I am someone who believes in the history of a place. Its roots. The feel. The atmosphere. The ghosts that slip in and out of cracks and floorboards. I live in a 1907 bungalow. With the original doorknobs. I am in possession of several ancient typewriters and clothing that is over 100 years old.
And in the case of the brand spanking new Session Kitchen on Old South Pearl, here too, I can not overlook its storied past.
Izakaya Den had always been the scene of our “spoil” nights. A restaurant just down the street from our 600 sq-ft apartment. It was the “congrats on your first real job” splurge. The “impromptu Valentine’s Day” date night. The “whoah! We’re engaged!” celebratory meal. And then the “say goodbye to sushi; we just bought a house” last supper (read about my sushi obsession here). We loved the tucked-away back room, the delicate hand-crafted wooden beams, the patio that overlooked the Bentleys and Ferraris flashing out front. It was quieter than the meat-market din of Sushi Den, so we could linger over our unfiltered sake without the press of the see-and-be-seen crowd.
But alas, the only thing constant is change itself. Izakaya Den relocated to more chic, less intimate quarters across the street.
And so when my mother and I were caught smushing our faces against the windows of the nearly-open Session Kitchen and invited in by a friendly manager, I was pleasantly surprised. Original artwork! A glowing fluorescent light display! A warm, interactive open dining plan. And a manager who ushered us right in. Weeks later, when my husband and I poked our heads in on opening night, we were greeted by an effervescent hostess, who handed us a free dessert coupon and urged us to return.
It felt… sincere … authentic… and quite cool.
So we did what all good Denverites do when a new restaurant in their neighborhood opens up; we rounded up our best foodie friends for a slumber party. Cameron is a true cooking master who has pulled off Bon Appétit –worthy meals as long as I’ve known him. And Vanessa is a food and wine connoisseur who used to run the events show at some of Boulder’s best hotels and restaurants.
They know their food, wine, and cocktails.
So we made reservations. We walked down the street. We were greeted by yet another effervescent hostess and seated with a dynamic view of the scene (including the posh, elevated “session” bar). It was – a downright happenin’ vibe … a Linger level of hipster-ness. But much cozier. And with fewer lingering hipsters.
We started with the chicken liver mousse with jam, mustard and plancha bread. It came with what could be described as an onion jam (like apple butter, but sweet onion), hot flatbread and to-die-for mousse contained in a quaint little jar. We were nearly licking the plate – all four of us. We demanded more bread.
We moved through fried brussels sprouts (which tasted like McDonalds fries – in a good way), pork rillettes tacos (too salty to really taste), and pancetta carpaccio – delicious, sinful pork rinds with some lightly seared pork beneath. The chimichurri mayo was lively and acidic enough to cut through the fat. Divine.
Next was seared rare tuna (good, but unremarkable), duck confit & noodles (a variation on pho, which was lukewarm after we waited for bowls), and then another gem: the pierogis & brussels sprouts in Frank’s Red Hot butter sauce. Holy cow. We were squabbling over this one. The pierogis were silky-creamy inside – and the perfect soft but not slimy texture on the outside; the brussels sprouts were perfectly roasted, and the Frank’s Red Hot butter was… addictive (we tried to replicate the recipe at home several nights later).
Throughout the meal, our server (who had great hair) was knowledgeable and helpful, guiding us through the drink selection like a pro. “Do you like chai tea?” I nod. “And whiskey?” Yes. “Ooh you may really enjoy the Smokey & The European – it tastes like a campfire.” It tried it. I loved it. Yes, yes, yes! The Frank & Dorothy arrived in a vivid, nearly fluorescent blue hue (compliments of Creme de Violette) – another WIN, as was the Seasonal Whiskey & Ice, which featured frozen pieces of fruit as the “ice,” and the rye in a lab beaker (cool).
And the grand finale? When we got to use our free dessert coupon. Our server (did I mention the awesome hair?) suggested the cream cheese glazed cronuts and sea salt pecan sandies with hot chocolate mousse. We eagerly obliged. The desserts (well worth seven dollars each) were each exceptional. The perfect end to a much-anticipated meal. And promptly gobbled up.
Apparently we were having so much fun that we forgot to take pictures of the food entirely. But suffice to say it was beautifully presented, and it didn’t last long on the plate.
Though I certainly expected to confront the ghosts of sushi meals past on my first visit to Session Kitchen, instead I found a vibrant dining scene, and, quite honestly, a good fit for the burgeoning Old South Pearl neighborhood. This is both destination dining and neighborhood hangout: new foodie hotspot and gathering place. I’m glad it’s within walking distance. I’m glad they thought carefully about the concept and space. And, most of all, I’m glad to be their neighbor.
Welcome to the ‘hood, Session!
Pros: uber-cool atmosphere with original art and a well-conceived space. Friendly, professional staff. YUM cocktails and a few signature dishes that we’ll certainly be back for.
Cons: the “session” style of service requires that new plates and silverware be brought between each course…which feels cumbersome to both the server and the guest. We’re all friends here. Give us smaller plates and let us hold on to a few forks so the food doesn’t get cold.
Try: the seasonal cocktails, the Chicken Liver Mousse, Pancetta Carpaccio, and Pierogis with Brussels Sprouts. Plus, dessert!
Session Kitchen – 1518 South Pearl Street, Denver, Colorado 80210 – (720) 763-3387