Gusto Opens With Vigor in Sloan’s Lake

BY Steph Wilson

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Housed in the avant-garde Lakehouse Residences, Gusto and ChoLon Sloan’s Lake have officially opened. This ends the saga of anticipation for chef Lon Symensma’s premier Italian eatery and the lakeside outpost of his popular Asian fusion fine-dining restaurant.

ChoLon Sloan’s Lake marks the third launch of Symensma’s original concept, which opened downtown in 2008. ChoLon remains a high-end eatery known for French onion soup dumplings ($15) and kimchi fried rice with wagyu ($30). Under the branch of ChoLon Restaurant Concepts, the new location shares a kitchen with Gusto, the chef’s ode to pasta, pizza, and other Italian restaurant staples. 

This isn’t the first time Symensma has deviated from his Asian concepts, which also includes the more casual YumCha Dumpling and Noodle Bar. In 2018 he opened Bistro LeRoux, a physically beautiful spot focused on eclectic European fare such as steak frites ($46), Spanish-style meatballs ($17), and pumpkin agnolotti with chestnut velouté ($28). As for why he wanted to highlight Italian cuisines, the chef elaborated for us.

“I really wanted to celebrate Italian food and wine just like we do with French cuisine downtown,” said Symensma, a European-trained chef who later focused on Asian food. “I was spending time working in two-Michelin-star restaurants in France, and then traveling and working all throughout Italy before I knew what Thai chilies and lemongrass even were. For this new Italian concept I wanted to broaden my horizons, to be more than just a guy who worked at a couple of Asian restaurants in New York.” 

The Menu

blue room with latino man in black chef clothes
Chef de cuisine Justin Benavidez runs Gusto. | Photo by ChoLon Restaurant Concepts

For Symensma, Gusto is a celebration of Italian cuisine at large. 

“People ask me, are you doing northern Italian? Southern Italian? I don’t want to put myself in a box of being one thing,” he added. “Italy’s a small enough country, but there’s great diversity in every region.” 

Through the menu Symensam aims to tell a story of the places he has been. In essence, continued the chef, each dish is an experience he wants to celebrate. That doesn’t mean he can’t have fun with it. 

Overall, the menu highlights “playful interpretations of dishes from all over Italy.” This includes antipasti, pizza, and pasta dishes.

The Food

But where to begin? Start with the Panini Bites ($16), an antipasti featuring chef de cuisine Justin Benavidez’s own mortadella recipe. The savory dish also includes giardiniera, soppressata from Calabria, pistachio pesto with mint, basil, and a healthy dose of olive oil and garlic.

As a culinary polymath, Symensma proves his mettle not just in the kitchen but as a storyteller too. See this through dishes like the Fried Carbonara-ncii ($14). Instead of using traditional risotto in the balls, at Gusto it’s spaghetti carbonara. This gives it a creamy and rich texture with smoky bacon goodness. 

colorful plate with meat sandwich
Try the Panini Bites off the antipasti menu. | Photo by Steph Wilson

On the pasta side of the story, the Spaghetti All’Assassin ($18) is a crispy and spicy menu item unlike the common pasta dishes found around town. 

“I had this dish the last time I was in Italy,” shared the chef. “We were in Bari, the capital of Puglia, and they were doing a pasta dish almost like a risotto.” To make it, he continued, the pan gets really hot and next comes the spaghetti, which is toasted until a little black char forms on the outside. For the sauce he makes a spicy tomato water with chili flakes and tomato paste, which go into the pan in stages. As the al dente pasta absorbs the sauce, it softens and retains the flavor.

Now, if you’re in the mood for pizza, the menu offers five options. But really it was the Amalfi Pie ($19) that stood out. Featuring confit lemon, Calabrian chili, pecorino, and ricotta, it’s a divine dish with a captivating play of flavors. The lemon imbues the dish with gentle, caramelized citrus notes, cutting through the richness. On the opposite side, the Calabrian chili brings a smoky heat to add depth and a lively kick complemented by the sharp and salty nuances of pecorino. To cool it down, ricotta offers a creamy, mild counterpoint, which altogether makes for a surprisingly refreshing slice. 

Save room for dessert too, because the tiramisu ($12) stands out. Topped with freshly grated cheese that’s been rubbed with espresso, it’s worth the hype.

The Drinks

The wine list skews Italian, with options from around the country highlighted on the menu. There’s also a full bar, though Gusto is still waiting for the liquor license to go through. Though the cocktail menu hasn’t been revealed yet, we expect classic Italian beverages such as the Negroni and refreshing spritzes. 

The Vibe

plate with meatballs and bread
Lon Symensma loves using wagyu, and at Gusto he puts the beef in meatballs. | Photo by Cholon Restaurant Concepts

Gusto connects to ChoLon, with both located on the ground floor of Lakehouse Residences. This groundbreaking, 12-story condo building on the south shore of Sloan’s Lake integrates wellness into every element of design. Among the residence’s amenities is an organic urban farm. It’s also the place where ChoLon Restaurant Group chefs will tend their own garden and grow ingredients for both concepts. 

Now, inside Gusto the design proves understated and sexy, simultaneously modern and cozy. Floor-to-ceiling windows maximize natural daylight throughout the restaurants. Set on 17th Street in the space closest to the street, ChoLon features a second-floor mezzanine with a lovely view of the park. Throughout the space, a mix of discrete banquettes and flexible table seating options allow for intimate dinners and group gatherings alike. The same flexibility continues at Gusto, which is set back from 17th Street with its own entrance on North Raleigh Street. The two are connected, making it easy to pass between the restaurants, yet, they’re so different, one may be surprised there’s only one kitchen for both.  

Don’t Miss

The chef’s feature dish, dubbed Marry Me! Eggplant Parmigiana ($24), stems from a 200-year old recipe shared with Symensma by, “a little Italian grandmother named Mary who invited me into her home and cooked dinner for us during our trip last year,” he said. 

Served with an arugula salad, it’s the perfect balance of comfort and fun, rich and fresh, and showcases the whole idea behind Gusto. 

Visit Gusto daily starting at 4 p.m. for happy hour. Dinner begins at 5:30 p.m., then served until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.  4200 W. 17th Ave., cholon.com, gustodenver.com 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steph Wilson

Steph Wilson is a writer, editor, and creative maximalist in Denver. She makes magazines for a living and throws color around the world like confetti for fun.

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