A new drink on the menu is the Bourbon for Apples, a spiced apple drink with Bulleit Bourbon, Tahitian vanilla, a splash of lemon juice, brown sugar vanilla bean simple syrup and served with red apples and lime zest, at Concourse Restaurant Moderne in Stapleton on Oct. 22, 2018 in Denver. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)
2.5 stars (out of 4)
The last flight out of Stapleton airport took off more than 20 years ago, but the venue continues to inspire builders in the burgeoning northeast Denver neighborhood.
There are the obvious homages, like Punch Bowl Social’s second Colorado location, which was built around the original air traffic control tower, and the forthcoming Constellation Ice Cream Shop with its replica Lockheed Constellation wing.
Then there are places like Concourse Restaurant Moderne, in Eastbridge Town Center, that incorporate more subtle nods (see: the name, the runway-like lighting above the bar, the globally influenced menu).
Concourse is the third eatery from chef/owner Lon Symensma, who is best known for downtown’s ChoLon (and its addictive soup dumplings). His first foray into Stapleton promises seasonally focused, modern American cuisine in an elegant but approachable space.
The almost 18-month-old restaurant — helmed by executive chef/owner Luke Bergman — mostly delivers. Though diners should expect some turbulence, to borrow a bit of the original site’s parlance.
The menu is eclectic but lacks cohesion. The primary hiccup, however, is inconsistent service — an unexpected blunder considering the reliability of Symensma’s other hot spots.
Still, there is plenty to enjoy at Concourse. The clever, contemporary design, for one. Bergman’s creativity (dishes are plated beautifully) and skill (pastas, desserts, pastries, and almost all of the breads are made in-house) are also obvious. If the team can smooth out the ride, Denver commuters will buckle in.
Vibe: The sophisticated dining room and bar exude warmth, but it’s the restaurant’s ceiling that calls for attention, with its slats of dark walnut rippling up the wall and across the banquettes and tables. It creates a sense of movement and wonderfully juxtaposes the otherwise classic, chic design. The uncovered light bulbs above the U-shaped bar are reminiscent of the glow of a runway, calling diners inside for a drink. There’s also a decent-sized patio overlooking the Eastbridge walkway and, inside the front door, a modest coffee bar for grab-and-go pick-me-ups. The contemporary décor feels light and living room-esque when the sun beams through the restaurant’s large windows, but transforms into a more elegant, high-end space in the evening.
Hits: Winter is coming, and soup should be on the menu. Especially if it’s Bergman’s celery root creation ($9). The dish arrives like a cappuccino, topped with a frothy foam made from Granny Smith apples stewed with maple syrup. Hidden beneath is the creamy, not-too-heavy soup whose flavors are enhanced by sunchoke chips and a sticky brittle of pistachios, cocoa nibs and apple pectin crumbled on top. It’s autumn in a cup.
For the main course, dive straight into the scallops ($30). Yes, the mollusks — served about four to a plate — are perfectly cooked, but it’s their accompaniments that really steal the (gorgeous) plate. Spaetzle (dumpling-like egg noodles) are sautéed with fenugreek leaves, cayenne pepper and sour cream, then paired with pickled breakfast radishes, pearl onions and paper-thin delicata squash slivers. All of it is served over a ginger juice-infused beurre blanc. There’s a lot going on, but every ingredient plays well with the others in this “zingy” (to borrow a server’s description) dish. Also, be sure to ask about the specials; there are two to four available nightly.
Brunch is mostly breakfast-focused, though there are a hamburger ($13), cheese plate ($13) and a couple of salads ($13) and pastas ($14 to $31) available. Those in the mood for eggs should opt for a skillet: Eggs in Purgatory ($12) is a vegetarian, shakshuka-like combo of runny eggs, stewed tomatoes and gooey cheese. Meat-lovers will prefer the chorizo and egg skillet ($13), which tastes like the inside of a breakfast burrito but would benefit from having the heat level kicked up by a notch or two. Both are served with a hulking piece of grill-kissed bread.
Sweet-seekers will be satisfied with the brioche French toast ($12). The house-made bread is eggy and perfectly browned and comes topped with extra crispy Tender Belly bacon. One complaint: The kitchen pre-drizzles the dish with maple syrup before it arrives at the table; we suggest letting diners do it themselves.
Misses: Bergman’s talent is obvious (the Florida native honed his skills with the likes of Charlie Palmer and Danny Meyer), but it doesn’t come through equally in every dish. Many are good, not great, and none rise to the same level as the aforementioned scallops. Admittedly, Bergman and Symensma leading the kitchen sets a high bar, but it’s one they’re more than capable of surpassing.
One starter, the Wagyu Beef Tataki ($16), is a customer favorite but felt overly complicated. It arrived with a generous portion of beautifully marbled meat from the Western Slope’s 7X Beef sitting atop an oh-so-chefy smoked egg mayo (post-boiling, the eggs are smoked over hickory wood). Perfection. The other half of the dish — much-too-tart pickled veggies and greasy house-made chips — disappointed. The concept of Asian-style nachos is appealing, if Bergman can even out the elements.
The pappardelle with Colorado-grown bison Bolognese ($22) showed potential in its simplicity — twirls of flat noodles tossed with a generous serving of sauce and decorated with grated dark chocolate — but the pasta was cooked well past al dente, leaving the dish mostly texture-less, and the meaty centerpiece was unpleasantly sweet.
Bergman makes all of the desserts in-house. The milk chocolate Chantilly gold bar ($5) was delightfully chocolate-y, but the menu description’s promise of hazelnut and Feuilletine crunch (essentially, crispy crêpe crumbs) was left unfulfilled. It’s also much too small for sharing — unless you’re OK with just two or three small bites to end your meal. If you ask us, “shareable” is a prerequisite for all desserts.
Drinks: Too often these days, cocktail menus resemble books, overwhelming diners and, in some cases, showing a lack of focus behind the bar. Not so at Concourse, where the single-page lineup features five signature offerings and six classic tipples (all $12). The former are more exciting twists on the familiar, like the sunshine-hued Paloma de Fuego, a boozy combo of silver tequila, Mezcal, charred grapefruit and Prosecco. The gin-based Cast Away packs less of an alcoholic punch. The tight beer list ($7 to $8) is comprised mostly of Colorado’s heavy hitters: Odell, Great Divide, Avery … you get the idea. Wine is available by the glass, half-bottle or full; ask the sommelier for suggestions if you’re having trouble deciding.
At brunch, the bottomless Mimosa ($14) is the most logical order, seeing as the rest of the cocktail offerings are $12. But Bloody Mary devotees won’t be disappointed by Concourse’s slightly thicker take on the a.m. classic, which incorporates house-made mix and is stirred to your heat (as in, spice level) preference. There’s also a full coffee bar, including chai lattes ($4) and French press service ($3 to $8).
Service: Unexceptional. Servers were pleasant and responsive, but in a frustrating pattern, they responded with authority to questions about dishes or ingredients — and their answers later turned out to be incorrect. The focus, though, should be on providing a warmer welcome when guests walk in the front door. On two occasions, no one appeared at or near the host stand until a few minutes after arrival. Once they did finally greet diners, it took longer than necessary to clear a table — even though, in both instances, reservations had been made, and at brunch, the restaurant was fairly quiet. Concourse looks sophisticated and charming. Its service should reflect the same qualities.
Bottom Line: Concourse has a lot of potential but isn’t quite ready for takeoff. The food is consistent but lacks the wow factor we’ve come to expect from these two worldly chefs, and service needs to rise to the expectations set by the elegance of the venue.
Price: Cocktails and beers ($7 to $12); wines by the glass ($8 to $14); brunch ($5 to $31); appetizers and salads ($4 to $16); pastas ($15 to $31); entrées ($18 to $30); desserts ($5 to $8)
Fun Fact: Chef-owner Lon Symensma is keeping himself busy. The toque behind ChoLon Restaurant Concepts (CRC) recently opened BorraCho Tacos on South Broadway. The taqueria took over his former Cho77 space, which will reopen in the coming months near Symensma’s original Denver eatery, ChoLon. But that’s not all: Denver diners can also look forward to checking out LeRoux, a European-inspired concept from the CRC team coming to LoDo this winter.
Find more restaurant reviews from The Know.
Concourse Restaurant Moderne
10195 E. 29th Drive, Suite 140; 720-550-6934; concoursedenver.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday
Star Rating Guide: Ratings range from zero to four stars. Zero is poor. One star, satisfactory. Two stars, good. Three stars, very good. Four stars, excellent.