menu. 

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Trillium (#16 on our list)

2134 Larimer St., 303-379-9759

Executive chef and owner Ryan Leinonen

5280: What are some features of Trillium's Restaurant Week menu?

Ryan Leinonen: We like to stick to our concept: We are an American restaurant but with Scandinavian influence. Most of the items are variations of dishes that come straight off our menu. But we have a couple that are very different. We will also offer a vegetarian option and that dish is pretty customizable—it could be made gluten-free, dairy-free, or vegan. We really want to cater to everybody.

5280: What's your favorite dish from this year's Restaurant Week menu?

RL: Our New York Strip. Restaurant Week falls during a good time with the transition between winter and spring, so I took that steak and did something a little different. It's something I might do in the spring or later in the year.

5280: How is this Restaurant Week different than last year?

RL: Last year, we had only been open three weeks before Restaurant Week was upon us. We didn’t know what to expect or how it was going to go, all we had was a mindset. This year we know what to expect. We are taking more reservations than last year and the menu is a little more challenging for the kitchen. We can look back on last year, fix our mistakes, and up our game for this year.

5280: What should diners expect from your restaurant during Restaurant Week?

RL: We want to offer the normal experience diners would get if they came the week before or the week after. Restaurant Week is crazy busy wherever you go and it's definitely challenging. Our price point tends to be a bit higher so this gives people a chance to come in and experience what they would normally find here.

5280: Do you have any tips for Restaurant Week diners at Trillium?

RL: There will be a supplemental menu that Restaurant Week diners can order off for a taste of Trillium's regular highlights, such as oysters, foie gras, or caviar. Trillium will also offer both a Restaurant Week menu the regular menu. We just ask that tables pick one or the other. 

5280: How can diners come experience your restaurant outside of Restaurant Week?

RL: Leading up to Restaurant Week, we have a lot of room because so many people are waiting to go out. On our regular menu, our new winter salad is awesome and our steelhead trout is great for an entrée.  

Image courtesy of Rick Cummings

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Barolo Grill (#25 on our list)

3030 E. Sixth Ave., 303-393-1040

Executive chef Darrel Truett

5280: What are some features of Barolo Grill's Restaurant Week menu?

Darrel Truett: We do four courses, which is nice. Even during Restaurant Week, we also have our regular a la carte menu. We are still doing the delicious flavors that we always do and focusing on presentation. I still want to impress people and we are not dumbing [dishes] down at all.

5280: What's your favorite dish from this year's Restaurant Week menu?

DT: This is the only time we do Barolo braised beef short ribs. They're amazing. We do so many for these two weeks that we don't want to do them the rest of the year. As far as the second course, we are doing a salsiccia di Bra, which is a dish done in the style of a town that is right near Barolo, Italy, so its traditional and that's what we're all about. 

5280: Do you have any tips for Restaurant Week diners at Barolo Grill?

DT: Just come and enjoy it. The menu that we are putting out is going to give you a good representation of what we do here night to night. We are also offering an all-natural beef steak. So you can get a nice steak for seven dollars more on top of the $52.80 menu. It’s definitely worth it.

 5280: How can diners come experience your restaurant outside of Restaurant Week?

DT: We open at 5 p.m. and Tuesday through Thursday is a little mellower. If you don't want a huge crowd, then dining earlier in the week is better. We just changed the menu, so I'm super happy with all the entrées right now. We have a lamb dish that I would recommend.

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5280's tip for next year's Restaurant Week: Grab a reservation ASAP; OpenTable begins taking reservations January 1—a full two weeks before participating restaurants and menus are announced.