Since opening in 2012, Ace Eat Serve has been an important destination for ping pong lovers, Asian food enthusiasts and the many thirsty residents of uptown. Anyone who has visited the spot is aware of the innovative and award-winning interior — the entire space is furnished with found and repurposed items including old liquor store signs, elegantly arranged pallet wood and an entire shipping container from China.
While the ambiance, Tuesday tournaments and thorough attention to detail have been a constant, the new menu from executive chef Thach Tran may shift the focus squarely to the food. After nearly six months of getting acquainted with Ace, Tran debuted his recent offerings to the public last Friday, February 9. The new menu is 90 percent new dishes. Unfortunately, this level of quality comes with certain risks — diners may find themselves too full to pick up a paddle and hit the tables.
Tran spent his formative years in District 5 in Saigon, Vietnam, gaining early exposure to all things culinary from the diverse international neighborhood boasting many Chinese and French restaurants. From an early age, he washed dishes in his grandmother’s noodle restaurant where he began his lifelong pursuit of culinary expertise.
Having developed his chops with tenures at Denver institutions Sushi Den, Cholon, Platform T and others, the man could not be better suited for Ace. It shows in the menu, with dishes like the crazy Sichuan shrimp wontons ($9) — six shrimp dumplings with spicy chili sauce and crispy shallots. The sauce’s spice has a slight numbing effect, and the whole dish is extraordinary. The kabocha khao soi ($16) is Thai yellow coconut curry with soft and crispy egg noodles, kabocha pumpkin, basil and pickled chilies. The dish is a good example of Tran’s dexterity with all things texture.
The menu features appetizers, salads, bao, entrees and three remarkable ramens. The pork belly tonkatsu ($14) is pork belly, wheat noodles, egg, scallions, soy mushrooms and the real tour-de-force, the broth. Taking the standard richness of tonkatsu and adding black garlic oil, the soup is both highly familiar and entirely innovative. This could actually be said of many of the menu’s classics — Tran takes liberties with flavor but never strays so far from the foundation that it loses its original charm.
The desserts are approached with equal consideration. Executive pastry chef Nadine Donovan — in charge of sweets at Ace, Steuben’s and Vesta — rounds out the meal with some of the most exciting items in the building. The miso caramel mousse ($8) is flavorful custard with a chocolate shell, fried mochi butter-cake and candied kumquats. Though it may be difficult with all the great food, we highly recommend saving room.
Several new cocktails perfectly accompany the meal. The Year of the Dog ($10) is Ron Zacapa rum, Bird Dog spiced whiskey, orange bitters, Dancing Pines black walnut liqueur and Hair of the Dog tonic. The drink is sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, with the walnut flavor sitting front and center. The Eastern Standard Thyme ($8) is Ginza soju, Canton ginger liqueur, bitter lemon syrup, grapefruit juice, cucumber and a sprig of fresh thyme. The drink is as refreshing as it sounds.
Come in and try the new food or stop by Friday, February 16 for the Year of the Dog Chinese New Year celebration, featuring traditional red envelopes with lucky scratch tickets, a whole fried fish special and plenty of Tsingtao.
Ace Eat Serve is located at 501 East 17th Ave., Denver. It is open Sunday – Thursday 4 – 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 2 – 11 p.m.
All photography courtesy of Anna Regan at Ace Eat Serve.