As rebranding campaigns go, 503W (Five-Oh-Three-West) stands as a soaring success.
In what had been the Dutch Mill Tavern since 1947, cool blue tones on black trim now pervade a more-open space, and majority-Colorado craft beer enjoys prominent display at a simple but sharp bar. Around 20 quality bottles, a mix of 12-ouncers from the likes of Avery and New Belgium plus bombers via outfits like Epic, join tap offerings from Trinity, Great Divide and Odell.
Even water carafes come with a Grolsch-style caged stopper to match the freshened, modernized, "Hey-look-we're-hip-and-relevant" vibe central to the Asian-Pacific-inspired concept.
Mi Lee, the place's owner for the last 17 years, tapped son-in-law Rollie Ortiz and daughter Nina for the generational update, while wisely leaving touches of her Korean influence around on items like the killer kimchi burger ($10). The fermented cabbage-to-meat ratio makes it chew like a soft veggie patty, while pickled onions and beets plus arugula add sweet, peppery bite and sesame mayo makes for another welcomed Eastern element. Paired sweet potato fries are ideally crisped for the win as a whole, a coup with which most other plates we sampled unfortunately struggle.
The kitchen appears to be on the right path, with fun and alluring fusion, and colorful presentations bolstering a well-designed menu. They need not scrap it, just tighten execution on the flavor follow-through. There are few things worse in a dining experience than items that look awesome but eat bland — the false-advertising culinary equivalent of an attractive person with a sadly vapid personality.
For example: Veggie samosas ($10) read sexy on the menu with mango, squash, zucchini and sweet corn and a cilantro-mint sauce. But what arrives under a vibrant shaved-carrot garnish are under-baked phyllo purses with an overall mushy texture and ingredients spilling out sans defining seasoning.
That same lack-of-smack somehow plagues the pork belly, oh usual tastiest of tasties, on the Lucky Belly Sliders ($8), an otherwise brilliant and beautiful, artfully arranged trio of Pac-Man-lookin' bao buns (delightfully chewy steamed bread) chomping down on the mildly spicy sesame-sauced meat and crisp strips of green pear, green bell peppers and squash hunks. Why isn't this amazing? Methinks some combo of the lack of seasoning, spicing and smoke, perhaps.
The ginger salmon ($12) is alarmingly dry with what amounts to a Soy Vay treatment, while its underlying veggie pancake is greasy, and mushy inside despite a seemingly sufficient outer crisping. Its side salad (subbing for rice) with fresh, crisp toppings and a great wasabi-soy dressing steals the show.
The beet salad ($10), another day, sported nice pistachio crunch and good goat cheese and pickled beet and onion intermingling, but the spring mix was on its way toward wilted, with the leaf flaccidity of a store-bought plastic clamshell victim left in the cooler's rear. Our rice was crunchy and chicken dry-ish on the Food Truck Satay ($8), lemon pepper and coconut red curry again failing to really pop.
A respectable, medium-heat green chile does star across breakfast items (served Saturday and Sunday) like a totally serviceable huevos rancheros plate ($7.50). And finally, descriptors deliver with two fantastic sorbets ($5 each) as dessert options: mango with minty-lime mojito shaved ice topping, and champagne peach with a poached pear and moscato-raspberry sauce.
Totally brilliant. Which is what 503W feels on its way to being, with some recipe tightening to finish this fancy facelift.