RiNo Restaurant Reopens To Offer A Curated Tasting Menu For Adventurous Eaters

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Photos courtesy of KoKo Ni

Feeling indecisive and not sure what to order? No problem. Koko Ni has got you covered. With a “chef’s choice” menu, the tiny RiNo restaurant offers 10 locally sourced and seasonal small plates in a 90-minute seating, giving the customer a chance to sit back and relax while the uber-talented staff dishes up a (mostly) plant-based and sustainable-seafood curated dining experience.

Chef de cuisine James Gnizak, hailing from Denver’s Rioja, Mercantile and La Fillette bakery, describes his rotating menu as farm-driven omakase, a mixture of Japanese with a French influence, largely inspired by what’s in season in Colorado on any given day. “I never thought Denver was ready for something like this. I figured we were a steakhouse-heavy city with safe American restaurants,” he says. “But in the last few years, there’s been a push for a different type of experience. With Koko Ni, guests don’t have to think about the menu and what they want to order. Just let us do our thing.”

Badger Flame Beets Bluefin Tuna Rillette Beet Juice

“KoKo Ni translates to ‘here’—we see that as being present in time and space and environment.”

— James Gnizak, chef de cuisine

Led by James Beard award-wining chef Paul Qui and Fam Hospitality business partner Johnny Hoang, KoKo Ni relocated late last year from Zeppelin Station to one of the group’s other spaces, formerly occupied by Lea Jane’s Hot Chicken on 26th Street in RiNo. While the spot didn’t work for the more casual Lea Jane’s due to low foot traffic and a challenging parking situation near Coors Field, KoKo Ni is a destination restaurant, says Gnizak. “It’s an intimate experience with a fast-paced tasting menu. We’re nonstuffy and nontraditional,” he adds. “Our guests eat first bites with their hands,” thus the Japanese-style, grapefruit-infused hot hand towels served after certain courses.

Desert Fish Sashimi Early Summer Tomato Ponzu Crispy Garlic Ice Lettuce

Sashimi desert fish with early summer tomato ponzu, crispy garlic and ice lettuce is refreshing yet complex.

KoKo Ni—translating to “here” in Japanese—has its roots deeply planted in the Colorado farming community, sourcing most of its produce from Essotera Culinary Garden, Toohey & Sons Organic Farm and Aspen Moon Farms, among others. “In Colorado, ingredients are seasonal, so we can highlight certain things for a week or two and then move on,” says Gnizak, who formed an early bond with the earth and agriculture as a child in rural Ohio. “This gives me an opportunity to help out my farmers by using what’s in season.” 

“Our guests are going to learn a lot about produce and techniques. We’re showing people just how much flavor can be in vegetables.”

— James Gnizak, chef de cuisine

Koko Ni Table Setting

The chefs turn out three small one-bite snacks, six savory courses and a show-stopping dessert nightly. Featured dishes include sunchoke and caviar (a riff on chips and dip); Mark’s Bouquet, a tied bunching of autumn leaves with hakurei turnip nam jim; Desert Fish, a fillet of barramundi with pine-nut fumet and aged beef fat vinaigrette; Tom Kha, a jonah crab, koginut tortellini and chanterelle soup; and panna cotta with bitter caramel and matcha streusel. Diners also might be sampling crispy duck tongue, a scattering of crickets on any dish, or a tender petit oxtail with sprouting cauliflower—all depending on the day.

Gnizak says his ultimate goal is to imbue diners with a full belly and happy heart. “No matter the sourcing of food or quality of product,” he says, “if our customers don’t leave that way, I’m not doing my job.” Yes, chef!

KoKo Ni
1441 26th St., Denver
$125 per person
Opens at 5 p.m. for dinner
Thursday through Monday
Reservations encouraged

Rebecca Gart is a freelance food writer based out of Vail and Denver, where she lives with her husband and teenage son. She ate her first cricket while dining at KoKo Ni.

Categories: Sip & Savor