How does wood and smoke affect flavor?

Roll over to Union Station’s grill-centric Citizen Rail and see for yourself. This comfortable yet sophisticated restaurant — located on 16th and Wewatta Street — doesn’t boldly advertise its usage of various wood or the careful sourcing of fresh elements which ultimately enhance the character of every dish. At first glance, Citizen Rail’s connection to the Kimpton Hotel Born may easily lead one to mistake it for just another hotel restaurant. Nevertheless, in this surprisingly unpretentious, state-of-the-art space executive chef Christian Graves expertly and enthusiastically demonstrates how different wood may enhance the flavor profiles of meat, fish and vibrant, local produce cooked over an open fire. Even desserts may benefit from a little smoke.

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According to chef Graves, Citizen Rail is a “cook’s kitchen” and the wood-fired techniques give the food “a voice and soul.” Using a dual wood fire grill and cast iron cookware, they use four different types of wood — mesquite lump coal and hickory for the meats and white oak and fruitwood like cherry, apple, pear for all the fish, chicken and vegetables. For example, oysters are typically accessorized with a variety of pungent condiments — but Citizen Rail may embrace the delicate morsel itself with light white oak smoke to add an element of flavor while maintaining the oyster’s intrinsic texture and taste. Now, imagine duck cooked on cherry wood or dry-aged meat prepared over logs of hickory and mesquite.

Meanwhile — lead bartender, Chris Burmeister, cleverly concocts a variety of intoxicating potions — some of which showcase seemingly simple spirits with smokey elements. Take their iconic Plunder Road ($14) cocktail that uses a clarified milk punch to balance the robust, smoke-forward mezcal topped with a charred grapefruit. Other cocktail elements like toasted coconut bring fire to the forefront — even behind the bar. Also, despite the rejection of a generalized hotel affiliation — Burmeister and his team recently received a nomination for the Best Hotel Bar in the upcoming Spirited Awards.

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For those looking to dive a little deeper and experience a hands-on approach to exploring Graves’s intricate culinary style, The Kimpton Hotel Born is offering a unique package in which guests are given the opportunity to shop and cook with Graves on the first Saturday of the month through October. Interested? Gather your closest foodie companion and enjoy an overnight stay in the chic alpine-modern-inspired hotel on Friday night. The following morning, accompany chef Graves to the Union Station Farmers’ Market to shop for fresh ingredients which will later be utilized back in Citizen Rail’s kitchen for a private cooking demonstration and a three-course meal at the chef’s counter — complete with wine and cocktail pairings. To conclude this exciting staycation escapade, guests may take home the recipes from their meal to enjoy in the comfort of their own home. Also — don’t worry, late checkout comes with the package.

Call 877-294-9709 to book. Citizen Rail is located at 1899 16th Street, Denver.

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