From a bakery and, briefly, a sushi bar to a small-plates stand out and then back again to a sushi bar, the restaurant space at the corner of Madison Street and 12th Avenue in Congress Park has changed hands, and concepts, multiple times over the past seven years. Glaze, a bakery that specialized in multi-layered German Baum cakes (and, for several months, a sister concept to LoHi’s Sushi Sasa that operated in the same space) closed in 2015; chef Jeff Osaka’s brilliant 12 at Madison shuttered in March 2020 due to the pandemic; and the third outpost from the Sushi Ronin group (after Lohi and Highlands Ranch) began serving its omakase-oriented take on Japanese fare there last month, on December 17.
Co-owner Alex Gurevich is excited to bring Ronin to Congress Park and join the culinary corner that includes Blue Pan Pizza, Sienna Wine Bar & Small Plates, Under the Umbrella Cafe and Bakery, the French Press, TAG Burger Bar, Pudge Bros. Pizza, and Sweet Cooie’s. “When I heard from the broker for the space, I thought it could be a great fit for what we do,” Gurevich says. “Ronin LoHi has always had lots of customers coming over from Congress Park and Hilltop anyway. Plus, the space is geared for sushi.”
The long, narrow dining room has been warmed up a bit with cream-colored walls, textured wood paneling, custom artwork from Colorado native Ravi Zupa, and a wooden beam hung with Edison bulbs suspended above the sushi bar, like at Ronin LoHi. Once COVID restrictions are lifted, 12 to 14 people will be able to sit at that bar, with 10 more at the beverage bar in the back of the restaurant. “The goal [for the sushi bar] is to have three sushi chefs interacting with about 12 guests,” Gurevich says. With tables on the patio, the full capacity of Ronin Congress Park is about 75 guests.
Head sushi chef Gerson Roche has been with Ronin since June 2020 (after stints at Blue Sushi Sake Grill and Hapa Sushi), and originally intended to lead the kitchen at the forthcoming Ronin location in Lowry, at the Boulevard One development at East 1st Avenue and Quebec Street. Gurevich says that the pandemic slowed the project, so Roche settled in Congress Park instead. Roche’s brother, Jeff, a former Hapa Sushi cook, is also on hand, training at the sushi bar.
The menu at Ronin Congress Park, apart from including new ramen options, is almost identical to the LoHi menu, which was created by chef and former partner Corey Baker. Roche hasn’t worked with Baker, but did share that he once ran into Baker while shopping at Pacific Mercantile and introduced himself. “I told him that I aspired to work at Ronin one day, and he encouraged me to go for it. And it happened! I’m so lucky to be here,” Roche says.
Roche will make his mark on the Ronin Congress Park menu through daily specials as the restaurant gets comfortable in its new home and he learns more about the community’s preferences. He also says that eventually, the omakase experience Ronin is known for will be slightly different in Congress Park, following the kaiseki style, which highlights seasonality and more elevated haute technique.
Roche also wants to spread the word about the hamachi and kanpachi belly nigiri he serves, which he says are the sleeper hits on his menu. “We only have one or two orders per night and it’s really one of the best cuts, and not just for tuna,” Roche says. “I like to prepare them aburi style [seared], introducing a fire element, and then finish the belly with our house soy, pickled wasabi stems, and a spicy togarashi sauce.” (5280 can attest that Roche is right; the kanpachi belly is incredibly delicious.)
Gurevich reports that the Lowry location is still in the works. When asked about the growth of the Ronin mini-empire, he says: “I’m just trying to give opportunities to all the chefs we have who are really good, and keep each location as professional and on-point as possible.” He says that Lowry will have a much larger patio and an expansive cocktail program. He hopes to open there by late summer.
1160 Madison St., 720-216-0190