Eat & Drink

The Occidental Tourist

The insider’s guide to Ace Eat Serve in Uptown.
April 25 2013, 1:49 PM

Glazed pork spareribs and crispy beef are two of the other recognizable dishes. The pork, a stacked crosshatch of pink, meaty ribs, is sticky, sweet, and tender in precisely the right proportions. If you want some added heat, dip the ribs into the accompanying hot yellow mustard. The crispy beef, made from tender strips of flank steak flash-fried and tossed in a mixture of honey, tamari, ginger, and garlic, is more tame but equally satisfying. The crispy outer layer earns bonus points for texture.

Because part of the fun at Ace is trying things you may not have had before, sample the bao buns—sweet, squishy buns that have been stuffed with braised meats. Order them filled with short rib—this beef has been marinated overnight in Asian pears, sesame oil, sesame seeds, green onion, and chile paste, then braised, shredded, and brushed with hoisin sauce. Served with hot-sour kimchi and a side of pickled mustard seeds, the buns are seductive enough that you’ll immediately order another round for the table. (I have noticed, however, that the quality of the buns varies—sometimes they’re pillowy; other times they fall apart.) You might also try the banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich made from a crispy French baguette spread with pâté and stacked with pickled vegetables and either chicken, pork belly, short rib, or char siu pork. This is no dainty sandwich, and like the rest of the menu, it’s best to share.

As your guide, I have to be honest: Not every dish is worthy of a Facebook brag. The red curry beef is disappointing. The strips of flank steak are tender, but they drown in  a curry made overly salty from too much shrimp paste. The same is true of the chow fun, a noodle dish that, oddly, lacks many of the wide rice noodles most of us have come to expect (at least, it did the night I ordered it). Folks, I can adjust to the lack of noodles, but I can’t abide the cloying oyster sauce I tasted for hours after dinner.

A couple more gripes: While some of the dishes are heavy-handed, others suffer from a light touch. The papaya salad—often a crunchy sweet-tart blend of green papaya, Thai chiles, and peanuts—is mystifying in its blandness. The kale salad and chicken-and-basil dumpling were similarly lifeless and in need of lemon, soy…something.

Here’s my take: Because Biederman fills the executive chef shoes at both Ace and Steuben’s, the problems are likely caused by a lack of kitchen oversight. But don’t let the occasional misstep deter you from coming back. I mean, look around—there’s life and vibrancy here. To improve your odds of ordering something great, ask your servers for input. The enthusiastic waitstaff has been trained to put guests at ease.

We’ve come to the end of our tour, but before I let you go: Ace is ideal for budget-minded guests. Twenty bucks will get you a huge, steaming bowl of noodles and a cocktail. Sixty bucks will cover three filling small plates, two cocktails, and a too-big-to-finish slice of pineapple upside-down cake. Plus, there’s ping-pong before and after dinner.

Before we head out, one final thought: Americans often travel to Asia because it’s stimulating, inexpensive, and unlike anything they’re used to. For those very same reasons, Denver residents will likely come to Ace—in droves.