Exclusive first look: Uncle opens this week in Lower Highland

Uncle2.jpg
Lori Midson

Months ago, in March, when we first reported that a restaurant called Uncle was opening in the Lower Highland neighborhood, we -- and a few of our commenters -- collectively scratched our heads. "I've heard it will be a Asian noodle bar type place, but with a name like Uncle, who knows?" mused one commenter.

Uncle, as it turns out, is, indeed an Asian noodle bar, or as owner/chef Tommy Lee would prefer, an "Asian comfort food concept with American influences."

And the name -- Uncle -- makes perfect sense when you consider Lee's upbringing and background. "My family is from Hong Kong, and there, and in China and many other Asian cultures," he explains "you call people "Aunt' and 'Uncle' who aren't necessarily related to you, but who you respect. it's a formality," he adds.

It also stuck because of the people, he says, "who I've learned from -- people who have influenced me in my life, and my friends, who use it in a loving way."

Lee, who admits that he's wanted to open a restaurant since college, will introduce the neighborhood to Uncle on Wednesday or Thursday of this week after a series of soft openings, and the space, minimalist and serene, with blond woods and an exhibition kitchen lined with stools that overlook all the action, is exactly the kind of storefront he was looking for. "I wanted a small and manageable space, and while I looked in other neighborhoods, it seemed like Highland had the best clientele for what I wanted to do, plus this is an area that really supports independent businesses," he says.

And while his concise menu, which is still evolving, definitely leans toward the cuisine of Asia -- ramen, udon, steamed buns, rice bowls and sesame pancakes -- he stresses that while "it's rooted in traditional Asian ideas, I'm also emphasizing modern techniques."

"The departure point for me was Momofuko in New York," notes Lee. "I've been there a few times, and it really struck a chord with me, and since I'm Asian-American, and love food and cooking, I thought, 'I can do that in Denver.'"

And Lee stresses that Chinese cooking, which appears deceptively simple to most people, is anything but. "I ate Chinese food all the time while I was growing up, and I always thought it was so easy to cook, but the truth, is that it's just as involved as traditional French and Italian cuisines," he says, adding, too, that "you have to balance the flavors."

He'll pair his dishes with a beverage program that includes a half-dozen beers and ciders, wines, sake and a cocktail list that's still being developed. "Like the menu, the wine and beer list is focused and fits our concept, and we're still working on the the cocktails and increasing our sake selection," says Lee, admitting that he and his crew are "still feeling a few things out to see what works."

Uncle will initially be open for dinner only Monday through Saturday, although Lee says that his goal is to open seven days a week for lunch and dinner; he's contemplating adding late-night hours, too. But first, he notes, "we want to get things right when we open before we spread our wings."

I ducked into Uncle over the weekend to get a glimpse of what Lee has in store, the photos of which are on the following pages. We've also included a sneak peek of the menu.


Location Info

Venue

Map

Uncle

2215 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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15 comments
thegreatmeathook
thegreatmeathook

As a fan of this type of food, I am looking forward to giving Uncle a try. I love Momofuku and my curiosity is piqued knowing I might be able to get similar food without having to travel to NYC. As far as it being a rip off of Momofuku; in the Spring 2012 issue of Lucky Peach, in the fantastic Chef Rant section, Chang doesn't seem to mind getting ripped off as long as credit is given where credit is due. Tommy Lee has made no bones (pardon the pun) about where his inspiration has come from for Uncle. I think Chang would probably approve.  Chang is also gives vast credit to the rip-offs he's had to make over his career in the Momofuku cookbook. I am looking forward to trying Uncle guilt-free, and I wish them luck.

kkboom
kkboom

I love it!  The Owner, Tommy Lee, is smart, young, hip, and very talented.  He has great influences from cultural experiences and travel.  The location is amazing for new business... as  previously stated that The Highlands is such a great place that supports new business.  I think it's truly the newest treasure to this area and to Denver as a City.  There unfortunatetly will always be people quick to judge and be negative, but I challenge all them to spend an evening there and meet the owner and enjoy the ambiance prior to making negative unconstructive comments.   I personally can't wait to spend more time there and eat yummy and beautiful food.  Oh and don't forget to induldge in the ver special and different wine/beer/sake list.  All in all great place for anyone who wants a fun night out for dinner. 

flashgordon3
flashgordon3

Sounds like something new and different to me. Although the location is not convenient, I'll make the trek from Lone Tree (chain capital of the state) this week! Can't wait to try it.

thespot84
thespot84

I was under the impression both Udon and Ramen were japanese dishes, though chinese variants exist...

thespicycheese
thespicycheese

Looks a lot like Momofuku on the inside and so does the menu layout

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

Looks great! I admit, I thought the name sounded a little dumb at first, but it makes more sense at described in the article.

Grigio
Grigio

 @thespot84 And Nuoc Cham is Vietnamese, Kimchi is Korean and Harissa is North African.

Point?

beerdrinker
beerdrinker

 @thespicycheese This is the same floor plan and interior design, down to the heavy wood accents and bar chairs. Also, the menu, as you said, is a rip-off (probably with same-as-New-York prices, too!). This and Bones, man. These are not places I take visitors to. These carbon copies degrade our amazing foodscape here with their lack of originality and creativity.

bondock
bondock

 @Mantonat Never judge a book by its cover. ;) The food is delicious!

thespot84
thespot84

 @Grigio Before I commented the sentence read: "And while his concise menu, which is still evolving, definitely leans toward the cuisine of China-- ramen, udon, steamed buns, rice bowls and sesame pancakes --..." I was simply pointing out the discrepancy, which has obviously since been corrected.

LoriMidsonCafeSociety
LoriMidsonCafeSociety moderator editortopcommenter

 @thespot84  @Grigio Ramen noodles (and most noodles, actually) originated in China. Ramen, from what I've gathered, is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters for lo mein.

beerdrinker
beerdrinker

 @noodlelover  Noodlelover, I am sure the food at Uncle, as as Bones, is quite good. The ambiance, too. I harbor no ill will toward the hard-working folks who make restaurants run. But I am just sick of seeing places in Denver, specifically Bones and Uncle, do something that has been done before. It's the same with T|ACO in Boulder, which is a terrible (in my opinion) knock-off of Pinche Tacos in Denver. If you're going to invest a ton of time and money in a restaurant, make it your own!

noodlelover
noodlelover

 @beerdrinker As stated above he did draw influence from momofuku, so I don't really see the point.  Bones in it self could then be said that they stole the concept from David too.  But then didn't everyone who has opened a noodle bar in america in some way steal the ideas from japan.  Your point is invalid.  Why don't you instead of bitching about where he drew inspiration from go and eat there, meet the owner, and then comment.  Maybe it will be one of the better ramens in the denver metro area, done right.  It sounds like that what he is at least trying to do.

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