What: Session Kitchen
Where: 1518 South Pearl Street
Pros: Session Kitchen is the place for edgy, gorgeous food and cocktails. The menu has become far more cohesive and easy to follow since the restaurant’s opening, yet the creative deliciousness is still in full force. The desserts here are awesome, with something to please every palate. Never tried a cronut? Check out pastry chef Levi Kuettel’s version. Or go adventurous with the exotic passion fruit panna cotta. You can’t really go wrong. Also, look for Kuettel’s biscuits and the house made jams, which SK will be selling at the South pearl farmer’s market.
Cons: The menu, including the dessert list, changes quite frequently. While this approach always guarantees a seasonal, inspired dish, it doesn’t necessarily expect to have it again. That being said, the kitchen is planning on slowing down the pace and sticking to menus for longer amounts of time.
Session Kitchen, one of our picks for Denver’s best new restaurants, is really a showstopper. A fantastic addition to the funky and fun South Pearl neighborhood, the large space, formerly home to Izakaya Den, boasts thirteen original art installations and a dynamic clientele to match.
Walking into the large, open dining room, you immediately notice the massive and vibrant ‘Session’ mural, done by London street artist Eine, and the mesmerizing technicolor light fixtures above the bar. Yet I’d argue the the true beauty of SK is in the details–the theatrically tucked away “session bar,” the chic upstairs area with the sultry smoke lady mural, and the airy indoor/outdoor patio area.
Executive Chef Scott Parker (formerly of Table 6) crafts a constantly rotating menu that reflects the eclectic surroundings–unique, striking, and surprisingly cohesive. The creative, farm-driven fare on the menu at Session has been known to rotate constantly, but dishes are always designed for a social dining experience. SK’s menu is an ever-changing conglomeration of ingredients, cultural influences, and preparations, and the desserts are no different. Like much of Parker’s playful, comfort-food re-tuned menu, the desserts, all made in-house by Pastry Chef Levi Kuettel, strike a chord somewhere between nostalgic and trendy.
Though you probably haven’t heard his name, Kuettel, a Colorado native, is a rising star in his own right. Though he has only been doing pastry for two years, his desserts speak for themselves. After stints at both Parisi and Gather, Kuettel has been at SK since its opening, and it’s obvious that it’s a good fit.
Take the chocolate chip blonde s’mores, one of the newest additions to the dessert menu, which changes bi-weekly. The classic flavor combination is re-imagined as a chocolate studded blondie, topped with a puff of torched marshmallow. A crunchy streusel sucre surrounding the ultra-creamy White Russian gelato takes this dessert from campy to classy. All of the ice creams, sorbets, and gelatos are made in-house. Kuettel is also the man behind all of the restaurant’s breads, including the super-tender biscuits, which, along with their seasonal house-made jams, SK plans to sell at the South Pearl farmer’s market across the street.
“I like to take nostalgic or standard desserts and do something different than expected,” says Kuettel.
Another hyper-seasonal dessert (get it while you can!) I thoroughly enjoyed was the plum crumble. While it’s true that fruit desserts aren’t usually my favorite, this crumble is one that I’d happily order any day. The super fragrant, silky plums were accented by a bold dose of lemon flavor, which kept the fruit bright and fresh tasting. The crunchy pistachio crumble is insanely good, and the warm dessert is topped off with a cold scoop of lemon sorbet gelato (a compelling marriage of lemon sorbet and vanilla gelato).
While the plum crumble definitely won’t last long, one thing you can guarantee will always be on the menu are Kuettel’s cronuts, with your choice of two, four, or six to an order.If you’ve been living under a rock, a cronut is New York pastry chef Dominique Ansel’s now legendary fusion of a croissant and a donut. Yes, they are as good as they sound. I sampled a sublime chocolate cronut as well as a vanilla cream cheese glazed version, complete with requisite rainbow spinkles. Kuettel’s cronuts strike all the right notes–buttery and flaky with the fried goodness of a donut and the lightness of a croissant. The cronuts alone are worth a trip to Session Kitchen.
Another menu staple is the gluten free chocolate cake, made with toasted hazelnuts –“the smell of toasting hazelnuts is one of the best smells in the world,” says Kuettel– This is the chocolate cake dreams are made of: rich and dense, toasty with hazelnuts and draped in a hazelnut chocolate praline sauce. Need I say more?
Heads really turned, however, when Kuettel brought us over his latest panna cotta–one of the most creatively presented and stunning desserts I’ve had this year. The passion fruit panna cotta was buried under a layer of chocolate and vanilla cronut holes, which perfectly resembled a bowl of cereal. Tables nearby were drooling over its appearance. Biting in, the super creamy panna cotta was perfectly tart and the whole dish well balanced and with plenty of interesting textures and the exotic and intriguing flavor of passion fruit.
At the end of the tasting when I was asked what my favorite was, I really couldn’t choose. I was blown away by each and every dessert Kuettel brought out for us. He took a lot of trendy desserts and made them genuine, creative, and delicious. Keeping with the farm-to-table practice of the restaurant, Kuettel has coaxed out the best of the season in tempting and memorable ways. What was particularly refreshing about SK is that the entire staff genuinely seemed to be having a lot of fun. There was a real lack of any pretension, just talented people coming together in a creative environment and putting out some exciting food. This is what sweet dreams are made of…
All photography by Roman Tafoya.