Labor Day evening marked one of the more anticipated restaurant openings in Denver this year. For the first time in several years, culinary couple chef John Broening and pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom, will be working side-by-side to bring Avelina’s exquisite New American cuisine made from simple and fresh ingredients to Denver diners.
The husband and wife team originally gained their following with their partnership in menus for restaurants such as, Duo, Olivea and Sputino. The menus were memorable, so after several years of waiting and craving, they have returned to the Denver dining scene with some of the classics they’re known for, as well as, plenty of new ideas. This is all the more reason Avelina’s opening was bound to be one for the books.
Not only do they aim to provide rich and satisfying contemporary dishes, but after speaking with Avelina’s General Manager Karen Pence, I quickly got a sense of what true hospitality meant to this establishment. With new fine dining restaurants popping up every day, there needs to be something that really sets one experience apart from another. For that average everyday person, it’s crucial that when you do spend time and money eating out that you feel comfortable, welcomed and never out of place.
Pence spoke fondly of her staff, referring to them many times as “part of my family.” This will be Pence’s second business endeavor with owners Stacey and Kevin Jennings of Urban Food Group and it is clear that there’s a reason they left her in charge.
“I just want this restaurant to be a place where people always feel welcome. They get amazing food but it [Avelina] comes to your mind because you want to come see me; you want to see Aubrey or one of my amazing servers. I just want people to feel the hospitality, almost like a second home with amazing food. Granted, you come hungry so you dine on John and Yasmin’s exquisite food, but I also want it to come full circle , hospitality and fine dining together.”
Exploring the menu of Avelina, you’ll find various options for every type of eater, from shared plates of peruvian shrimp ($15), moroccan lamb sausage flatbread ($14) and escarole salad ($9), to larger portions of mushroom ravioli ($20), duck leg confit & breast ($29) and a high plains poultry chicken meant for two ($28).
For dinner, order the butternut soup ($9) which is garnished with a chorizo apple sherry compote and pumpernickel bread crumbs. Each sweet, rich and velvety bite is complimented by an unexpected bite of chorizo. Then follow the first course with the striped bass ($28) prepared over a summer bean and corn ragout with a bouillabaisse and freshly garnished with herbs. The skin of this delicate white fish is crisp and the meat melts in your mouth, each bite revealing new layers of flavor, texture and spice.
Having James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom on staff leaves no excuse for skipping out on dessert. Already known as a fan favorite, the chocolate hazelnut crunch cake bar ($10) is a combination of silky, rich chocolate with a crunchy base then finished with a salted caramel gelato. There’s also the delicate and equally beautiful Coconut Panna Cotta ($10) with passion fruit crémeux, mango and merenguitos. Each bite will be followed by a soft sigh acknowledging how not only visually appealing this creation is, but how inspired and thoughtful the flavors are as they come together.
The open and airy space of the restaurant allows natural light to spill in from the open window bar at the front of the house. Leather-rounded booths and cushioned cocktail seating allow for a more comfortable form of dining. It doesn’t matter where you decide to sit because each area of the restaurant has some small view of the exhibition-style kitchen; even the patio seating can gaze through the bar into the back. Although the decor is an elaborate and pristine take on modern decor, there’s still that sense of warmth you want from a restaurant you hope to come “home” to.
“I’m not intimidated by him (in reference to chef John Broening’s passion and strong focus); I’m thankful. I’m just very thankful for his talents and the way he treats his employees and the passion he has for food. And then I met Yasmin, and she’s just this beautiful light that walks into the room. She’s joyous and artsy, and the way she works with flavors… The delicate flavors she creates are amazing and she just loves to create; that’s how they both are, they love to create,” said Pence when asked about her partnership with extraordinary culinary couple chef John Broening and pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom.
Avelina is currently open for dinner Monday through Thursday, 4-10 p.m. and Friday through Sunday, 4-11 p.m. Their happy hour menu will debut today and the lunch menu will begin September 26, with quick items such as seasonal salads and sandwiches. Avelina is located at 1550 17th Street, Denver, Colorado.
Photography by Lucy Beaugard