Restaurant review: Q House’s modern Chinese fare is a tasty ode to chef Christopher Lin’s roots

From Deliah Singer, Special to The Denver Post

3.5 stars (from 4)

People ’s introduction to Chinese food has been Americanized plates of General Tso’s chicken dripping in sauce and lo mein noodles so slick which chopstick skills were no match. But we returned again and again since every meal was about more than just the delicious food — it was an exploration of a new culture (one which appealed more after we finally mastered those two wooden sticks).

Christopher Lin’s experience was somewhat different. Born to Taiwanese parents that owned an eatery in New Hampshire when he was a kid, Lin ate the Chinese and Taiwanese foods of his loved ones ’s past. Q House, Lin’s first restaurant, is a reimagining of the history. The City Park restaurant, which opened in May, is both an ode to Lin’s ancestry and a contemporary, refined take that reflects the talent and perspective he’s developed since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and cooking for bigwigs in New York City.

“A lot of the flavors at least start with a memory of something I ate growing up,” Lin said.

A bustling eatery, Q House is a partnership between chef Lin, Jen Mattioni and Jon Pinto. It’s dimly lit and unembellished, perfectly suited to the East Colfax corridor in which the restaurant resides. Lin and his group ’s skills come through in an assortment of dishes that showcase the diversity of Chinese cuisine. While others are more nuanced, some are taste punches of garlic and spice. Yes, diners will find mentions of General Tso’s and but there & rsquo and wontons, spare ribs;s so much more to Q House than those familiar names. It’s worth taking the time to explore it all.

Vibe: With a nondescript exterior and interior, Q House jives with the worn-in look of the pubs and restaurants along the strip of East Colfax Avenue. The dinner spot is almost always full, whether you visit on a Wednesday or a Friday evening, but the cacophony of plates and conversation being set down feels social as opposed to overwhelming. An open kitchen is the highlight: It’s fronted by six counter seats (a tight squeeze when everybody is trying to material puffy winter jackets onto hidden hooks) offering a close-up perspective of a gigantic sizzling wok and Lin placing finishing touches as dishes head to the dining room. In warmer months, garage doors open onto a patio.

Hits: Q House is the sort of restaurant where you peer around in the dishes on nearby tables and think, “Do I have space for that? ” In other words, you won’t even be able to eat everything you want in one visit.

Like many Asian eateries, Q House’s plates are supposed to be shared. The menu starts with appetizers and works its way down to entrée-size offerings, though diners can mix and match based on what seems good; servers recommend choosing at least one option from each of the four segments. Of the smaller plates, the rich pork belly bun ($5), which comes one into an arrangement, is a essential meal-starter. Then, decide between chicken and shrimp wontons ($8) bathing in a luscious pool of chile oil and schmaltz and the Yunnan brisket salad ($12), a play on the Chinese affinity for braised meats. The salad’s foundation is cardboard-thin slivers of beef brisket (stewed in soy sauce, spices and aromatics), which can be topped with a little mound of peppery watercress and sprinkles of fried garlic slivers. Hidden between the two are sweet Asian pears and watermelon radishes.

From the veggie section, the Jenga-like tower of fried Chinese eggplant ($10) is battered in potato starch and rice flour for a lighter coating which enables the vegetable’s earthiness to come through. Or, choose the stir-fried Brussels sprouts ($10) — sweet (courtesy of maple syrup), spicy (hello, chiles), and citrusy (thanks to lemongrass).

When it comes to bigger plates, there’s no wrong order; simply follow your stomach’s direction. Salt and pepper head-on shrimp ($24) are an example of the complexity and maintenance the kitchen puts into every dish. While simple in presentation — nearly a dozen crustaceans sit atop chip-like shrimp cakes — the shrimp are sanded and cleaned before being battered in potato starch and rice flour and fried, which makes them easier to eat. The hot, crisp exterior gives way to the tender meat yes, the mind. Don’t shy away.

The fat and briny mussels in a classic Cantonese black bean sauce ($17) are good, but the accompanying crisp fries — served in a Chinese takeout counter — are the real star. Some may call the move cheesy, but it’s really a response to Lin not wanting to pair every dish with a bowl of rice, a praise-worthy decision. (Tip: Save the Brussels sprouts sauce to swipe the chips through.)

Duck lo mein ($17) is elevated with large chunks of confit duck leg buried one of slippery, but not oversauced, noodles; Napa cabbage and snow peas add crunch to the classic flavor combo. Braised pork rice ($9) is based on what Lin calls a typical Taiwanese comfort food: a container of rice piled with braised pork and sautéed greens. At Q House, Lin deftly combines the ingredients together — like parents frequently do for young kids — letting the braising jus soak into the pork belly- and mustard greens-dotted rice without becoming too salty or too abundant.

Full or not, order the coconut cheesecake ($9). The supersized triangle is more than enough for two and is a trifecta of sweetness: crumbly Oreo crust, a fluffy center that’s half cream cheese and half coconut cream, and a generous topping of chewy toasted coconut. The scoop of cloud-like, house-made whipped cream on the side pulls a sweet, nutty flavor from pandan extract. (Pandan is a tropical plant from Southeast Asia whose leaves are frequently used to flavor Asian desserts.)

Misses: There’s not much to fault Q House’s kitchen staff on. It ’s a matter of taste. Three dishes — the Bang Bang chicken salad ($11), beef tongue and tripe ($12), and Chong Qing poultry ($25) — comprise Sichuan peppers, a trivial spice in Chinese cuisine which causes a tingling and numbing sensation on the tongue and lips. There’s some warmth, yes, but it’s the mouth’s response which can be disconcerting, which makes sips of water feel like they’re running over, but not touching, one’s tongue. If you can stand the odd feeling, the rice flour-battered Chong Qing chicken is wonderfully succulent and crispy-skinned.

The one dish that should be reconsidered is the end-of-meal almond cardamom pudding ($9). The consistency was custard than pudding, although it contained a plethora of textures and ingredients — almond meringue squares, pomegranate seeds, Honeycrisp apples — they didn’t mesh together, resulting in a bland bowl which lacked the exciting tangle of flavors you expect after working your way through the rest of the menu.

Drinks: Rather than introducing Denverites to traditional Chinese alcohols, Q House skews its booze menu toward local palates with a range of beer, wine and cocktails.

Red, white, rosé and sparkling wines are available by the glass ($7 to $15) and are primarily of California or French origins. Four of the eight beers and ciders available ($5 to $9) are locally brewed, though there are two Japanese ales from Hitachino. The amber-hued red rice ale ($9) is a fantastic introductory sipper with its powerful fruity notes and a starchy aftertaste that could take some getting used to.

For the nine cocktails ($10 to $12), Mattioni and Pinto cleverly use Eastern ingredients to enliven, balance, or spice up identifiable mixes. The margarita-esque Turmeric Cooler ($10) gets its color and hint of spice (which could be amped up) from turmeric-honey, while the Monkey Shoulder Scotch whisky from the Pear Sidecar ($12) is mellowed with pear and balanced by Thai chiles.

Service: The servers in Q House reflect their neighborhood: They’lack any pretension and re congenial and low-key. But don&rsquo. The team can answer even the concerns about dishes, and diners would be wise to follow their information on current eats and just how many dishes will render them full but not stuffed.

Bottom Line: With Q House, Lin and his team accomplish something special by honoring Chinese cuisine and Lin’s ancestry while modernizing the food s appeases and talents contemporary American palates. Combined with seamless service and the casual atmosphere, Q House can be considered among Denver’s finest.

Cost: Appetizers and veggies ($5 to $13); Entrée-style dishes ($9 to $25); Desserts ($9); Cocktails ($10 to $12)

Fun Fact: Lin may have grown up in the restaurant world, but he’s created an impressive resumé all on his own, most notably working under Momofuku’s David Chang in New York City. He also spent a year as sous chef in Old Major in LoHi.

Restaurant Info

Q House

3421 E. Colfax Ave.


Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m., Sunday

Reservations: Accepted

Parking: Street parking

Star Rating Guide: Ratings range from zero. Zero is poor. Satisfactory, one star. Good, two stars. Three stars, very good. Four stars, excellent.

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