Fine-dining restaurants in Denver are beginning to make a comeback. During the height of the pandemic, many restaurants shifted to takeout-friendly menus and fine-dining restaurants struggled to remain open. At this point, we’ve gotten used to wearing masks and taking other precautions to keep those around us healthy, allowing service-industry businesses to operate (almost) as they once did. With the introduction of Koko Ni — Denver’s newest tasting menu concept — FAM Hospitality breaks out of the fast-casual concepts they’re known for and gives the chefs the freedom to do what they love.
Despite opening just a few weeks ago, Koko Ni has been a working concept for several years. James Beard award-winning Chef Paul Qui and Chef de Cuisine James Gnizak experimented with the idea on the second floor of Zepplin Station — where several of Qui’s other concepts were once housed. “It started as a small omakase counter upstairs. We were cooking off two induction burners. We didn’t have a hood. It started out a little simpler and we realized quickly how much we had as a team,” said Gnizak. The team ended up shutting the concept down due to the fire department’s orders — they didn’t have a hood system — and put the idea on hold. Several months later, when they were trying to decide what to do with the space that was once Lea Jane’s Hot Chicken, they decided to go for it and open Koko Ni. “We realized we had the team to create something great. I fully believe that Denver’s ready for it now — last year I didn’t,” said Gnizak.
Koko Ni means “here” in Japanese and Gnizak explains that it’s about using the ingredients we have here and now — not staying attached to certain ingredients or dishes, being able to pivot and be completely present. “Paul has had the idea of being present for a very long time. It’s another lesson in my life and in my relationships that translates to the restaurant,” Gnizak said, “We acknowledge when we have certain things but don’t stay attached to them. If someone has a dietary restriction, we have to adjust. What preserves, vegetables and herbs do we have right now? It’s constantly evolving.”
While the menu is never set in stone, you can expect 10 courses that evolve from light bites to larger plates with a focus on sustainable seafood. Light bites include options like sunchoke chips and caviar, a few small seafood bites like littleneck clams and oysters and an ever-changing bouquet of Esoterra greens and herbs with a bright and zingy dressing that Gnizak encourages you to drink straight from the bowl. Our favorite dish was the tom Kha, crafted with house-made tortellini and served with crab. The oxtail was the only meat-forward dish on the menu that night, and it shined — the meat was extremely tender and flavorful. After 10 courses, you’ll be very satisfied.
Each dish is created to maintain the integrity of every ingredient on the plate, with nothing overpowering anything else. Koko Ni focuses on simplicity and lets each dish shine on its own while working cohesively to create a thoughtful, intentional tasting experience. The space is small and only seats about 20 guests, creating an intimate and inviting atmosphere that’s perfect for your next date night. Right now, the experience is priced at $125 per person, including gratuity and reservations are required.
Run, don’t walk to Koko Ni for an unforgettable, unique dining experience.
Koko Ni is located at 1441 26th St., Denver. Open Thursday – Monday 5-10 p.m.